Whisky Magazine Issue 123
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We look at the opportunities and challenges of distilling with rye
Rye offers an individual and distinctive flavour profile, including a range of fruit and spice notes that can be experienced in rye whiskey and bourbon (in which rye co-stars alongside other grains). But harnessing those fruit and spice notes requires certain safeguards, as rye has its own particular way of behaving during the production process. Milling (ie. crushing) the rye is no big deal. It's the subsequent stage, when rye is cooked in hot water to convert the starches within the grain into sugars, that the challenges begin. The first consideration is that rye is very sensitive to the temperature at which it's cooked.
“If the temperature gets too high the risk is that rye will form small clusters we call rye balls, typically about the size of a table tennis ball. If this happens, the outside of each rye ball cooks but the inside stays dry, and doesn't cook properly. Uncooked grain means you don't get the conversion of starches to sugars, which reduces the yield of alcohol, and, in the worst case scenario this could also affect the usual character of the spirit,” says Fred Noe, master distiller, Jim Beam.
Similarly, if the cooking temperature is too low there is also a risk of uncooked rye (which again compromises the conversion of starch to sugars). Consequently, controlling the cooking temperature is vital.
“We heat the cooker using steam heated coils that circulate around the inside of the cooker. There are also additional coils through which we can run col...