Rye is one of the crops that shows up in many products nowadays. It is also one of the critical requirements for bread, cereals, and whiskey. It is one of the crops that has been around for centuries and still helps to feed the world in so many ways today. This is why the United States government always ensure that rye grain suppliers provide nothing but premium quality grain services so that the production of beverage and food is not interrupted in any way.
The primary ingredient of whiskeys – with a few exceptions, of course – is rye grains. Rye, like oats and barley, is one of the ancient grains that flourishes in wet and cold weather. Before the advent of modern agriculture as well as transportation which made the cereal called “wheat” available everywhere, rye was the best – in some cases – the only option for baking bread in the majority of regions in northern Europe, i.e. Russia, the Baltic States, Hungary, Germany, Poland, Scandinavia, and the Netherlands all used rye in one way or the other.
What is Rye Whiskey?
Most people don’t realize it, especially when they are throwing back one shot after another with their drinking buddies and friends, but the majority of the spirits out there must comply with several strict parameters if they must be categorized under a specific standard.
For instance, all drinks called “Bourbon” must come from a mixture of base grains – known as a mash bill – which is made up of 51 percent corn. What is more, all Bourbon must be aged in charred – but new – oak barrels.
In like manner, rye whiskey must possess a mash bill that is at least 51 percent rye. Rye, which is a sturdy grain, shares many properties with barley. Some distillers usually make a whiskey that is composed of 100% rye, though the majority mix additional grains like corn and barley, and by so doing, they diversify the flavor profile. All rye whiskey, like Bourbon, must be aged in new, charred, oak barrels.
Furthermore, freshly distilled rye whiskey must remain below 80 percent ABV, and when it goes into the barrel, that percentage must drop considerably to somewhere below 63 percent. At the time of bottling, however, rye whiskey has to be a minimum of 40 percent ABV, and this is an excellent range that only a few people would probably complain about.
Scotch and Bourbon may appear to be the bestselling alcoholic beverages today – as portrayed in many Hollywood movies – buy rye whiskey is increasingly becoming the drink of choice for lots of whiskey enthusiasts out there. Until recently, this beloved, prehistoric American spirit was fading into oblivion, and only a few old and dusty bottles could be found in few bars and liquor stores across the country.
But there has been a miraculous renaissance in the rye category, a rebirth that has made many whiskey connoisseurs to appreciate its brash and spicy flavors. Distillers of whiskey are running up and down to keep up with the huge demand for rye whiskey.
Rye whiskey shares a lot in common with another variety of American whiskey known as Bourbon. In fact, the two spirits are generally produced in the same distilleries in Kentucky using similar methods.
Both rye whiskey and Bourbon are usually made from rye and corn, respectively; the only difference is the base ingredients as well as their respective rations. As stated earlier, rye whiskey is composed of at least 51 percent of rye while Bourbon is composed of about 51 percent corn.
The high percentage of corn in Bourbon makes it generally smoother and sweeter than its counterpart. You can taste the profound difference if you – or your favorite bartender – makes one Manhattan with rye and another with bourbon. Both spirits are also aged in new but charred American oak barrels for excellence.
Now, there is a complication which seems to have started lately, and this is the fact that Canadian whiskey is sometimes referred to as rye whiskey. The distillers to the north of America may use similar grains to produce their whiskeys, but in most cases, the outcome is nothing more than a smooth blend instead of a straight whiskey.
Do you know how you can distinguish the rye whiskey produced in the United States and Ireland from the varieties from other countries? It is all in the spellings!
Whiskey from Canada, Scotland, and Japan are spelled “whiskey,” i.e., without an “e,” while the variety from Ireland and the United States is spelled “whiskey,” i.e., with an “e.”
Rye Whiskey: A Brief History
At one time in the history of the United States, rye was practically synonymous with American whiskey. In the 1700s, around the period the United States was founded, Maryland and Pennsylvania were rye-growing regions. The distillers of that time went ahead to create a reliable market that was highly revered that rye was used to barter.
And so, when rye became the first domestic commodity or product that was taxed by the new United States government, a severe backlash ensued which led to what was known as the “Whiskey Rebellion.”
Then Prohibition stepped in, and there was a significant decrease in the production of rye, and soon enough, Bourbon – which was produced after distilling corn, a cereal that was cultivated in huge proportions in the newly farmed Midwest – took the place of rye whiskey. Bourbon embedded itself in the hearts and souls of many whiskey lovers as America’s favorite alcoholic beverage. That was, of course, long before vodka was discovered. Canadian ryes were consumed during this period as well, though not as much as Bourbon.
