About eight months ago, my buddy Craig Evert from Northwest Iowa e-mailed me and asked me if I'd ever heard of this stuff called Templeton Rye. He said it was a single malt rye whiskey made in Templeton, IA (see map). He said, "Every time I try to buy some at the local liquor store up here, it's always sold out. I hear it's great stuff and I'd like to try it!"
I was in Chicago last fall and I was listening to the Steve Dahl program on the radio. He was talking about Templeton Rye and how it was the new "hip" drink with the young crowd in Chicago. I thought, "All right. Now I have to find out what this is all about."
But just like my buddy, Craig, I was having problems finding the stuff.
When my uncle Jack died and we had his funeral back in Newton, I was out at my sister's and brother-in-law's house that evening with my sisters and cousins. I looked into the liquor cabinet and there was a bottle of Templeton Rye. I said, "Oh, man! I've got to try this!"
Along with my cousins Dave and Mac Gilreath, we poured two fingers deep into some glasses and gave it a try. Right away, I could tell it was smooth with a great finish. It wasn't as strong tasting as some of the Scotch single malts I've had. It was very good.
Now, before I went to work for my present company, I was never a big Scotch drinker. But in addition to their love of wine, good food and exquisite coffee, my co-workers have an affinity for Scotch. So I've had to acquire a taste for Scotch. Even though I have a couple three bottles of the stuff around the house, I don't find myself having a couple "highballs" all that much at home.
But the Templeton Rye really got me hooked. It was wonderful stuff.
It turned out that my niece's boyfriend grew up in Western Iowa near Templeton. He told me that the whiskey was an old recipe from back in the days of Prohibition. He said, "Yeah, the Templeton Rye you just had is good. But it's one of those things where my dad knows someone, who knows someone, who knows someone, who knows someone who makes the REALLY good stuff out there."
I immediately told him to find me a bottle of that stuff. If it was better than the Templeton Rye that I just had, then I really wanted some of that.
Fast forward a few weeks later to our trip into Chicago for Christmas. We went to the new Sam's Wine just south of The Loop in downtown Chicago to get a bottle of wine, some cheese and some other snacks. While Cindy and Eric were picking out food, I was picking out some wine to take home and then perusing the Scotch selection they had.
One of the clerks asked if I needed any help in looking for anything. I said, "Oh, I'm just seeing if there's something here that I would like to have but absolutely don't need."
He said, "I'm not much of a Scotch drinker, but I've sampled many of them here. Actually, I'm more of a Templeton Rye kind of guy."
I perked up and said, "Templeton Rye? You have some here?"
He walked me around to the other side of the shelf and pulled out a bottle of Templeton Rye. Another clerk was standing there and he said, "Oh, man! T-Rye! I was never a big whiskey drinker until I got a bottle of that stuff!"
So I bought a bottle of it and took it home. My neighbor, George, and I made a major dent in it on Christmas night after we got home. (His wife, Hannah, wasn't too happy with him.) And we killed it a couple weeks ago on his birthday.
I got another bottle of the stuff and took it over to a dinner party that one of Cindy's co-worker had for us a couple weeks ago. Three of us drank half a bottle. It's that good.
OK, so I told you that story to tell you this one - the story behind Templeton Rye.
During the time leading up to and during Prohibition, a number of farmers in Western Iowa shared a recipe for making their own rye whiskey. The town of Templeton was sort of the epicenter of this cottage industry. People would store it in barns, in sheds, where ever they could hide it. To get first hand accounts of what Templeton area residents remembered about the original Templeton Rye, click here and then scroll down to the individual screens for the interviews. It's pretty interesting stuff.
Local lore has it that Templeton Rye was the whiskey of choice for Al Capone and hundreds of barrels of the stuff was made available to Capone's gang for distribution in Chicago and around the Midwest during Prohibition. After Prohibition ended, Templeton Rye was still distilled in the Templeton area, but not legally.
That was until about six years ago when a young entrepreneur Scott Bush (right) sought to make Templeton Rye legal. Spurred on by stories his grandfather told him of making the rye whiskey years before, Bush went around to a number of people trying to get the recipe. He encountered resistance from a lot of the "old-timers" who thought he was a "revenuer" out to seize their stash of the stuff.
Through family contacts, Bush was able to get the recipe from the family of Alphonse Kerkhoff and eventually was introduced to the distillery where the bulk of the illegal Templeton Rye was made. Kerkhoff's grandson, Kirk, who actually distilled the stuff, became part of the Templeton Rye team, as well.
Bush and Kerkhoff updated the facility - replacing the small copper vat they used to make the whiskey with 300 gallon stainless steel vat with regulated heat. The original Templeton Rye was heated during the distillery process by huge logs that had to be continually added to the fire by the Kerkhoff's.
Bush and Kerkhoff introduced the first legal Templeton Rye in November of 2006. Since then it's become very popular with younger people because of it's smooth nature and the "outlaw" story behind the brand. It's still made in small batches to insure it's quality, but it's becoming one of the fastest growing whiskey brands in the Midwest.
I was in Iowa City recently and stopped into John's Grocery to check out the wine and beer selection. In the middle of their liquor aisle they had a number of cases of Templeton Rye on the floor. They had a special price of $32.99 a bottle. I bought a bottle. The next night, we killed half of it at the dinner party. I bought another one the next day at Regal Liquors in Davenport (the liquor store for Hy-Vee) for $35.99 a bottle. It's beginning to become more widely available.
Though more plentiful on store shelves today, Templeton Rye is only available in Iowa and Illinois, but the company is seeking national distribution. If you live outside of the states of Iowa and Illinois, you can click here to order Templeton Rye directly from Binny's Beverage Depot in the Chicago area.
I've already converted three people to the Templeton Rye and looking to convert more. I'm thinking of getting some bottles of the stuff for some of my Scotch drinking colleagues to see what they think. But I do want to try some of the "real stuff" that's supposedly still available through back channels in Western Iowa. I'll let you know if my niece's boyfriend comes through.