As you have seen on our Bruery Facebook page and Tasting Room Facebook page, May is our anniversary month and we are celebrating turning five years old with tons of fun stuff. We've been selling one archived beer everyday, offering up specialty flights, putting some rare kegs on draft, getting some one-time-only deliveries out into the market, and if that wasn't enough, we're releasing five variations of our anniversary ale, Bois.
Our variations of Bois that are available only to our Reserve Society members include Bois aged in rye, brandy and new American oak barrels. A special Hoarders-only variation aged in French oak barrels will be released later this year. Last week we profiled the beauty of bourbon, since our nationally distributed edition of Bois is 100% bourbon barrel aged and out in the market now. This week, we're looking at bourbon's relative, RYE!
Throughout its lifetime, rye has been perceived to be everything from "skid row" moonshine to a most refined and macho bevvy. Said to have been Abraham Lincoln's whiskey of choice, and also the spirit that George Washington himself made at Mount Vernon, rye's popularity fluctuated so much that depending on the era some distilleries considered themselves lucky if even 1000 cases of their rye were bought in a year.
As with bourbon, rye popped up in the states largely because the Scots-Irish and Germans that settled in our eastern regions brought with them their knowledge of distilling whiskey. Though they knew how to work with barley and rye, both of which did grow in these regions, rye proved to grow more heartily than barley, which took some time to get acclimated to its new home in the states. Because of this, larger portions of rye made its way into more whiskeys in the Pennsylvania and Maryland regions, while indigenous corn found its way into recipes later, especially in Kentucky's whiskey-friendly environment.
"One of the characteristics that distinguishes rye from it's counterparts in the whiskey world is it's spice profile - a good rye will have pronounced notes of pink and green peppercorns, dried lemon, old leather and musty wood," explains Rory Snipes, our friend and whiskey aficionado who has developed spirit programs at LA's Boneyard Bistro and worked at Seattle's Brouwer's Cafe, known for its expansive spirits program. Just as bourbon must be at least 51% corn, "rye whiskey" by law, must be made of a mash of least 51% rye.
But some ryes can have higher amounts of corn and some bourbons can have higher amounts of rye, making distinguishing each spirit a little trickier. "I try to find ryes that have more pronounced rye characteristics. Ryes tend to be leaner and less sweet than Bourbons, and for that reason are often an easier way to introduce people who are usually gin or vodka drinkers to the world of whiskey. The cloying quality of some bourbons and Tennessee whiskeys are often cited as a reason for people's disenchantment with whiskey as a whole." If you prefer a less sweet whiskey, rye is known to be spicier and fruitier than bourbon, which can taste sweeter and rounder due to the high levels of corn in the mash.
But how does a rye barrel affect Bois compared to a bourbon barrel? So far we've noticed a bit more oak presence and heat in the bourbon barrel aged versions, versus a sweeter nose, bigger body, notes of toffee, prune and eucaplyptus in the rye variation. "I feel like one of the most interesting ways to taste a rye barrel aged beers is when you can compare it to the same beer in a different variation - Fifty Fifty Eclipse variations for example, or He'brew Lenny's RIPA tasted next to the rye barrel aged Version," adds Rory. "It really lets you see the contribution from the barrel, and allows you to pick out which parts are the beer and which are coming from the barrel."
We look forward to hearing about the differences you notice in our variations. If you're a Reserve Society member, stop by the Tasting Room tomorrow where you can try a flight of our bourbon, rye, brandy, and new American oak barrel aged Bois, plus a virgin Fruet.
Read more about rye, its history, its comeback, and even its former medicinal use: