August 7, 2015 – Rye has had a bad rap for the longest time but its fortunes are rising. It was the quintessential American drink prior to Prohibibition but like so many cultural icons, 13 long, dry years saw tastes change and the market moved on to something else. Rye’s reputation sank from sophisticated to “cheap hooch” to quote Paul Clarke of Imbibe.
When we think of rye we automatically think of Canadian Rye, a kind of catchall name for Canadian whisky. That was what was in the well or on the shelf. But change is on the horizon with American rye whiskey making a comeback in the last five years. The category is now selling about a half a million cases, which alongside bourbon’s 12 million cases, is a paltry figure.
However, rye is fast becoming a favorite of mixologists who appreciate its spiciness in cocktails. It is considered an absolute must for a genuine Manhattan or Sazerac.
The rule for a whiskey to be called rye is 51 percent rye. Bourbon, you’ll recall, must be made from 51 percent corn mash. Both whiskeys must be aged in new, charred American oak barrels. Bourbon can only be made in the U.S. while rye can be made elsewhere. Canadians are not required to meet the 51 percent rule. Canadian Club is 100 percent rye.
We checked our local Total Wines & More to see what is going on at retail. If the number of brands listed on their web site is any indication, rye is alive and kicking butt. We scrolled through eight pages, dozens of brands and a wide range of prices. And they come from Oregon, California to Maryland and everywhere in between.
It’s only taken close to a century, but American rye whiskey is back.