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Virginia ABC > Products > Product Knowledge > Rye Guide

Buying Guide for Rye

rye whiskey bottle
Distilled from a combination of 51 percent or more rye and other grains, rye whiskey is now experiencing a renaissance. Pre-Prohibition, rye distillation was prominent among European immigrants in the Northeast, specifically Pennsylvania and Maryland. Aged in charred American oak barrels, rye has a spicier and drier taste than other whiskies. Enjoy rye neat, on the rocks, paired with club soda or ginger ale or in a cocktail like an Old Fashioned or Manhattan.

Know the Label

These terms commonly appear on rye labels. For more information, please ask the staff at your Virginia ABC store.

 
Aged
 
Most rye whiskies must be aged or stored for some length of time. Aging mellows the taste of the spirit and imparts desirable flavor characteristics as the distillate interacts with the wood of the barrels.
 
 
Barrel proof
Cask strength
 
Barrel proof refers to the alcohol by volume (ABV) strength of whiskey while it matures in a barrel or cask. A barrel proof or cask strength whiskey means it is undiluted and not diluted to the typical 40% ABV.
 
 
Bottled-in-bond
 
Bottled-in-bond is not a separate type of whiskey, but rather a straight whiskey that has been produced and bottled in accordance with the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897 (see 27 CFR 5). Among other requirements, these whiskies must be at least four years old; bottled at 100 proof; produced in a single distillery, by the same distiller; be the product of a single season and year; and stored and aged in a bonded warehouse.
 
 
Canadian rye
 
Canadian whisky is a geographically protected spirit, made in Canada in accordance with legal standards (B.02.020[3]). This includes aging in wooden barrels for at least three years. Canadian rye contains less than 51 percent rye and may contain added colors and flavors.
 
 
Finish
 
Beyond initial barreling and aging, some premium whiskies are "finished," or undergo additional aging, in secondary oak containers, such as port wine barrels or sherry casks, imparting flavor complexity. The term "finish" is also used to describe how a whiskey's taste lingers in the mouth, its aftertaste.
 
 
Handcrafted
Hand-selected
 
There is no legal definition for these terms, but they may be used to indicate higher quality products. Whiskies can be crafted or selected by hand in a number of ways, whether in identifying barrels for additional aging or in the blending and bottling process.
 
 
Oak
 
Most rye is aged in charred oak, which contains flavoring compounds that interact with the spirit to enhance body, aroma and taste.
 
 
Rye whiskey
 
In the United States, rye whiskey must meet specific legal requirements (27 CFR 5.22). These include at least 51 percent rye in its mash, be distilled not exceeding 160 degrees proof and be stored in charred new oak containers. Although similar to bourbon in many respects, rye is spicier and drier, while bourbon is sweeter, due to the differences in grain. In cocktails, rye and bourbon are interchangeable, depending on your taste.
 
 
Single Barrel
 
Whiskey bottled from one barrel, instead of blended, means it sustains all the characteristics of that particular barrel.
 
 
Sour mash
 
"Sour mash" does not mean that the taste of the whiskey is sour, but rather refers to taking a portion of the spent mash from one batch and using it to jump-start fermentation in the next batch. This assures consistency of flavor between batches and, more importantly, increases the acidity of the new mash to create perfect conditions for yeast fermentation and to limit the growth of undesirable bacteria.
 
 
Straight
 
Rye whiskey that has been aged at least two years and is free of added colors, flavors and other spirits. If you see an age statement, for example, "2 Years," this means the youngest whisky in the bottle was aged at least two years.

Cocktail Conversation

George Washington was such a fan of rye that he distilled it at his Mount Vernon plantation. Today, Mount Vernon Distilleries makes a rye whiskey based on what they believe to be Washington's original recipe.
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