What is rye whiskey?

In the US, rye whiskey is aged in charred oak barrels.

The term rye whiskey can refer to more than one type of whiskey, depending on the company and its location. In the United States, this type of whiskey must be made with at least 51% rye to be considered rye whiskey. Rye is a type of wheat that gives whiskey a certain flavor and aroma. In Canada, however, the rye whiskey label can be given to any whiskey that remains consistent with the flavor and aroma of traditional rye or Canadian whiskey and does not necessarily have to contain a certain percentage of rye.

Whiskey is made with simple distillation.

When making rye whiskey in the United States, a distiller may use corn and malted barley in conjunction with the rye. The whiskey must be aged in charred oak barrels, and the whiskey must not have more than 125 proof when in cask, meaning that the whiskey cannot contain more than approximately 62% alcohol by volume. If the whiskey is aged for two years or more, the label becomes “pure” rye whiskey.

At least 51% of whiskey must be made from rye to be considered rye whiskey.

Canadian rye whiskey is an entirely different drink. Instead of rye being the main ingredient, in many cases corn takes the main role. While most, if not all, Canadian rye whiskeys contain some amount of rye, there is no requirement on how much rye should be used to distill that whiskey. So a whiskey labeled Canadian rye may or may not have a significant amount of rye, but it has the aroma and flavors of a rye whiskey and is therefore ‘in the tradition’ of a rye whiskey. Most Canadian versions of whiskey are aged for at least three years.

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This type of whiskey was popular in the northeastern United States, but largely disappeared during Prohibition and struggled to come back afterward. Today, there are still several smaller distilleries that produce rye, but these whiskey varieties are not as popular in the US as Bourbon or Scotch. Bourbon tends to be tastier than rye, which has a tangy flavor with hints of fruit. Bourbon is sweeter than rye and is made mostly from corn. While rye used to be a popular choice for mixed drinks, bourbon has overtaken rye in popularity and is now more commonly used for these drinks.

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