Rye whiskey was one of the first spirits in the New World and was widely popular until the 1920s. Even George Washington distilled his own batch on Mt. Vernon. However, after prohibition the American palate turned to lighter spirits such as gin and blended whiskey. During this time the drinkers of rye whiskey drop to a small but loyal few. However, today’s consumers are searching for a more robust spirit. For that they have turned their sights, and livers, back to rye.
In the United States rye whiskey is required by law to meet the following requirements:
- It must be made from a grain mixture of 51% rye (the remaining balance is generally made up of corn and malted barley).
- It must be aged in new charred-oak barrels.
- It must be distilled to no more than 160 proof and barreled for aging at no more than 125 proof.
- It must be bottled at a minimum of 80 proof.
- Straight Rye Whiskey must meet all the requirements of regular Rye whiskey plus two additional factors:
- It must be aged at least two years
- It must be free of added colorings, flavorings, or other spirits
American Rye whiskeys are known for their spicy, bold character. They are typically drier and slightly more bitter than their popular cousin, bourbon. Thanks to their rich flavor profile, ryes have great versatility and works well with a variety of cocktails.
Why is Canadian whisky sometimes referred to as rye?
Traditionally, Canadian whisky was produced with a large amount of rye in the mash bill. As a result, its name was sometimes shortened to “rye.” However, to call Canadian whisky “rye” is rather deceiving since many of today’s Canadian whiskies are made with little to no rye at all. Regardless of the amount of rye in its grain mixture, Canadian law allows for Canadian whisky to be labeled as Canadian Rye Whisky or Rye Whisky. Because of the lower rye percentage in its mash bill, Canadian Rye Whisky tends to be lighter and sweeter than the strong, intense rye produced in the United States.