Everything you Need to Know about Rye Whiskey
Rye was once the pride and joy of american distillers, and the most popular spirit in the United States. Sazeracs, Manhattans, and Old Fashionedstook the cocktail world by storm. However, after prohibition, rye production began to fade and the spirit nearly faded into obscurity. Luckily a resurgence of traditional craft spirits and cocktails have brought rye back to the forefront of people’s minds (and cocktail lists.) But what is rye exactly? And how is it different from Bourbon? Read on for everything you need to know about Rye whiskey.
In the simplest terms, American rye is made using a mash that contains at least 51% rye. The other 49% of the mash is the distillers choice and can be anything from corn to wheat or barley. Additionally, rye must be distilled to no stronger than 160 proof, and matured in charred new oak barrels. It must go into said barrel at no stronger than 125 proof, and be bottled at a minimum of 80 proof (or 40% alcohol by volume.)
Canadian rye follows different, more lenient guidelines, which I will tackle a little further down.
Styles of American Rye:
Originally, there were two distinct styles of American rye, Pennsylvania Rye Whiskey and Maryland Rye Whiskey. While most modern rye’s do not follow the original recipes and styles, the resurgence of rye has renewed appreciation for traditional flavors.
Pennsylvania style rye, also known as Monongahela rye was originally made with 100% rye. Making a truly powerful whiskey. This dry style of rye is bold, spicy, and robust. Old Overholt was originally produced as a Pennsylvania rye, but has changed its mash bill to include other grains.
Maryland style rye was the easier to drink, slightly sweeter side of rye. This is the case because it was often a blend of rye with corn. Its flavors tended to be softer, rounder and brighter than its Pennsylvania counterpart, and can also have a notable floral character.
A bottle labeled labeled with the words “straight rye” has more regulations than its generic counterparts, in order to ensure quality. Along with all the legal requirements of regular rye, straight rye is required to be aged a minimum of two years. If it is aged less than four years, the bottle will mention the age of the youngest whiskey in the bottle. Additionally, straight rye can not contain any added coloring, flavorings, or additional spirits.
Canadian rye can also be called “Canadian whisky,” “Canadian rye whisky” or “Rye whisky.” But here’s where things get a little tricky. While American rye needs to be minimum 51% rye, there is no requirement for ANY rye to be included in the mash for a Canadian Rye. Simply, if the product smells, tastes, and has a general character of a canadian whisky, it may be called such. Most modern Canadian whiskeys contain only a fraction of rye, if any at all. The only real regulation for a Canadian rye involves aging. It must be aged in wooden barrels that are not larger than 180 gallons, for a minimum of 3 years. Unlike whiskey from the United States, there is no regulation requiring the barrels be charred, or new oak. Canadian Club would be an example of this style of whisky.
Fun fact: You may have noticed American Rye Whiskey and Canadian Rye Whisky are spelled differently. When in doubt, if the country that produces the whiskey has an ‘e’ in its name (ex: United States, Ireland) their spelling of whiskey will have an ‘e.’ But if it has no ‘e’ in the spelling of its name (ex: Japan, Scotland) it will likely be spelled whisky.
There are endless options for delicious rye, and the distinctive styles mean there’s a rye for everyone. Do you have a favorite rye? Let us know here (on our blog,) on Facebook or in the store. We are excited to hear from you! We also deliver locally, to Amagansett, East Hampton, Wainscott, Bridgehampton, Southampton, Sag Harbor, and Montauk.