Rye whiskey’s comeback, which started about a decade and half ago, has generated energy and excitement around the style. Craft distilleries and investment by large producers into rye have drawn in a new generation of fans. As the whiskey’s story has evolved from resurgence to regular availability, and dozens of ryes now line the liquor-store shelf, producers are being forced to differentiate—often through the same methods found in other categories.
There’s plenty of barrel finishing, for example, a technique for which lean, clean rye is often better suited than sweet, oily bourbon. Sagamore Spirit has tried out a number of cask finishes, most recently rum. Ammunition Whiskey, an offshoot of the wine brand of the same name, is finishing its rye in French oak pinot noir casks.
Both Sagamore and Ammunition get some of their whiskey from MGP Distillery, the Indiana mega-distillery whose ample stocks of aged rye drove a large part of the renaissance. MGP offers its own rye brands too, including a newcomer called Alias, while Kentucky Owl's rye is made at Bardstown Bourbon Co.
Interestingly, Sagamore Spirit also provided whiskey to Pursuit Rye, a blend produced by the hosts of a popular whiskey podcast, while the Jefferson’s brand turned to Canada for its latest rye, which spent several months on board a ship as part of the Ocean Aged at Sea series. Blending, indeed, has become almost as popular in rye as in bourbon, and one recent blend found success through collaboration. Tennessee’s George Dickel and craft outfit Leopold Bros. in Denver came together to combine their two very distinct ryes, with the final blend proving to be one of the standout new whiskeys of the year.
But rye doesn’t have to break new ground to prove its worth. The oldest rye brand in the United States, Old Overholt, has shown fresh energy in the last few years, evidenced by a series of well-priced new releases and its latest effort: raising the age on its core expression to four years.
There is more to love in rye than ever before.
Ammunition Rye ($50)
Image: Liquor.com/Laura Sant
Cask-finished bourbon continues to grow in popularity, and producers with access to good barrels have an edge. Building on its successful Ammunition Wines brand, Sonoma’s Daylight Wine & Spirits launched Ammunition rye and bourbon in late 2021. The rye combines 2, 3, and 4-year-old whiskeys, made at MGP from its famous 95% rye mash bill. The blend is finished for at least three months in French oak barrels that formerly held Ammunition pinot noir. (The bourbon, meanwhile, is finished in French oak cabernet sauvignon casks.)
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