Rye Whiskey 101

Bourbon and Scotch may be best-sellers, but the drink of choice for many whiskey connoisseurs is increasingly often a glass of rye.

Up until recently, this historic American spirit was fading into obscurity. Liquor stores and bars usually stocked just a few old, dusty bottles. But there has been a miraculous rebirth of the rye category, and drinkers now prize its big, spicy and brash flavors. Distillers are now struggling to keep up with demand.

Rye has a lot in common with that other American whiskey, bourbon, and the two spirits are usually produced in the same Kentucky distilleries using similar methods. Both are typically made from corn and rye, but the ratio of ingredients is very different. Rye whiskey is made from at least 51%—you guessed it—rye, while bourbon is made from at least 51% corn. The higher percentage of corn makes bourbon sweeter and smoother. (You can easily taste the difference if you make one Manhattan with bourbon and another with rye.) Both spirits are also aged in new, charred, American-oak barrels.

To make things more complicated, Canadian whisky is sometimes also called rye. The distillers to our north use the same grains, but the finished product is usually a smooth blend instead of a straight whiskey.

Here’s a shot of spelling with your glass of rye. Whisky from Scotland, Canada and Japan is spelled without an “e.” Whiskey from Ireland and the United States is usually spelled with an “e.”

HOW TO DRINK RYE:

You can’t make a proper Old Fashioned, Sazerac or Manhattan without rye. The spirit also can be paired with club soda or ginger ale, or drunk straight, neat or on the rocks.

NOTEWORTHY RYE BRANDS:

Black Maple Hill, Bulleit, High West, Jim Beam, McKenzie, Michter’s, Old Overholt, Old Potrero, Old Rip Van Winkle, Pikesville, (Ri)1, Rittenhouse, Russell’s Reserve, Sazerac, Templeton, Tuthilltown

Learn all about even more types of liquor in our Spirits 101 stories on absinthebourboncognacginIrish whiskeyrumScotchtequila and vodka.



Discussion

  • Liquor.com posted 2 years ago

    Ed, you're right. The vast majority of American producers spell whiskey with an "e," but there are two major exceptions: Maker's Mark and George Dickel. We've corrected the article to say it's usually spelled with an "e."

  • Ed D posted 2 years ago

    You've stated several times that "Whiskey from Ireland and the United States is spelled with an “e.” You should qualify that with the exception: Makers Mark Whisky.

  • Chad R. posted 3 years ago

    How about adding Catoctin Creek to this list? Rye whiskey is historically a Mid-Atlantic spirit, not a wilderness tipple. Get one of VA's newest distilleries on here please!


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