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David Lissner
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Al Capone’s favorite rye is back in Chicago

Jason Walsmith of The Nadas sings “Templeton Rye,” a musical history.

The 1920s hit with a double whammy — the Great Depression and Prohibition. To keep themselves solvent, Heartland farmers turned to bootlegging … and the whiskey produced from rye grown around Templeton, Iowa, became an underground success, peddled in speakeasies in Chicago and around the country by Al Capone, who called his private supply “the good stuff.” The homemade hooch commanded premium prices — $5.50 a gallon, the equivalent of $70 in today’s dollars. Even after Prohibition, a few families quietly continued making booze for private consumption.

In the early 2000s, Scott Bush, whose family had once made illicit whiskey in Templeton, determined to bring the spirits to the (legal) market. Tracking down a recipe wasn’t easy, but he finally convinced the family of one-time Templeton bootlegger Alphonse Kerkhoff to part with their recipe. Partnering with Kerkhoff’s grandson, Keith Kerkhoff, Bush built a new distillery in Templeton and began producing smooth, small-batch, single-barrel rye from the Kerkhoffs’ Prohibition-era formula under the infamous name. The first batch sold in 2006.

The whiskey, aged four years, has been in short supply — even hard to get than its 1920s progenitor was, but with its fourth batch — 40,000 cases — now in release, the new Templeton Rye is more available in local stores and restaurants. Illinois gets 500 cases a month. The lion’s share of the production is being distributed in Iowa, with smaller amounts sent to New York City and San Francisco.

At 7 p.m. Monday, July 11, Blue 13 in River North fetes the all-American spirits with a Templeton Rye dinner. Executive Chef Chris Curren and Chef de Cuisine Chris Davies’ whiskey-infused cuisine will be paired with rye cocktails. Bush and Kerkhoff will be on hand.

The dinner is $65, and reservations are required. Knock three times and tell ’em “Dining Chicago sent me.”

At 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 12, the Templeton principals will host a seminar and tasting at The Motel Bar in River North. Including a light meal, the event is $20; call for reservations.