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Rye Spirit

Rye Spirit is the liquid embodiment of America’s rich distilling heritage, a spirited nod to the early days of American whiskey-making. This distilled beverage, which must contain at least 51% rye in its mash bill, stands apart from its bourbon and Scotch cousins with a bold, spicy character that has garnered a devoted following among whiskey aficionados and cocktail enthusiasts alike.

The story of rye spirit is interwoven with the history of the United States itself. Rye whiskey was the prevalent spirit of the northeastern states, especially Pennsylvania and Maryland, before Prohibition. Its production predates the establishment of bourbon in Kentucky, making rye the original American whiskey. It was the whiskey that fueled the infamous Whiskey Rebellion of the 1790s and was commonly used to trade as a form of currency. Rye's robust flavour made it the whiskey of choice for many of the classic pre-Prohibition cocktails, including the Manhattan and the Old Fashioned.

The heart of rye spirit lies in its grain. Rye, a hardy cereal grain, imparts a distinctive spicy and fruity flavour that sets it apart from the sweeter, corn-based bourbon. The high rye content delivers a dry, peppery bite that develops complex flavours of cinnamon, nutmeg, and black pepper on the palate. This robust profile is often balanced with a hint of fruitiness, herbal notes, and a warm, lingering finish that invites contemplation.

The craft of making rye spirit is a meticulous process that begins with selecting the finest rye grains. After milling, the grain is cooked and then fermented with specially selected yeasts that can withstand the high sugar content of the mash. Distillers then distil the liquid, often in traditional copper pot stills, which contributes to the final spirit’s complexity and depth. Ageing is the next significant step, which typically occurs in charred new American oak barrels, where the spirit takes on vanilla, caramel, and toasty wood notes, rounding out the sharp edges of the raw spirit.

Rye spirit’s resurgence in popularity has been meteoric, paralleling the broader renaissance of cocktail culture. Modern distillers are experimenting with the rye spirit's flavour profile, from cask finishing in wine, rum, or port barrels to varying the levels of char on the ageing barrels, each innovation adding layers of complexity and uniqueness to the spirit. This innovative spirit has led to an exciting array of rye offerings, from those that honour the traditional, high-rye mash bills to others that integrate rye into more modern and creative distilling approaches.

While historically, American rye whiskeys have led the charge, the rye spirit category has grown to include offerings from around the world. Canadian whisky, often colloquially known as "rye" due to historical reasons, may contain a significant proportion of rye but often focuses on a smoother, lighter profile. In contrast, some European distillers have begun producing rye spirits that bring their terroir and distilling philosophies into the mix, adding an international dimension to this traditionally American spirit.

When it comes to enjoying rye spirit, the options are as varied as the spirit itself. It can be sipped neat or with a little water to release its aromatic complexity. Rye is also the backbone of many classic and modern cocktails, where its spiciness and depth can stand up to mixers and modifiers, providing a robust base that enhances the overall flavour of the drink.

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