Before Prohibition, rye was the most popular type of whiskey in America. Here are some fast facts on rye whiskey.
Rye whiskey has a spicier, more rugged taste than other whiskey types.
Eat a slice of rye bread after a slice of corn bread and you’ll understand why rye whiskey is known for its bold taste. The earthy, spicy taste of the rye grain yields a dry, peppery whiskey with a distinctive bite.
In America, the specific requirements a spirit must meet to be marketed as rye whiskey are:
- Aged in new, charred oak barrels
- Distilled to no more than 160 proof
- Put into the barrel at no higher than 125 proof
- Bottled at a minimum of 80 proof
Rye whiskey was historically produced with surplus grain that was too costly for farmers to transport.
Because of the heartiness and low cost of rye as a farm crop, American farmers grew a lot of it, with frequent surplus. Because hauling heavy loads of grain was costly, and because damp conditions made rye difficult to store without spoilage, the only sensible thing to do was to use it up – creating whiskey!
George Washington distilled rye whiskey at his home in Mount Vernon.
George Washington got his start in the whiskey business in 1797 after being convinced by his Scottish farm manager, James Anderson, that it would be a profitable venture. In Washington’s time, the prevailing taste was for unaged rye. His product turned out to be so successful that he was forced to make plans to expand his distillery after just one summer of production.
The rye whiskey industry was hit hardest by Prohibition.
After Prohibition, America regained its taste for bourbon, but rye was never the same. One reason often cited for this is that during Prohibition, whiskey enthusiasts quenched their thirst with the milder-tasting whiskey smuggled over the border from Canada. After thirteen years of an absence of rye, the majority of the up and coming generation of whiskey drinkers had no taste for the old spirit. Rye became an “old-fashioned” drink.
Rye is soaring in popularity in America thanks to renewed interest in old-fashioned spirits.
Rye whiskey’s ability to add a unique and robust taste to cocktails, combined with young America’s desire to draw inspiration from past eras, has caused a shift in the whiskey industry that favors rye. More and more whiskey lovers are discovering this oft-forgotten spirit and adding it to their cabinets.