Why is Rye Still Hot?
A history lesson: If rum was America’s original dram of choice, it was quickly replaced by Rye Whiskey. We had the material, we had the distilling knowledge, we could make it bigger, better, stronger faster!
Wait, that’s the Bionic Man.
Nonetheless, the facts were true. Given that one of the earliest distillers in the colonies was a guy named George Washington, there was credibility and propriety around rye production as well.
Enough with the history lesson; we’re more interested about what makes rye tick.
If Bourbon is a sipping dram, Rye is a cocktail staple. Why? The biggest reason is dry, astringent spice character that rye grain brings to the table. While it’s a key component in most bourbon (rye adds layers of pepper and baking spice to the fat sweetness of a majority corn mash) it can get shrill and sharp when turned up too high.
However, the addition of other sweet, fat flavors in a cocktail makes that sharp spice character an asset again, a layer of bright, complex flavors popping through the sweetness. We aren’t saying Rye is undrinkable on it’s own; anyone who has sipped Sazerac Straight Rye, WhistlePig, High West Rendezvous, Wild Turkey Russell’s Reserve, and on and on and on … knows this already.
What’s With High Rye Recipe Ryes?
That’s a mouthful. Here’s the deal:
The traditional Ryes we are most familiar with are much like bourbon, except the proportion of rye and corn are flipped. Bourbon has a minimum of 50% corn with rye (or wheat) and malted barley as compliments. Straight Rye has minimum of 50% Rye, with corn and malt added as the compliments, with generally no more than 60% rye.
Things are changing, and we like it. A few Canadian distilleries are producing rye that contains 70% to 100% rye. A few of these are actually starting to see the light of day, most notably the sublime WhistlePig (100% rye) produced in Canada and bottled in Vermont. On our side of the border, the highly allocated Old Potrero whiskies (100%) and the newly introduced Redemption Rye (95%) are following suit.
We’re glad to see this trend. We expect more to come, especially from microdistilleries, such as our friends at Koval.
We asked our ace mixology team at the South Loop Tasting Room to create signature cocktails featuring Rye. Check out the Whiskey Hotline Holiday Edition for cocktail recipes and more news from the world of designer distillates.