A grass widely grown for its resourceful grain and closely related to barley, rye is used in numerous everyday products such as bread, beer, and our personal favorite, whiskey. One of the first types of alcohols produced in the United States, rye whiskey quickly became a popular pick for early American drinkers and held on to its popularity for well over 100 years. The fall of rye took place after prohibition ended and more people started turning to the sweet and full bodied taste of bourbon. Below we are going to briefly explain the history of rye, as well as the similarities and differences compared to bourbon, and will share some of our favorite cocktails that contain this comeback kid whiskey.
History of Rye Whiskey
Having its ups and downs, the history of rye whiskey is a rich yet inconsistent one. Poor, Rye, you have been through a lot. Mainly prevalent in the northeastern United States during the 1700 and 1800s. Whiskey, rye in particular, was so popular that George Washington himself had a distillery at Mount Vernon that was dedicated to its production. Demand for the alcohol grew mainly due to the American Revolution. Rum, which had been the most commonly consumed spirit previously, quickly lost favor considering it was hard to obtain from the British West Indies and also difficult to produce domestically.
As the popularity of distilling whiskey grew, America’s politicians, Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton in particular, sought out new ways to reduce the national debt in the aftermath of the revolution by deciding to tax the production of the drink. Naturally, this caused an uproar among distillers and a rebellion ensued. Numerous distillers refused to pay, and simply didn’t. Attacks were also documented against tax collectors. Troops were dispatched and the whiskey rebellion eventually fell apart in time, giving Washington and Hamilton assurance that their new government could keep order. The Whiskey Tax was luckily nixed during the Jefferson administration and production continued to flourish.
Rye remained a favored American drink for many years, that is until the end of Prohibition. During the years of prohibition, rye was produced in great quantities. Templeton whiskey, produced in Templeton, Iowa, was famed for it’s smooth finish. Templeton rye was so popular in fact that it became Al Capone’s choice drink and was in turn distributed by the bootlegging king himself to speakeasies in Chicago, New York, and San Francisco. However, while rye whiskey was an easily accessible alcohol to obtain during the ban, the end of prohibition brought a call for new liquors and different flavors. It was put aside for the more easily produced bourbon, and was deemed an out of style, old person’s drink of choice and remained in the shadows for many years. Luckily, it has again been embraced as a traditional American spirit and is being placed back into classic cocktails, as well as new recipes, while the U.S. nourishes a whiskey revolution and revival.
The Difference Between Rye and Bourbon
When it comes to whiskey it is essential to know the differences between the varying types. While there are numerous styles with different processes, rye and bourbon actually have quite a bit in common, although each end product has a unique taste all its own. For one, both whiskies have to be aged in new aged oak barrels for a minimum of two years. Both can also never be distilled to over 80% ABV (Alcohol by Volume). While they share common characteristics, there are still plenty factors that set them apart.
What exactly is the difference between bourbon and rye whiskey? The most prevalent difference is that rye is of course made with mostly rye grain, while bourbon is created using mostly corn. In American rye, the spirit has to be made from 51% rye. Rye is also crafted in Canada but Canadian rye whiskey has less strict rules and doesn’t require a minimum grain requirement when it comes to naming a whiskey a true rye. Bourbon is only crafted in America and has to contain 51% corn in order to earn its title.
The flavors you receive due to the change in ingredients is enormous. Rye has a far more dry flavor and is dominated with spicy notes, it also tends to be a lot leaner than its bourbon counterpart. Bourbon has a fuller body and is sweeter in taste. However, sometimes the two whiskeys do overlap in taste due to other remaining ingredients used in each. While both have to contain 51% of their respected ingredients the other 49% also play a part in the final outcome of each. While rye adds a spicy touch, wheat adds a sweetness, while corn adds the alcohol. This means that although rye whiskey mainly consists of mainly rye grain, a high volume of wheat may mellow out the flavor. Just as well, adding the rye grain into a bourbon may make it more spicy and similar in taste to a rye whiskey.
Our Favorite Rye Whiskey Cocktails
Sazerac is a cocktail that was originally crafted in The Big Easy and some claim it as one of America’s oldest cocktails. Rye is a key ingredient in this New Orleans tradition and it is normally served in a whiskey or lowball glass.
– 1 sugar cube
– 2 oz of rye whiskey
– Dash of Peychaud’s bitters
-1/4 oz of absinthe
-1 tsp of cold water
– 3 or 4 ice cubes
– lemon peel for garnish
First coat your glass in absinthe by swirling it around in your glass, remove the excess. Mix the cold water and sugar together. Add the rye, bitters, and ice cubes, stirring well. Strain into your glass and then twist your lemon peel, adding the oils to your cocktails. Drop the peel in the glass. Now you’re ready to enjoy!
The history of the Manhattan is one that was never quite agreed on. Some say it was invented in New York City during the 1870s during a banquet honoring presidential hopeful Samuel Tilden. Others say it originated in the 1860s at a bar off Broadway. What we can all agree on is that it is still a simple and delicious drink after all these years.
– 2 oz of rye whiskey
– 1 oz of sweet vermouth
– A few dashes of Angostura bitters
-1 maraschino cherry
All ingredients should be stirred in a bar glass. Manhattans are never shaken unless specifically asked. The cocktail is then to be strained into a chilled cocktail glass and then garnished with a maraschino cherry.
Old Fashioned Cocktail
Ah, the old fashioned. The drink that really put rye on my beloved spirits list. Definitely one of those drinks you order at the bar to show everyone how classy you are. The history of the drink is that it originated at a gentlemen’s club in Louisville, Kentucky in honor of whiskey distiller James E. Pepper during the 1880s, it was then supposedly introduced to NYC where it really gained popularity.
-2 oz rye whiskey
-A few dashes of Angostura bitters
-1 sugar cube
-1 bar spoon of seltzer water
-Lemon peel for garnish
Place the sugar cube at the bottom of your mixing glass. Cover the cube with your seltzer water and bitters. Muddle the sugar and break it down into the liquid so it can be combine with your rye. Once muddled add the whiskey. Once all the ingredients are thoroughly mixed add ice to chill your drink. Stir for 30 seconds and then strain the liquid into a traditional old fashioned glass. You can add a large ice ball and lemon peel for garnish.