While you are Halloween shopping late October through November, you are undoubtedly ready to pop into your neighborhood liquor store for the latest spooky, sparkly vampire-themed sparkle-in-the-dark rye whiskey. I know you have been there, but you have also noticed that a lot of the choices are boring–and quite expensive. So, today I will get you acquainted with rye’s history, its present, what makes it unique, and how it is created. (If you do not know anything about rye, this article is sure to enlighten you.)
The history of rye whiskey dates to the early settlers in America. At that time, rye was primarily used as an important source of food and sustenance. As food shortages and other circumstances forced people to look for new sources of food and other materials, they turned to the rye crops in the field. After some time, the settlers began to distill the grain for use as a food, as well as to turn the grain into bread and other items for their consumption. Soon, rye whiskey was produced. This gave rise to what we know today as rye whiskey, which is still the most popular form of rye whiskey available.
Rye is a simple and versatile grain. It has very high percentage of carbohydrates and possesses a distinct sweet, dry, smoky, or herbal taste. Distilled into alcohol, rye whiskey is most found in the traditional American “white” form, which is made by distilling at least 51% rye over a two-gallon stainless steel container (or by using a two-gallon plastic drinking bottle that contains a tight-fitting airlock). White Ryes have a higher rye concentration than all others, including brown (Columbian) and blue (European) varieties. Brown and blue varieties are less distilled, but they still have higher percentages of rye in them.
There are three major types of rye whiskey in the United States: all rye whiskey, rye mixed with wheat or corn, and rye whiskey without wheat or corn. All three have a different texture and flavor. They also come in different sizes. The most popular version of this American drink is a Manhattan, which is a drink consisting of a small glass of mixer Manhattan style (which includes no wheat or corn) and a small glass of rye whiskey; this is usually served in a stainless steel tinned container.
Most distillers used oak or hickory wood in making their mixtures, while some used juniper or pecan wood. During distillation, heat is used in order to remove the yeast from the grains. Rye is a fairly low moisture grain, thus it is easier to use than many other grains in most recipes. Rye is easier to process than barley, which causes distillers to use more heat during the process. Rye also produces a fuller, richer taste in the finished product than barley.
Proof is the percentage of alcohol in the mixture. Rye can come anywhere from a low 20% proof to a high 80%. All proof will have a distinct rye flavor, including a rich roasted taste, nutty and toastiness, or a subtle rye undertone. Rye is typically bottled in the red, white, or rose bottle, depending on whether it is an original blend or a copycat.