Rye whiskey has a long and winding story, filled with the highest highs and lowest lows. The latest chapter is a true revival of an American spirit. It features the bold, spicy spirit roaring back from the brink of extinction and becoming one of the fastest-growing spirits on the market.
American whiskey producers are feeling the rye revival. Redemption Whiskey, which has always centered its portfolio on rye, has seen increased interest in rye and bourbons featuring high rye mash bills. Meanwhile, other whiskey producers have responded to the trend by releasing their own rye expressions.
Rye: A Distinctly American Spirit
Before getting into the rye revival proper, you need to understand how it rose to prominence in the first place. It begins with the founding of the United States of America.
During the Revolutionary War, the British blocked ports and prevented distillers from getting the molasses they needed to make rum. Not interested in becoming teetotalers, the colonists turned to a local grain: rye.
Thousands of stills were operating by the time America won its independence. Even George Washington was distilling rye whiskey made at Mount Vernon.
Today, American rye whiskey only requires 51 percent rye grain in the recipe. Redemption Rye features 95 percent rye distilled at a facility built in 1847 before Prohibition nearly killed rye whiskey production in the United States.
Prohibition Nearly Killed Rye
Prohibition hurt all American spirit producers, but the effect on rye was particularly devastating. As everyone knows, Prohibition did little to stop Americans from drinking. However, it did influence what they drank.
Bootleggers smuggled in whiskey from Canada that had a softer profile than American rye whiskey. Americans didn’t fully turn their backs on bold flavor profiles—they were still drinking bathtub gin and moonshine at the time. Medicinal bourbon was also available with a prescription and would emerge as the dominant style of American whiskey following the repeal of Prohibition.
Rye’s bold and spicy flavor was no longer what American drinkers expected from whiskey. Once-mighty rye whiskey was on the decline, but it wasn’t about to disappear.
Bartenders Carry the Torch
Even at rye’s lowest point in the middle of the 20th century, many bartenders insisted on keeping a bottle of rye handy for making Manhattans or their own signature creations. These bartenders advocated for rye for the same reason it fell out of favor: its uniquely bold character.
Rye is a great base for cocktails due to its complex flavor profile, featuring herbaceous, fruit and spice-driven characteristics. The dry nature of American rye whiskey brings balance to sweet and refreshing cocktails while also being able to stand up in more spirit-forward cocktails like the Old Fashioned and Manhattan. The truly bold can also enjoy rye neat or on the rocks.
Bartenders who researched the original builds of many classic cocktails and appreciated the character of American rye whiskey in other recipes kept rye from being lost to history. They may not have realized it at the time, but they were also setting the stage for the rye revival.
Rye Benefits from the Craft Cocktail Boom
The number of craft cocktail bars has skyrocketed in recent years. That has given bartenders a bigger stage to share signature rye cocktails, allowing guests to discover all there is to love about rye.
The Redemption Rye Herb Ginger Julep and Redemption Rye Espresso Old Fashioned are two popular and mouthwatering examples of how bartenders are showcasing rye today. The recipes put a bold new twist on classic whiskey cocktails—the Mint Julep and Old Fashioned—by adding unexpected ingredients and the bold flavor of rye.Continue to 5 of 5 below.
The Rye Revival Isn’t Stopping
The rye revival has a way to go to catch up to its American counterpart, bourbon, but professional and home bartenders are leading the charge and finding new ways to enjoy iconic American rye whiskey. A trip to your local liquor store will show you that rye is carving out more shelf space than ever.
So where should you start with rye? Reach for a bottle of Redemption Whiskey. It didn’t start making rye because it noticed a trend; Redemption was founded out of a passion for rye’s bold flavor and a desire to help return the whiskey to its former glory. True to its name, Redemption has done its part to redeem the rye category.
Rye: It’s here to stay.