Published on March 19th, 2015 | by Gavin0
Jackson and Rye, Soho
On my countless travels into Soho (the home of nearly all my favourite West End cocktail bars), I pass Jackson + Rye on Wardour Street on a weekly basis and speculated as to what wonders lie within. Being an American whisky fan, I hazard a guess that the ‘Rye’ in Jackson + Rye comes from the grain used in whisky; and was delighted to receive an invitation to sip whisky and eat good ol’ fashioned American comfort food with them last week.
My fellow ‘Londoner’ colleague Sophia has already given rave reviews to the Richmond branch, one of three around London, and Soho has just as lively an atmosphere as Sophia experienced. The dimly lit restaurant is a stark contrast to the uncharacteristically sunny evening, but the smell of sweet potato fries and bourbon is much closer to home. We’re ushered into a room where four rye whiskies are presented to us; of which I’m familiar with two thanks to their bourbon cousins- Jim Beam and Bulleit, alongside High West, and Smooth Ambler. We are informed by our host, Sean, that we will be trying all of them (big smile), but before that, I’m handed an extraordinarily good rye Manhattan which I have to admit is better than most bourbon based Manhattans I’ve sipped (even bigger smile).
Sean begins by explaining that rye whiskies were popular once upon a time in American culture but disappeared around the Prohibition. However with the resurgence of classic cocktail culture, the demand for classic American spirits has grown exponentially and rye whisky is now more popular than ever.
Although closely related to bourbon, following a similar distillation process, both heavily regulated by the government, and often produced alongside each other in the same distilleries; the big difference is that bourbon has to contain at least 51% corn whereas rye must have the same percentage in the rye grain. Now that’s the science, but what about the taste?
All four we try are a pleasing mix of low to high rye content, ABVs, and ages; so by the end I’m thoroughly seasoned on what rye is all about. My favourite characteristic of bourbon is the vanilla, caramel notes but from the outset it’s clear that rye doesn’t share this quality. All I tried were typified by a dry, peppery finish- much punchier than I expected, and this was amplified in Bulleit which has the highest rye content at 95%. My favourite though is High West Double Rye, a blend of 2 and 16 year old whisky (hence the name), which had a hint of honey to offset the dry notes, making it perfect for sipping neat.
Now I know where the ‘Rye’ comes from, and scanning over the menu I’m pretty certain the ‘Jackson’ comes from the largest city in Mississippi- the home of grits, shellfish, and fried chicken. So after so much whisky I had to get involved in some Southern soul food. My eyes immediately dart to the truffle mac and cheese (£6.25) and it’s as good as it sounds. I’m not a huge fan of an overly gooey cheese sauce, and this is just the right consistency- the subtle truffle and parmesan flavour is the icing on the cake.
And then it was onto the dish I’d been waiting for- buttermilk fried chicken (£11.95). The huge chicken breast takes up half the plate, and the rest of the plate is filled up by sweet potato fries and ‘slaw. Fried chicken has been given a bad reputation by ‘chicken shop’ culture, so it’s easy to forget what good chicken tastes like. The crisp coating wasn’t oily, the breast remained moist, and a seasoning so good the Colonel would be jealous- a gigantic step up from KFC.
To finish, there’s a tempting pecan pie but the thought of toasted marshmallows is too much to turn down. The campfire favourite is made even better with blood orange sorbet and chocolate sauce; it’s not a conventional dessert but would have taken me back to my youth if it wasn’t for the shot of Rittenhouse rye that I pair with it.
With a large selection, knowledgeable staff, and an excellent Manhattan, as an introduction to rye whisky, Jackson + Rye isn’t a bad place to start. In all honesty, I don’t think it will ever replace my beloved bourbon in the drinks cabinet, but for something a bit different in my Old Fashioned or Whisky Sour, I’d happily swap for High West.
Jackson + Rye, 56 Wardour Street, Soho, W1D 4JFShare This Post