Rye whisky is any whisky that is made using rye grain as the predominant grain in the mash. In the United States of America (US), the term rye whisky means that this particular whisky is made from at least 51% rye grains. However, the total amount of rye used will vary when made in most other countries, but it should still be the main ingredient in the mash.
There are no established rules for what goes into a whisky mash in Australia, other than it needs to be a cereal grain. However, most distilleries will lean towards the conditions laid out in other regions to ensure their product has a familiar flavour.
Rye is a type of grass, and it's quite similar to wheat. It can be ground into flour to make bread, and it's often used to make beer, and it can be grown exclusively for animal feed. Rye is commonly grown as a crop in all parts of Europe, except for western Europe. Rye is also grown in North America, South America, Australia, China, and the Middle East. However, it is not as popular as wheat and other grain crops. Rye is a native grass species from regions near modern-day Turkey, and it was first cultivated over thirteen thousand years ago. Rye is often grown as a cover crop as it tends to grow in the winter. This can help protect the soil for summer growing crops and limit the growth of winter hardy weeds.
Rye whisky is commonly referred to as Canadian whisky because using rye was quite popular among Canadian distilleries, likely because of the grain's hardiness in cold conditions. Many modern Canadian whiskies are made from a mix of corn and rye; this results in a whisky that is considered smooth to drink but may lack in flavour. When the mix of any whisky is predominantly rye grain, it results in a spicy whisky that packs more of a punch than your standard bourbon whiskies.
What is rye whisky?
When it comes to the question: ‘what is rye whisky’, you must know that they are predominantly made in the US and Canada. You can find some brilliant examples of Australian whisky that use rye, but they are not common. Rye whisky can have a peppery flavour, which helps it hold onto the spicy whisky mantle. The level of spiciness in these whiskies is driven by the amount of rye added into the whisky mash. Often this flavour is balanced with corn which tends to make a sweeter whisky, such as bourbon.
In the US, rye whisky needs to follow similar rules to bourbon whisky. It must contain 51% of rye and be matured in freshly charred new oak barrels. However, rye whisky is often finished in used barrels; popular choices include Cognac, Rum, and wine barrels. For a rye whisky to be known as 'straight rye whisky' from US distilleries, it needs to be matured for at least two years in barrels. The longer the whisky stays in barrels, the better the flavour, and generally, it is smoother to drink.
Rye whisky can be used in any cocktail that uses whisky, and it can add a certain spicy quality to the drink. For example, if you make an Old Fashioned with bourbon or single malt whisky, the flavour may be sweet, but add in the rye, and it provides a pepper punch. The most popular rye whisky comes from Canadian Club, and it is a good starting point for anyone getting into rye whisky. Canadian Club is not as potent as some other rye whiskies, and it can give you a feel for what is to be expected from most rye-based whiskies. Now that you have a more nuanced understanding of this type of whisky, you can drop a few fun tidbits the next time someone asks: what is rye whisky?
How to choose the best rye whisky?
When it comes to rye whisky, the US is reasonably dominant in the field. However, as the US is relatively rigid in how rye whisky is made, you may find it hard to discern the nuanced flavours from the different labels. If you're starting with rye whisky, then a Canadian whisky may be a good place to begin. These are often much smoother and easier to drink, but they still contain the pepper and spicy notes that rye whisky is known for.
In choosing a rye whisky, it pays to read all the tasting notes you can find. This will give you a good amount of information on that particular whisky, and then you can choose one that contains flavours that appeal to you. Having matching or contrasting whisky to taste can help you uncover hidden flavours whenever you're tasting whisky. You can compare the two and then decide which whisky is better.
Where to buy rye whisky near me?
The best place to find a premium rye whisky is by shopping online. Online shopping is very convenient as you can do it from home, where you have access to all the research you need. While you can find several examples of rye whisky at your local retail liquor store, generally, you only have the notes on the back of the bottle as a guide. Looking up reviews and tasting notes will give you a better idea about that particular bottle of rye whisky.
If you're looking for that spicy quality in whisky, there are many alternatives to choosing a rye-based whisky. At Lark Distillery, our Classic Cask is well known for its spicy notes and brilliant smokey quality. All premium whisky can be excellent on its own or mixed into a cocktail. The flavours should be consistent and an accurate representation of what the distillery can achieve.
All orders placed through our online shop will be processed in one business day. You can add any of our top-shelf whisky to your whisky delivery. If you're unsure which whisky is best, you can order one of our popular whisky tasting sets. These whisky sets are perfect for sampling a few different labels or as part of a whisky gift pack.