A Bonanza of Big Ryes

Could we be in the golden age of rye? The spirit is enjoying a more glowing reputation than ever before.

It’s true that whisky on the whole has undergone a renaissance in the last 20 years. In that time, however, rye has steadily emerged from the shadow of titans like scotch and bourbon to claim its rightful place as the spicy alternative for straight sipping or inspired mixing.

Canada has historically laid claim to the rye whisky category. Legendary names have long enjoyed the loyalty of whisky enthusiasts on our home turf and around the globe. Interestingly, Canadian ryes do not traditionally lean on a high rye grain content. It’s been suggested that whisky acquired its name generations ago, when some farmers were known to tweak their winter whisky reserve with a handful of rye. The name stuck and then spread.

Admittedly, rye aficionados are a breed apart. Where legions of bourbon admirers are drawn to its mellow sweetness, fans of rye whisky tend to appreciate the zing of peppery spice. Rye snaps the taste buds to attention and brings an edge of heat to the palate before fading on a smooth finish. Today, the characteristic sharpness of rye is finding expression in an ever-expanding range of releases, as distillers explore a variety of taste profiles.

It bears noting that Canadian ryes have never had to adhere to a minimum rye grain standard. Stateside, however, producers are obliged to include 51% rye to be considered a true rye. Over the past few years, interest in this style of whisky has increased, which has laid the foundation for the rise of the “big” rye. This is helping to introduce options that add extra oomph to the taste profile, and some brands are crafting liquid with 100% rye grain.

The invitation to explore the wider spectrum of bolder ryes starts at the Whisky Shop. 


Knob Creek Cask Strength Rye Whiskey

One of the American entries earning serious accolades is Knob Creek Cask Strength Rye, from a company always worth following. Awarded Best Rye Whiskey at the 2018 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, this uncut, unfiltered straight whiskey is aged for nine years. Tipping the scales at a hair under 120 proof, it has flavours that touch on dill and clove with a slight hit of char and baking spice. It flexes a bit more muscle on a warming finish.

Anchor Distilling Old Potrero Straight Rye Whiskey

This is the distillery’s version of “19th-century-style” whiskey, as they endeavour to replicate the feisty spirit of that age. That means it’s pot-distilled in small batches and aged in new charred oak barrels. Expect spice and wood, along with maple and vanilla aromas that become much more pronounced in the mouth. That warming spice builds on the palate and then takes its foot off the pedal and glides into a sustained finish.