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Issue 112 - Canadian rye versus American straight rye

Whisky Magazine Issue 112
June 2013


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Canadian rye versus American straight rye

Davin is the author of Canadian Whisky: The Portable Expert

Since Canadian whisky is mostly made from corn, why is it known everywhere as “rye?” History, culture, and national pride blend in the distillery. Two centuries ago, Canadian flour millers began making whisky from their excess wheat. This was when wheat was the predominant grain for Canada's pioneers. Along the way, someone decided to spice up their whisky by adding a small amount of rye grain to it and a distinctly Canadian whisky style was born.

This tangy new whisky packed more flavour than common wheat whisky and almost everyone preferred it. Customers started demanding “rye,” wheat whisky with a small amount of rye grain added. Eventually, the word “rye” entered the Canadian lexicon as a synonym for whisky.

In the 20th century some Canadian distillers began using corn to make their whisky. Driving across the Ontario corn-belt today, you would never suspect that these hardy varieties of corn were not even developed until the 1950s. Before that, when corn was used for whisky-making it was imported from the U. S. But why corn? Quite simply, corn produces more alcohol than wheat does. By adding even a small amount of rye-grain whisky, distillers can still maintain distinct Canadian whisky flavour.

In the mid-20th century, whisky makers in the States decided that their “straight rye” had to be made from a mash of at least 51 per cent rye grain.

Some whisky fans took this to mean that Canadian rye, made with smaller amounts of rye grain, is not “real rye....

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