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Issue 113 - The Spiced up backbone

Whisky Magazine Issue 113
July 2013


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The Spiced up backbone

Rye, the most American of drink, but not all of the cereal crop comes from the US

Rye is the spice of life for American whiskey. Also known as Secale cereale L., the erect annual grass towers over others with its flat leaf blades, dense flower spikes and long awns. The hardy grain endures drought, harsh winters, sandy soils and low fertility to grow just about wherever planted. Farmers use it as a cover crop to suck up unwanted nutrients and attract pests from weaker plants. If the Zombie apocalypse or a nuclear war breaks out, good old steady rye would survive over soybeans, sugar beats and corn, well, maybe not the GMO corn, that's genetically modified.

To us whiskey drinkers, modern rye offers up descendants of yesterday's Pennsylvania rye distilleries that cranked out rye whiskey once commonly referred to as Monongahela, named after the distillery's water source, the Monongahela River. Pioneers travelled West with jugs and barrels of Monongahela to barter, trade and drink.

“The best and greatest quantity of rye whiskey is made on this (Monongahela) river,” wrote traveller Zadok Craker in the 1817 book, The Navigator.

Rye is the welcomed secondary grain in Bourbon's 51 per cent corn minimum mashbill. It is the undisputed spiced-up backbone of rye whiskey.

Perhaps, no grain stands out stronger or more pronounced in a dram than rye.

Its spicy flavour profile is undeniable.

But, times have changed and rye is no longer a necessary crop for American farmers. In 1922, Americans picked more than 6.7 million acres of rye.

Today, rye is a forgotten cr...

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