Rye is a uniquely North American type of whiskey that’s made from at least 51% rye in the U.S. It can include wheat, corn, and barley, but Old Potrero 18th Century Style Whiskey is 100% malted rye.
So where does the 18th century come in? Well, that’s when Scottish and Irish immigrants in the mid-Atlantic began applying their whiskey-making know-how to the grain that grew best in the cold weather and poor soil of the region: rye. Sometimes they’d blend in wheat, corn, barley, or a mix of the three. At the time, rye whiskey was one of the most beloved spirits in the country, but poorquality rye smuggled into the U.S. during Prohibition made it unpopular for a while.
Fast forward to 1993, when the beermakers at San Francisco’s Anchor Brewery decided to try their hand at distilling. Then-owner Fritz Maytag said he liked the idea of doing something a bit historical and a bit obscure that would appeal to a small audience. Rye was a natural fit-and he wanted to make it the traditional way. Because no commercial brands in the U.S. were using old-fashioned pot distillers and there wasn’t much current information about how to do it, they looked to historic recipes for guidance.
Since Old Potrero’s launch, rye has made a comeback thanks to the classic cocktail craze. Other high-quality brands, such as High West, Bulleit, and Redemption, are churning out easy-to-find, 95% rye spirits. They don’t have Old Potrero’s malty tang, but no matter which you choose, you’ll find a spirit that’s balanced, interesting, peppery, and dry. It’s a little taste of Americana.
Try rye whiskey in our Rye-Cheddar Fondue recipe.
A Sip of History
At the time of George Washington’s death, his Mount Vernon estate was one of the largest rye distilleries in the country. The first president sold rye to all the neighbors within a 5-mile radius.
In Canada, “rye whisky” has to have only the taste and aroma of rye to bear the name, so it may be made of corn, wheat, or barley. At one point, because rye whiskey was so popular in Canada, just about all Canadian whisky was labeled rye. A lot of that was smuggled into the U.S. during Prohibition. Today, there are many fantastic Canadian brands, including Forty Creek.
Spice It Up
Rye plays a different role in cooking than sugary spirits like bourbon and rum: It adds spiciness. This makes it a great addition to foods with strong flavors, like cheese, pork, tart cherries, apples in desserts, and bitter liqueurs in cocktails, like the old fashioned or Manhattan.