From the Distiller...It’s Ryeday! No foolin’!
Everyone’s patience is finally paying off as we look forward to our soon-to-be-released straight rye whiskey. Not just patience, but a lot of hard work too. Among distillers and brewers alike, rye is notoriously a pain to work with, particularly because it has some unique starches that get very gooey when heated. As a result, it sticks to everything. This means cleaning everything that it comes into contact with, which translates into more effort and time spent. However, it is a labor of love, as the stuff is loaded with flavor!
Rye whiskey was the main type of whiskey consumed prior to prohibition. Pennsylvania, of course, has a long and storied history involving rye whiskey, including most infamously, the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794. During prohibition, the availability of the lighter, smoother Canadian whiskeys gradually changed people’s palates and when prohibition ended, people wanted something smoother than rye. Bourbon became the whiskey of choice and rye whiskey all but disappeared. Today, just like with people’s increased interest in the flavor of craft beers, people are looking for bolder flavors in their whiskey as well, and this has led to a growing popularity of rye whiskey.
A couple of weeks ago, two barrels of our rye whiskey were pumped out into our blending tank. Not only is it more than two years old, but as it stands right now it will be 100% rye, meaning no corn or wheat added. It is slowly being proofed down and being tasted every day as we go. I can’t rule out that we won’t add any corn, but the plan is to not do so. When exactly will it be released? When it tastes the best! Every day just enough water is added to bring it down by 0.5 proof (0.25% ABV). It is tasted before adding the next round of Big Spring water, just as we did with American Whiskey. Now as then, it is fascinating just how much the flavors change by adding a little water. The batch is also slowly being stirred so there is more going on than just simple dilution.
We were recently down in Philadelphia pouring at the American Whiskey Convention and I set up three different proofs of the rye and asked folks for their opinion about which they preferred. The only consensus was that most folks liked the two higher proof samples, with the votes about equally split between the two. So it is likely we will end up somewhere between 104 and 112 proof at bottling time. As with the American whiskey, the goal is to have the rye be a cocktail-friendly whiskey. Once we get to a proof we like, we will make a couple of extra samples that are a little more diluted and test them in a couple different cocktails. If you happen to come in early on a Thursday or Friday, you might catch us doing the testing and be lucky enough to be asked your opinion.
What does it taste like? It is hard to say as it is still changing, but some aromas that I am consistently getting are orange and caramel, and for flavors, cinnamon and a touch of pecan seem to always be there. As the flavors are pretty bold, they should stand up to a whole lot of other cocktail ingredients and not get lost in the mix. Check in with us via Facebook and Instagram for the actual release date…we may decide to have a party and you wouldn’t want to miss that!