It is much easier to distill corn than rye, and corn also produces a sweeter liquor. Thus, it rose quickly in popularity because the majority of whiskey drinkers at the time loved consuming sweeter cocktails. Back then, sweet vermouth was used for making martinis as against what prevails today, the use of the well-known dry vermouth.
Rye hung on by a thread for several years, thanks mostly to the tenacity of a few distilleries which could only produce rye whiskey in small proportions. There was a time when rye that was produced by Jim Beam, Wild Turkey, and Old Overholt exemplified the majority of options for connoisseurs of the spicy brown whiskey.
So, it is safe to declare that the only reason why rye survived was as a result of the persistence of whiskey lovers who were determined to preserve the unique and most exotic essence of the cereal. When rye started making a slow comeback in the early 2000s, many distillers started socking them away, and this has led to the tasteful bounty that many whiskey enthusiasts in the United States and even beyond, enjoy today.
And then another situation occurred; the older, sweet-toothed, and bourbon-drinking generation gave out, and a new generation that preferred the flavorful and spicy rye whiskey emerged. Since 2009, the sales of rye have increased astronomically by more than 536%, and by 2014, half a million cases of rye whiskey were consumed as stated by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, a renowned industry group.
Now, in 2019, the number of high-quality or premium rye whiskeys on the market today is entirely new for the modern-day American whiskey enthusiast. Yes, rye whiskey feels much like advanced-level booze, which is why many whiskey lovers adore this alcoholic beverage.
The best rye whiskeys out there take from six to ten years to produce.
What Makes a Rye Whiskey, “Good?”
Few palates are precisely the same, and so this question is somewhat flawed as many who answer it will do so based on their preferences and palates. But all the same, a good or high-quality rye whiskey must go down smoothly while delivering a peculiar tier of character. Bad rye whiskeys yield considerable burn and leave a highly offensive taste on your palate.
So, outside of these two, distinct parameters that will help you to distinguish between premium rye whiskey and its opposite number, what makes a good rye whiskey becomes a matter of preference.
As an example, some whiskey enthusiasts love consuming overly spicy rye whiskey while others love ryes with balanced notes of sweetness and spiciness. In the meantime, cheap rye whiskeys are often best served in mixed drinks or cocktails – except for a few exceptions – since it is expected that they may retain some of the bitterness or heat that is common in rye whiskeys do not undergo the aging process.
Rye whiskey: Few Terms You Need to Be Conversant with
“Straight Whiskey” is rye whiskey that cannot be color corrected.
“Single Barrel” refers to rye whiskey that is bottled from one barrel – as against a blended variety – and this means that it sustains all the distinctive characteristics of that barrel.
“Barrel Proof” implies that the rye whiskey is not watered down to the regular 40 percent ABV.
The Best Rye Whiskeys on the Market Today
The modern landscape of spirits or alcoholic beverages in the United States of America has left no doubt whatsoever in the mind of whiskey lovers that rye whiskey’s comeback is nothing short of phenomenal.
Although many whiskey drinkers have become accustomed to drinking corn-based bourbon, the earthy and spicy character of rye whiskey is a welcome difference and is said to be even more versatile – when it comes to mixing – than its sweet counterpart.
So, rye is not produced for the purpose of tossing into a Manhattan; it deserves as much attention, recognition, and accolades as one of the most exceptional alcoholic beverages in the world. Rye whiskey will also give you fruit and spice in a relative splay of flavors, which is something that you may not have had.
For newbies who are about to venture into the world of rye whiskeys, there are lots of excellent options to dive in with which do not only represent the clear-cut characteristics of rye whiskey but also do so without the need for you to break the bank.
Therefore, here are some of the best rye whiskeys on the market today:
Old Overholt is one of the best value rye whiskeys today and despite its premium quality, comes at a surprisingly low price, not more than $20, max. It is the perfect bottle for those who want to transition from Bourbons, which are decidedly less spicy, to rye. The first time this alcoholic beverage was produced was in 1810 – making it the oldest continually operating whiskey label in America – by Abraham Overholt. This heritage statement has long become one of the mainstays in bars around the world.
You will not only get a delicate nose of vanilla and spice along with a variety of tender orchard fruits with a bit of pepperiness when you drink Old Overholt Straight rye whiskey, but you will also be left with enough change to buy one taco as well.
Templeton Rye “The Good Stuff” Rye Whiskey was one of the alcoholic beverages that were distilled illegally during Prohibition by the residents of Templeton, Iowa. This spirit is loaded with rye – up to a whopping 95 percent mash bill – thereby giving you a lot more spice and grassiness. Templeton Rye “The Good Stuff” Rye Whiskey is balanced by fruity fudginess that is almost second to none.
