We sat down with Ryan Maybee to chat about his work, Kansas City Whiskey, and his cocktail for March’s All Eyes on Rye Box, the Creole Sling!
S&S: How does the Shaker & Spoon style of single-spirit recipes affect how you create a cocktail for one of our boxes? How do you approach that?
RM: It really forces you to focus on and highlight that base spirit. You can’t rely on secondary mixers, liqueurs, etc. I’ve always taken a fairly minimalist approach to making cocktails—even if the technique or process is complicated and the ingredients are few and are intended to reinforce the flavors and qualities of that base.
S&S: The Creole Sling is bold and relaxed at the same time, and there’s a lot of complexity in there. Did the New Orleans inspiration come first, or was it after this particular grouping of ingredients came together that it revealed itself?
RM: I think you just described my personality to a tee. Hahaha. I wasn’t necessarily setting out to create a NOLA-inspired drink, but I love that city, and it had been on my mind because of Mardi Gras season and I had been listening to some music from down there. Those flavors just naturally work so incredibly well together.
S&S: They really do! What’s your favorite thing about this cocktail?
RM: The mouthfeel. The power of the 100 proof rye combined with the acidity of the cold brew and the weight of the maple creates a texture that coats your palate, allowing a kaleidoscope of flavors to emerge.
S&S: Are there any food pairings that you’d recommend to go with the Creole Sling?
RM: I wouldn’t recommend a lot of food with this, unless you’re going the dessert route. Think chocolate, mocha, crème brûlée, or creamy iterations of your favorite dessert. Ideally, this cocktail is going to pair beautifully with a good Maduro cigar.
S&S: What music would you say captures the feel of the Creole Sling?
RM: Dr. John, The Night Tripper—Remedies. This album is Dr. John’s third, and while it’s packed with plenty of his signature gritty blues and funk, it also has a fair bit of psychedelic jam thrown in for good measure. Perfect for pairing with this cocktail, which is classic in its roots, but will take you on a bold trip as well.
S&S: The rye whiskey comeback over the past decade plus has been interesting to watch. What would you attribute it to? What does rye bring to the table that other whiskey styles do not?
RM: I think it was inevitable that it would eventually come back strong. It was too good, and played too important of a role in American whiskey history to lay dormant forever. From a flavor perspective, it provides a spiciness that you just don’t get in any other style of whiskey. It’s really bold and assertive, and provides a perfect backbone for building a cocktail around. There’s also a hint of dark chocolate that I almost always get in rye that doesn’t exist in other whiskey styles, most notably bourbon.
S&S: What are some of your go-to ways of using rye whiskey?
RM: A little-known classic called a Frisco is one of my favorites. It’s simple and delicious, and the first time I visited Milk & Honey in NYC back in 2005 I inadvertently stumped Sasha Petraske when I asked for one. He was so excited to make a classic that he wasn’t familiar with that he ran down the street to the liquor store to get a bottle of Benedictine. It was an awesome experience in both cocktailing and in hospitality. After that, if you’re a professional bartender, you have to master the art of making a perfect Sazerac.
S&S: As the “Kansas City Whiskey,” what was it that set J. Rieger apart from the other regional styles back when it was founded? How do these distinctive qualities stand out in today’s landscape?
RM: That’s tough to say for sure. The information back then about what exactly was being done was really scattered and scarce. What we do know is that the addition of sherry was widespread up until Prohibition. Today, Kansas City Whiskey as a style is incredibly unique and sets itself apart from bourbon, rye, and all other American whiskeys in that it opens up a world of possibilities. Our KC Whiskey is a blend using straight bourbon, straight rye and light corn whiskey with just a tiny 2% addition of a beautiful 15 year Oloroso Sherry. It adds a softness, a slight sweetness, and deep complexity from the natural terroir of the sherry.
S&S: What are your favorite things to sip at home?
RM: Freezer-batched dry gin martinis, fino sherry, an array of whiskeys with a good cigar.
S&S: Yum! Was there a standout cocktail or drinking experience you’ve had this past year, whether at home or not?
RM: I’ve actually gone almost an entire year now without traveling and having the opportunity to drink in some of the best bars in the world. Which has actually allowed me to rediscover some favorite wines. I’ve cooked more at home than ever before, and I’ve opened some beautiful bottles of wine, most notably a lot of Barolo and Grower Champagnes.
S&S: After such a tough year for the industry, what are some ways that folks can donate or help out?
RM: The best way that you can help out is to support your local, independently owned bars, restaurants, and businesses any way that you can. And when doing so, show patience and empathy, and always tip well.