Introducing Empire Rye

When it comes to whiskey, there’s a common misconception that bourbon must come from Kentucky in order to be called bourbon. But that’s not true. Bourbon whiskey is basically American whiskey, with a few other conditions:

  1. it must be made in the United States of America
  2. the mash bill must contain at least 51% corn
  3. it must be aged at least two years in a newly charred oak barrel
  4. it must be distilled to less than 160 proof and bottled at more than 80 proof

The last two decades has seen a rise in the status and the demand of bourbon whiskey, which may have caught a few distilleries by surprise.

Bourbon whiskey’s close but spicier cousin is rye whiskey, and it too has enjoyed a renaissance over the last two decades. To both capitalize on its resurgence and to differentiate it from other rye whiskies, distillers in New York State have banded together and devised the label “Empire Rye.”

This regional variety of rye whiskey must meet four criteria:

  1. its mash bill must contain at least 75% New York State–grown rye
  2. It must be aged at least two years in a newly charred oak barrel
  3. It must be distilled to no more than 160 proof
  4. It must be put in a barrel at no more than 115 proof

As luck would have it and by designation of the New York State Assembly, this week—between October 16 and 22—is New York Rye Week. Eight distilleries throughout the state, including three from Brooklyn, will be introducing their own versions of Empire Rye whiskey for sale on Saturday, October 21, at the New York Distilling Company in Williamsburg. There are a bunch of other events as well, including a pig roast and a walk-around tasting.

The great thing about distilling now is that it has been around long enough so that we can get properly aged rye whiskey, not just the harsh “unoaked” moonshine that a new distillery was forced to offer while their whiskey aged.

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