It has hints of pear, cinnamon, and vanilla. Make no mistake about it, there is a lot more going on in this Prohibition-era style 80-proof whiskey, and you can only see the whole picture after multiple experiences.
Templeton rye whiskey is one of the best alcoholic beverages to break out on special events or occasions and share with family/friends. You should consider trying it on a Sazerac, which is a cocktail made with bourbon – with bitters – and Pernod along with sugar served with lemon peel.
Bulleit “95” Rye Small Batch Frontier Whiskey is another product with 95 percent rye mash bill, which is indicated by the “95” in its appellation. When you drink this spirit, you will get richer, rounder fruit on the nose as well as a pleasant, softer palate with some sturdy oak and citrus. This rye whiskey is quietly sweet as it burns its way down your esophagus.
High West Whiskey Double Rye is not your typical rye whiskey as there are two kinds of rye mix – or two different mash bills – in one bottle. Distilled by David Perkins, High West Whiskey Double Rye is composed of 95 percent rye mash bill – sourced from MGP that has been aged for two years – and 5 percent barley malt along with 16-year-old rye – obtained from Barton Distillery – with a 53 percent rye mash bill and 37 percent corn.
The result of this remarkable and unorthodox mix is an alcoholic beverage – with 46 percent ABV – which is slightly sweeter than the traditional rye whiskey, but with some innovative taste which turns some whiskey drinkers off. Flavors you may taste include toffee, toothy fruit with some drying oak and eucalyptus.
However, High West Whiskey Double Rye has a balanced complexity, thanks to the much older juice.
As mentioned earlier in this article, there was a time when rye was ably represented by only three brands: Old Overholt, Wild Turkey, and Jim Beam. But when the Bourbon boom spilled over right into rye, Eddie Russell – Wild Turkey’s Master Distiller – stepped up and into rye whiskey production, assisted by Jimmy, his dad.
There was an excess of rye, and so Russell allowed some of these barrels to age a bit longer than usual. Now, Wild Turkey makes use of two mash bills, i.e., one for Bourbon, one for rye, and one yeast. So, when you taste their lineup, you will experience different tastes that exclusively came from aging.
Russell’s Reserve 6-Year-Old Rye is aged in charred no. 4 barrels and carefully hand-selected by the distiller. Despite a mash bill of 51% rye, 37% corn, and 12% barley, this alcoholic beverage represents the true image of rye whiskey itself.
This highly celebrated spirit serves up more than enough notes of spice, which is often compared to rye bread. The grainy flavors of Russell’s Reserve 6 Year Old Rye are balanced out by smooth notes of oak and molasses, culminating in sweet but bold and complex rye that is perfect for cocktails.
Okay, if you want to go all out by stocking your bar with something unique or special, then perhaps, you need to look towards Angel’s Envy Rye Whiskey. It is a controversial and distinctive spirit among purists, and for good reasons, too.
Angel’s Envy Rye Whiskey is finished for 18 months in vintage, Caribbean rum casks – and 6 years in new, American oak-charred barrels – consequently retaining a fruity profile and an expression that is entirely unique, all thanks to Lincoln Henderson.
There are only 2,500 cases of Angel’s Envy Rye Whiskey in existence, and this is more than enough to make it a drink to be opened only on very special occasions. This dessert-like and rich spirit portray indisputable flavors of spice and vanilla.
Needless to say, this complex and luscious 100 proof sipper goes down exceptionally well during dessert.
Granted, 18 years old is a pretty long time for any alcoholic beverage to rest, but you will be amazed at the wonder that period does for the Sazerac 18-Year-Old Straight Rye.
This rare spirit from the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection earns its name from the esteemed New Orleans establishment where the Sazerac, i.e., America’s first cocktail, was invented. This top rye whiskey gives off flavors of honey, oak, leather, pepper, citrus, and spice which blast through the nose and carried over right into the palate, thus making it an exciting spirit to drink straight.
Sazerac 18-Year-Old Straight Rye is also incredibly rare as only 28 barrels are produced annually. So, if luck shines on you and you are able to get your hands on a bottle or two, no one needs to tell you only to bring them out when it truly matters.
WhistlePig Rye Whiskey is set apart from the other guys in the sense that it is composed of 100 percent rye, thus giving it that flavor that is very hard to ignore. Most competitors come with at least 51 percent rye and 49 percent corn.
After spending 10 years in the barrel, WhistlePig Rye Whiskey gives an assertive, spicy flavor that lacks any form of sweetness along with waves of fruity caramel, woody citrus, and vanilla.
