5 Things I’ve Learned About…Rye

The November 2010 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine is out today, and it includes (among other things) my review column on Rye whiskey.  You can pick up a copy at the newsstand, or view it in digital format on Zinio. (While you’re browsing, check out my article on booze-infused ice cream on page 26, too!)

An aside for spicy food & beverage aficionados:  rye is for you. It sure looks and smells like Bourbon, since barrel aging imparts to both that amber color and caramel scent. Since I did a review column on Bourbon  just a couple of months earlier, I couldn’t help drawing comparisons between the two.  But rye has spice and bite!

Here’s what I learned in the course of researching the rye column: 

1. Unlike Bourbon, rye bites you back every single time. There’s rarely anything sweet or mellow about it. That mash bill makes a huge difference:  Bourbon is at least 51% corn, and Rye is at least 51% rye. But a lot of ryes don’t stop there. Some came in at 99% or even 100% rye. In fact, some of these ryes were freakishly strong, and made me cough. One even made me yelp out loud with pain.

2. Aging seems to make rye stronger, not necessarily mellower. Again, this is in sharp contrast to Bourbon.

3. That doesn’t mean that rye is unpalatable. Once I adjusted, I found ryes to be lively and fun. Like Bourbon, I got a lot of caramel notes in the aftertastes. But overall, rye has a lighter taste and feel, with more toasty, spicy notes. Some people say rye whiskey puts them in mind of rye bread; for me, it was more like gingerbread:  lots of cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, and allspice flavors, for example.

4. Mixologists are in love with rye right now, since it was the spirit used in pre-Prohibition cocktails.

5. Bargain alert:  It’s also among the least expensive of the whiskies.

7 thoughts on “5 Things I’ve Learned About…Rye

  1. Also there are some high rye Bourbons (Bulleit, for example). And ever pleasing rye beers (Great Divide’s Hoss uses enough rye to make the boring-to-me lager style actually interesting).

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  3. Mmmm…. Rye Whiskey!I really enjoy the spicy quality of the stuff. Which have you had? So far, I’ve had Ri (1), Russell Reserve Rye, Sazerac, and Michter’s. Sazerac was my favorite, followed closely by Russell Reserve. As far as Rye beer, Summit’s Rye Pale Ale and Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye are both excellent. The Rye Whiskey and Beer are a great change of pace!


    • So far, my favorites have been Whistlepig and Rendezvous rye.

      But I should warn you that while I’m devoted to particular cocktails, when it comes to spirits I have no brand loyalty, and switch favorites as often as possible!

      PS, I checked out your blog, and love your “Booze Banter” section – hilarious!

  4. I completely understand not being brand loyal. We just had a discussion about our beverage preferences and the notion of a “go-to” beer, whisky, rum, tequila, etc.. While there are brands that I admire immensely, it’s that sense of discovery that makes the world of food and drink infinitely amusing. This past summer I “discovered” Farmhouse Ales and Rye beers. I can’t imagine going back to just lagers, pilsners, etc..

    Glad you enjoyed our “Banter”! We’re having a good time with the blog. Makes for a good chuckle or two! Spread the word! 🙂

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