The Ultimate Guide to Rye Whiskey

Not that long ago we’re presented the AMOG Guide to Bourbon: Straight Bourbon & Drinks. Now, it’s time for a new guide for another gentlemanly drink. Rye whiskey.

What is Rye Whiskey?

Rye whiskey is simply one of the three straight American whiskey styles, with the other two being Tennessee and Bourbon. With straight whiskey, however, 51% of the spirit must be made of grain, which can include wheat, malted and rye itself. The spirit must also not exceed 160-proof, must be aged for at least two years and can only be diluted with water to no less than 80-proof.

There are two types of rye: American rye whiskey and Canadian rye whiskey. With American rye whiskey, the spirit must be made with at least 51% rye. Canadian rye whiskey, however, there are no laws that require how much rye must be used to make the spirit.

Before the rye is barreled in a charred, new oak cask for aging, the spirit cannot be any higher than 125-proof. In order for a rye to be considered “straight”, the spirit must be aged for a minimum of two years.

Rye whiskey has a similar taste to bourbon, but since it’s made from rye, it has a more spicier and bitter taste.

History of Rye Whiskey

Long before immigrants were making bourbon in what would become Kentucky, Scottish and Irish immigrants in the mid-1700s began producing rye whiskey. As these immigrants settled in Pennsylvania, Maryland and the Carolinas, they brought along the skill of distilling fermented mash made from grains. They had to use the grains that were available in these regions, which meant rye.

As America grew as a nation, so did the popularity of rye whiskey, expanding from the Northeast to across the entire country.

America’s forefathers not only consumed it, but also, produced it. George Washington, for example, sold his rye whiskey to his neighbors within a five-mile radius. As pioneers ventured west, rye whiskey went with them. In San Francisco, during the gold rush, rye whiskey was a staple in any bar and saloon.

Unfortunately, when Prohibition was enacted, most of the rye whiskey distilleries were obviously closed. When Prohibition was repealed, companies choose to invest their money down in Kentucky and focus on bourbon. Anyone interested in rye whiskey would have to look towards Canada. And, because of this, rye whiskey all but disappeared.

However, within the last decade, rye whiskey has found a revival. Today, consumers have an interest and taste for old and “authentic” rye whiskeys that Americans once enjoyed.

Rye Whiskey Brands

Today,there are approximately twenty US distilleries that produce about forty different ryes in America. In Canada, there about a dozen.

Many large companies distill rye whiskey. These include several bourbon makers, like Jim Beam, Heaven Hill and Buffalo Trace. Even Canadian brands, like Crown Royal and Canadian Club, are in on the action.

Some recommended rye whiskeys are Anchor Distilling Companies Old Potrero 18th Century, Buffalo Trace’s Sazerac, Kentucky Bourbon Distillers’ Black Maple 23 Year Single Barrel Rye, George Washington’s Distillers Rye Whiskey, Templeton Rye and Jim Beam’s Old Overholt – which happens to be the only rye whiskey to survive Prohibition.

How to Drink Rye Whiskey

As with any spirit, it really depends on your personal tastes, as well as, the quality of rye. Premium ryes can be sipped neat with a splash of water or an ice cube to help open them up.

However, because of the spicier, earthier texture of rye, it works nicely in cocktails.

There are the classic cocktails, like the Manhattan, Sazerac and Old Fashioned, which work beautifully with better ryes. Along with the classics, there are numerous other cocktails containing rye whiskey. Here are some rye whiskey cocktail recipes.

The Admiral

  • 1 oz. Rye Whiskey
    2 oz. Dry Vermouth
    1/2 Lemon (Juice of, fresh)

Shake with ice and strain into an old-fashioned glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

 The Flint Manhattan

  • 3 ounces American Rye Whiskey
    3/4 ounce Sweet Red Vermouth
    3 dash Angostura Bitters

Pour into mixing glass filled with ice and stir. Strain into chilled lowball glass. Drink. Repeat.

 The Old Fashioned

  • 1 sugar cube
  • 3 dashes Angostura bitters
  • club soda
  • 2 ounces rye whiskey

Place the sugar cube (or 1/2 teaspoon loose sugar) in an Old-Fashioned glass. Wet it down with 2 or 3 dashes of Angostura bitters and a short splash of water or club soda. Crush the sugar with a wooden muddler, chopstick, strong spoon, lipstick, cartridge case, whatever. Rotate the glass so that the sugar grains and bitters give it a lining. Add a large ice cube. Pour in the rye (or bourbon). Serve with a stirring rod.

  • 1 1/2 oz rye whiskey
  • 1/4 – 3/4 oz sugar syrup
  • 1 oz lemon juice

Shake well over ice cubes in a shaker. Strain into a whiskey sour glass, add a cherry, and serve.

The Sazerac

  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 1/2 oz rye whiskey
  • 1 dash Deva® absinthe
  • 2 dashes Peychaud® bitters
  • 2 dashes Angostura® bitters
  • 1 twist lemon peel
  • ice

Chill an old-fashioned glass by filling with crushed ice. In another glass mix the sugar with the bitters dissolving the sugar. Add some ice, stirring to chill. In the old-fashioned glass remove the ice and pour in the absinthe coating the entire glass. Remove the excess absinthe. Add the rye whiskey and bitters/sugar mixture. Add the lemon twist.

The Scofflaw
  • 1 oz rye whiskey
  • 1 oz dry vermouth
  • 3/4 oz green Chartreuse (or grenadine, if you like something sweeter)
  • 3/4 oz lemon juice
  • 2 dashes orange bitters

Stir all ingredients in a tall glass or cocktail shaker with ice, and strain into a martini glass.

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