There was a time when WhistlePig came under intense fire for obtaining its distillate elsewhere and then feigned as if it produced everything in-house. But who truly cares what they do as long as they follow the strict laws that guide the naming of rye whiskeys and the result of their seeming action tastes this good?
In truth, the brand’s highly acclaimed alcoholic beverage is imported from Canada instead of the Vermont distillery, and this has led to the development of a lot of hate by prudish snobs. This is based primarily on the fact that regulations about what goes into rye whiskey in Canada are not as strict as it entails in the United States. For instance, caramel coloring is allowed in Canada, whereas such is forbidden in the United States.
But it does not really matter anymore, especially when the spirit is sliding down your gullet while transmitting a variety of flavors along the way.
If you have ever doubted whether or not any other place can produce as good a spirit as Kentucky rye whiskey, then you need to know that the Michter’s US-1 Single Barrel Straight Rye Whiskey hails from Pennsylvania. And yes, the “US-1” is an indication that it is the first whiskey that was produced in America because the distillery was established in 1753 near Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania. But since you are not here for a history lesson, it may not matter to you.
However, Michter’s US-1 Single Barrel Straight Rye Whiskey is a full-bodied spirit, and that is because it shears its rye just before it undergoes fermentation and then aged in a warehouse that is extra-hot. This is a clever hack that coaxes out as much flavor as possible from the entire process.
Michter’s US-1 Single Barrel Straight Rye Whiskey delivers creamy notes of spicy, rich fruit, pepper, and deep citrus along with a woody backbone or slightly oaky finish. It is, without any iota of doubt, one of the best and stunning rye whiskeys in the world.
This is another label with a lot of history under its proverbial belt, up to 120 years. The fantastic distillery – which produces this unique wine and led by Drew Kulsveen – re-opened their still a few years ago, in 2012 to be precise.
This relatively young, small whiskey delivers distinct, robust flavors – and a certain banana sugary sweetness and creaminess – and a bold edge. Of course, the subtle graininess and spice that you are looking for in a rye whiskey are also present.
In simple words, Willet Family Estate Small Batch Rye represents the perfect example of this category of spirits.
Rittenhouse 100 Proof Bottled in Bond Rye Whiskey was saved from extinction by the Heaven Hill Distillery in the late ’90s. The origin of this noteworthy spirit goes as far back as the official cancellation of Prohibition, making it one of the first few rye whiskeys that stormed right out of the gate to freedom.
Still bottled in bond, Rittenhouse 100 Proof Bottled in Bond Rye Whiskey is made with a mash bill of 51 percent – along with Sazerac and Old Overholt – and aged for 4 years, thereby making it more accessible and sweeter than spirits made entirely of rye.
Rittenhouse 100 Proof Bottled in Bond Rye Whiskey balances lush notes of vanilla and cherry – along with honey florals on top – as well as spice and some dark fruit which linger deep down. You are bound to notice how the oak picks up the spice on a gentle, dry, palate-cleansing finish.
Since it is at 100 proof, connoisseurs recommend this rye whiskey for cocktails so that the proof can remain high.
Van Winkle 13-Year-Old Family Reserve Rye is also one of the best but rare-to-find spirits today. It is aged for not less than 13 years, and this long-term aging helps to coax more of the subtle notes of the spirit, which are often hidden when it is young.
Van Winkle 13-Year-Old Family Reserve Rye gives off flavors of white pepper and cocoa. Its deep, copper color, smooth and substantial texture along with its exquisite taste will make it truly outstanding, so it is not surprising that this rare rye whiskey flies off the shelf faster than it is arranged there.
Redemption Barrel Proof Straight Rye Whiskey can be said to be a relative newcomer as it just came into limelight in 2013. However, this exceptionally smooth spirit is rich in flavors of toasted oranges, drying oak, spice, caramel, and some dark fruit. Then it finishes with a discernible hint of cherry.
Redemption Barrel Proof Straight Rye Whiskey is made with 95 percent rye mash bill and comes with alcohol burn 60 percent ABV.
Pikesville Straight Rye, a label with more than 120 years of history behind it, come straight out of Heaven Hill Distillery. There was a time when it was nothing but a bottom-shelf rye whiskey from the Potomac region.
Pikesville Straight Rye was first distilled back in 1895 but was later acquired by Heaven Hill in 1982 where it was distilled on site in Kentucky.
In 2015, however, there was a qualitative upgrade by launching an older, higher proof, and more extended aging which led to the production of a much-enhanced version globally. Pikesville Straight Rye Whiskey is tastier, stronger, and even more acclaimed than ever before, and it is still within the affordable range of spirits.
