When Southern Californians think of Iowa, they probably imagine cornfields and the birthplace of Captain Kirk. But this flyover state is home to one of the better rye whiskeys on the planet: Templeton Rye.
Templeton was arguably the superlative liquor during Prohibition. Midwestern speakeasies with respectability served Templeton. The liquor was absent for years until family discussions led Scott Bush’s Uncle Gus to fish out a bottle of “The Good Stuff” made decades earlier by Scott’s great-grandfather, Frank Schroeder, from the family farm near Odebolt. Hooked, Scott set out to bring this family secret to discriminating drinkers. But he didn’t know the formula.
One of the most productive Prohibition manufacturers of Templeton was Alphonse Kerkhoff. His son Meryl held the recipe he learned to craft at a young age, but was sworn never to discuss it, especially with strangers. When Scott called with his offer, Meryl hung up on him. But Uncle Gus vouched for young Scott. In 2002, based on a scrap of paper Scott Bush and Meryl’s son Keith Kerkhoff secured a distillation partner in Lawrenceberg, Indiana. They later bought a distilling plant in Templeton, Iowa, and started growing their own rye. In 2006, their first batch was ready after four years of barrel aging. They put a notice in the local church bulletin to get bottlers for the first batch, and have since been very productive in their local community. The highlight is an archive of YouTube videos featuring old-timers talking about Templeton Rye and Prohibition. Watching these men and women recount their memories during the Dry Years with your own glass of Templeton is an easy item to mark off any Bucket List.
Tasting: Templeton is smoother than Bulleit Rye, which is reasonably simple to get at Trader Joe’s. Bulleit is 90 proof, 80 for Templeton. That makes a big difference. Templeton’s marketing report says the nose has a “mellow, yet complex balance” and “dense mixture of spiciness with sweet undertones of dried fruit, toffee, and caramel”. Without disagreeing, I’d add decadent mudpie with an earthy grain. The nose on Templeton is sweetly addicting.
I compared Bulleit Rye and Templeton Rye, both straight and mixed into an Old Fashioned (sugar cube, Angostura bitters, rye, ice, maraschino cherry). Bulleit’s higher proof shined like a full moon when watered with ice cubes, though Templeton held its own. Bulleit was a bit rough straight, while I could sip shots of Templeton all day and night—can I, please?
All whiskies, from Scotland to Iowa, are grain distillates aged in barrels for a number of years. Bourbon uses corn as the primary ingredient (at least 51% or it can’t be called bourbon), Scotch primarily uses barley. Rye is a wild card, and rye whiskeys are at least 51% rye, so expect spicy and peppery. Templeton’s other 49% tamps the edges down so it’s sugary smooth.
If you’re looking for a taste of the past, pick up a bottle of Templeton rye. It’s slightly pricey at $40 a bottle (suggested retail), but worth it. Share with your family, and talk about your history. A few shots and you’ll probably discover something amazing.
If you are in Los Angeles this week and want to try Templeton, The Edison downtown is hosting a Templeton Rye tasting on Wednesday, July 11, from 5pm to midnight. A 1937 Model A car will be parked outside and well-heeled ladies and gents can enjoy complimentary shoe shining. Templeton Whiskey cocktails will be served all night long, including The Happy Herbie, named after the sentient Volkswagen from the Disney movies. The cocktail is Templeton Rye Whiskey, jasmine liquor, lemon juice and baked apple bitters. The Herbie was invented by John Maraffi, and "a portion of the proceeds from each Herbie will benefit the Ryman Foundation dedicated to the tradition of Adventure, Exuberance and Innovation that helped the Imagineers create a world of wonder and possibility." The Edison is also debuting their new sushi menu.
DISCLOSURE: Templeton Rye sent me a small tasting sample.