All you Need to Know about Rye Whiskey

Rye whiskey boasts an assortment of rich aromas with a hint of spice. It’s these distinct flavours that set it apart from other popular whiskeys, including the likes of bourbon. However, there’s plenty more to know about rye whiskey, as we reveal here…

The early distilling industry began in colonial America in the mid-1600s.

It wasn’t until one hundred years later that the whiskey industry came to light. This was due to a blockade of colonial ports drying up the supply of molasses used to create rum, which led distillers to convert their talents to whiskey making.

What is rye whiskey?

Unlike other whiskeys, rye is aged and charred in new oak barrels. When making 100% rye whiskey (just like bourbon), it needs to be aged for a minimum of two years.

Rye whiskeys tend to contain a good amount of corn. This allows for a sweet flavour, which balances the spicy nature of the rye. Certain distillers will also add wheat, which softens the spice and keeps the spirit dry, while bringing out the fruitiness of the rye.

A typical rye whiskey will have some “sour mash”, which comes from the previous production cycle and ensures a consistency of flavour, spice and yeast. This particular beverage is distilled to no more than 160 proof (meaning it’s stripped of fewer congeners, or flavour compounds).

How is whiskey made?

To make rye whiskey, you’ll need some grain, wheat, corn, barley, oats or rye. Instead of using a recipe, you’ll need a Mash Bill – this comprises a list of the grains used to create not just whiskey, but a variety of spirits. Included in this list are the proportions of each grain needed to make the desired beverage.

Once you have your ingredients, both water and heat are added to the mixture, to create sugar that eventually ferments into alcohol. This mixture is eventually distilled, which helps to separate the spirits from the mash, before being aged in wooden casks.

The mash bill for rye whiskey requires a minimum of 51% rye. The other ingredients usually consist of barley, corn, wheat and often oats.

Certain rye whiskeys (straight whiskey) consist of 100% rye.

Different types of whiskey

The flavours and aromas can change dramatically depending on the type of grain used, what type of barrel it is aged in, how long for and how it is distilled.

Even the subtlest change to any part of this process can have a huge impact on the flavour of the whiskey.

Different types of rye whiskey

There are two main types of rye whiskey; these include American Rye and Canadian Rye.

American Rye is heavily regulated, and boasts the steadiest quality. It’s also the easiest to source. Canadian Rye on the other hand is a little more open. In fact, there is no Canadian law controlling what can and can’t be called “rye”.

Due to this, the majority of Canadian Ryes are created using only corn mash bills.

Rye versus bourbon: The flavour differences

The flavour differences between both rye and bourbon all come down to the ingredients used. The bourbon corn mash creates a sweet, rich, full-bodied flavour, while the rye mash boasts spicy tones, complemented by a drier taste.

Aged bourbon doesn’t grow in flavour as much as aged rye, which tends to become subtler in taste over time, while still packing a punch.

Those new to the world of whiskeys often prefer bourbon flavours, as they boast a consistent sweetness.

Rye tends to have more of an intense taste that develops on the palate, one of the reasons it’s a favourite of whiskey connoisseurs.

rye whiskey


– Rye whiskey comes in the shape of a rich amber hue (due to the oak barrels) and is usually a minimum of 40% ABV.
– To be called a ‘Straight Rye’ the whiskey must contain no added spirits, flavourings or colours.
– If aged less than four years, Straight Rye must showcase an age statement.
– The most popular types of rye whiskey are Bulleit, Redemption, Templeton, Whistlepig, Anchor and Dad’s Hat.
– Rye is also a popular ingredient for a number of cocktails including Brooklyn, Sazerac, Manhattan, Whiskey Sour and the Rye Old Fashioned – this is due to the sweet notes of caramel and vanilla, which complement a number of other spirits and mixtures.

Knowing the subtle differences between rye whiskey and bourbon will help you to create the perfect cocktail.

Simply ask yourself; do you want sugar or spice?

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