Back in January 2016, I wrote a blog I titled “A Few Thoughts On Rye Whiskey.” I followed it up with a blog titled “Some More Thoughts On Rye Whiskey” in March 2017 because things had changed some since I wrote the first blog. The premise of the first blog was from a quote from John Pogue of Old Pogue Distillery. He has said that MGP was the best thing and the worst thing that had ever happened to Rye Whiskey. They produced a lot of rye whiskey that was making it into the market because everyone was sourcing their whiskey from that distillery and that was a mixed blessing. It introduced a lot of very good rye whiskey to consumers, but now everyone thought that was what Rye Whiskey tasted like and Rye Whiskey was becoming one dimensional in flavor. The following blog discussed how that was slowly changing. Things have changed quite a bit since those blogs were written and I thought I should write another blog with my thoughts on the subject.
It is interesting to me in that John Pogue’s original statement is still very true. There are more people making Rye Whiskey today, but they are making it with the 95% rye, 5% malt mash bill that is being made even today at MGP. It is a good mash bill that makes good Rye Whiskey, but Rye Whiskey has so much more potential than that mash bill. I was recently told by a distiller that when they went to get finances for making a Rye Whiskey, the bank insisted that they make that mash bill so that if they had to, they could sell it to someone else and get their money back. This seemed silly to me. If the distillery makes good whiskey, it will sell no matter what the mash bill. If they don’t make good whiskey, people will not buy it for a profit.
However, the Rye Whiskey market is growing and becoming more varied. There are exciting things happening with the mash bills. In my second blog, I mentioned that Old Pogue was making a 100% rye malt mash bill. Since then, many other distillers have made a 100% rye malt whiskey. Leopold Brothers Distillery in Colorado have made a rye whiskey using a three chambered pot still that creates some unique flavors through the distillation process. Dad’s Hat Distillery is making a Rye whiskey using lower distillation and barrel entry proof that should be interesting. Other distilleries are using heirloom varieties of rye grain to make their rye whiskey. Finger Lakes Distillery in New York started making a rye whiskey using an heirloom variety of rye grain grown on a farm near the distillery and when Tom Mckenzie gave me a taste of the new make back in 2016, I could tell that it was different from normal rye new make. It had a very nice orange blossom honey flavor that I really liked.
Michter’s is making what they call a “barley legal” Rye whiskey with a large percentage of corn in the mash bill that has aged quite well. The Rye Whiskey they are putting into the bottle today is whiskey made in their Shively, Kentucky distillery and it tastes different from their Rye whiskey that was contract distilled for them. Both are very good whiskeys, but the whiskey they make is richer in fruit flavors and vanilla. Liberty Pole Rye Whiskey is made at the Mingo Creek Craft Distillers, LLC in Pennsylvania and they are making their whiskey with a mash bill of 61% rye, 13% wheat, 13% rye malt and 13% barley malt. I last tasted this whiskey in 2021 when it was just two years old and I really liked the flavor. It should be four years old sometime this year and I look forward to getting a bottle and tasting it at that age.
Rye whiskey has come a long way since I wrote my original blog in 2016. There is still a dominant mash bill of 95% rye being made by many distillers, but there is more variety of flavor profiles in today’s market. There are many other great Rye whiskeys out there being made by distillers. Some of them are still aging and yet to make it to the consumers. Others have made it to the market and are growing in popularity. It is hoped that the future of Rye Whiskey will continue to grow in sales and popularity. I will have to write another blog in five years to track this growth.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller