There are two types of whiskies you will find labeled “Rye Whiskey”, American rye whiskey which according to US law has specific requirements that we will discuss in this article and Canadian rye whisky. While Canadian whisky may be labeled as a rye is does not have to actually contain any rye in the mash. The majority of Canadian whisky is made from a mash that consists predominantly of corn.
To be labeled an American rye whiskey the distiller must adhere to specific requirements. Listed below are requirements as outlined in Title 27: Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Note that these are basically the same requirements for bourbon.
Production Location Produced in the United States.
Barrels and Aging Must be aged in new oak barrels. While there is no minimum aging time it must be aged for a brief time. If aged for 2 or more years it can be designated as 'Straight Rye Whiskey.'
Mash Minimum of 51% Rye. Corn, wheat and malted barley are generally used to make up the remaining mash.
Distillation Proof Not to exceed 160 proof allowing the flavors and characteristics of the grains to be expressed in the final product.
Barrel Entry Proof Must enter at no more than 125 proof in charred new oak containers.
Bottling Bottled at not less than 80 proof (40% ABV)
Additives, Colors and Flavors No additives, colors or flavorings can be added.
Rye whiskey differs from Bourbon and Scotch in its taste profile. Bourbons are generally sweeter and Scotch smokey. Rye whiskey tends to be spicy. Cocktails made with rye whiskey will be drier than the same drink made with bourbon.
A popular drink traditionally made from rye whiskey is the Manhattan. Below is a pretty standard recipe. Of course modify to taste.
2 ounces rye whiskey
1 ounce Italian vermouth
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Garnish with Maraschino cherry