What Makes Whiskey Qualify as a Rye?
Prior to the Whiskey Rebellion of 1791, rye was the most popular grain distilled by American farmers and breweries. Its simplicity to grow and overall resiliency helped bolster its popularity—the rye grain supplier had a hefty demand to fill as post-Revolutionary Americans filled their glasses with rye whiskey. Business was booming for the rye grain company and the outlook was sunny.
Rye Whiskey Takes a Hit
Enter in liquor taxation and the eventual illegalization of fermented beverages. The Whiskey Rebellion stymied the profitability of the industry, but rye merchants could still make a living. Americans rioted, tax inspectors were tarred and feathered, and Washington sent in troops to control the insurgency. Rye whiskey held on by a thread.
Following the Prohibition, however, rye production ground to a halt. The crippling laws of a dry country forced Americans to settle for bootlegged Canadian whiskey, a softer form of the drink. Rye faded into the backdrop of history as a legendary drink of old. Rye’s jazzy overtones with a coupling of sweetness seemed destined to remain in story and song.
Rye Whiskey: the Comeback Kid of the Liquor Industry
Today, rye has made an astounding comeback. With the explosion of micro-breweries across the US and the freedom of breweries and distilleries to operate without debilitating taxes and laws, rye grain suppliers and merchants can now flourish. Americans are warming to the bold flavor of rye whiskey as they once again fill their glasses with the distinctive beverage.
So what qualifies a whiskey as a rye whiskey? Here are the rules:
- Distillers must use at least 51% rye as the base grain.
- The whiskey must be aged in new, charred oak barrels.
- The product must be barreled at no higher than 125 proof.
- It must be bottled at a minimum of 80 proof.
- “Straight” rye must be aged at least two years. If aged less than four years, there should be an age statement on the bottle, and if a bottle is labeled “straight rye” lists no age, it should be at least four years old.