Rye whiskey vs. Bourbon: Flavor Differences
The differences of flavors between rye whiskey and bourbon come down to their primary ingredients. The rye mash in rye whiskeys makes for spicy or acid-tasting notes and dry tastes while the corn mash in Bourbon creates sweet, full-bodied flavor.
Rye whiskey becomes very subtle when it is aged well without losing its potent punch, but aged Bourbon does not evolve half as much as its counterpart.
Moreover, it is easier to tolerate the flavors of Bourbon, thanks to its obtrusive sweetness and consistency. But the same cannot be said about rye whiskey as it is noted for its intense tastes which often develop on the palate as time goes on.
5 Astonishing Rye Whiskey’s Health Benefits
If you have wondered if rye whiskey contains any health benefits, you will be amazed at what you will read next. Here are 5 astonishing rye whiskey’s health benefits you never knew:
Rye Whiskey Improves Diabetes
Rye and whiskey contain zero carbohydrates, and so they do not have any significant impact on your blood sugar level the way wheat products can. This implies that people with diabetes can choose whiskey as their top choice or favorite alcoholic beverage without any fear of inadvertently raising their blood sugar.
However, it is always recommended that you get in touch with your physician before drinking rye whiskey, regardless.
It aids Digestion
The fibers that are present in rye also help the process of digesting food. These fibers work by teasing blockage apart, thereby eliminating gas and the general discomfort that is caused as a result of digestion issues. This will end up freeing you up to do what needs to be done per time in your day-to-day activities.
Rye Whiskey Minimizes the Risks of Cancer
Rye whiskey contains lots of antioxidants, the chief of which is known as “ellagic acid,” a compound obtained from rye grains. Ellagic acid is a compound that prevents direct contact between DNA and cancer-causing cells.
This has led to the profound encouragement of rye grain suppliers, and they are always more than willing to provide high-quality rye grains to aid the continued research in finding additional positive links to the prevention of cancer.
It Promotes Weight Loss
Rye is one of the #1 grain that helps in weight loss efforts. This hardy annual crop which is widely grown in northern Europe contains lots of different fibers that help you feel full, much sooner than other types of grains or cereals. This conveniently removes the #1 problem that most people who are struggling to lose weight have, and that is “hunger.”
By reducing your appetite considerably, you will not be under any pressure to eat more food than you ought to. When the urge to eat food reduces, it invariably leads to less intake of calories, thereby causing better potential weight loss.
Rye whiskey contains negligible calories, which has no impact on your overall health. This means that you can even drink one or more glasses of your favorite brand even while you are on a diet without disrupting your weight loss goals.
Rye whiskey is Heart Healthy
Health professionals have discovered that when people with high blood pressure add rye to their diet on a regular basis, it helps in lowering it to a significant level. This is as a result of the combination of the vitamins, minerals, and fibers present in rye grains which play vital roles in regularizing blood pressure.
In return for this, there will be a substantial reduction in the risk of blood clots, heart attack, and stroke.
Rye merchants have also become aware of that the quality of rye grain, as well as the plethora of health benefits that are naturally embedded inthe cereal, reflects the same outcome when the grain is used for the production of whiskey. This is why they also go out of their way to ensure that only the highest quality rye grains which have undergone a thorough inspection, are exported to the United States and other countries as well.
So, the next time you sit back to enjoy that glass of premium rye whiskey, just know that what you are deriving from the alcoholic beverage is much more than just the pleasure it provides.
FAQs About Rye Whiskey
Regular whiskey and rye whiskey are different because they are made with different ingredients. Whiskey is made with corn mash whereas rye whiskey is made with rye mash as the name suggests. Also, whiskey tastes a bit sweet and has a full bodied flavor, whereas rye whiskey has a spicier flavor.
Yes, of course. In fact, some of the greatest whiskey cocktails are made with rye whiskey like the Old Fashioned, Manhattan etc. that have been consumed for years now.
This truly depends on your taste preference. Bourbon tends to be sweeter with caramel notes, whereas rye whiskey is a bit bolder due to the rye mash and comes with savory notes as well.
Rye whiskey has come a long way, even before the Prohibition era and has proven its worth even until today.
The benefits that come with drinking this spirit also makes it highly acclaimed. Sure enough, the phenomenal rise of rye whiskey from the ashes is enough proof that it is going to give the reigning bestsellers, Scotch and Bourbon a run for their money, and there is little doubt that this remarkable alcoholic beverage will soon top the charts as the best spirit in the world!