the history of rye whiskey
Rye whiskey is about as American as it gets, with a history older than our country’s own. The drink’s had its fair share of ups and downs on its long journey to Lynchburg, but we’re happy it finally arrived.
RYE WHISKEY ARRIVES IN AMERICA
Early colonists brought whiskey-making expertise and rye growing knowledge with them to the New World in the 1600s. Running a small grain distillery was as common for many farmers as owning a plow.
THE BOSTON TEA PARTY
It may not have been called the Boston Rye Party, but this rebellious act against Britain made quite an impact on the drink’s popularity, as the country was cut off from British teas and Caribbean rums and people turned toward the good ol’ American stuff.
With rye being the most common grain in the newly minted United States, rye whiskey was almost everywhere by the late 1700s. Thousands of small distilleries popped up throughout New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Maryland. George Washington himself even owned one of the highest producing distilleries from 1797-1799 at his Mount Vernon Estate.
THE WHISKEY REBELLION
When the government imposed the “whiskey tax” in 1791, folks didn’t take too kindly to it. The end of the rebellion saw many people move west to Kentucky where the tax was not imposed, but Kentucky bourbon would not dethrone rye whiskey just yet. Rye remained the whiskey of choice in the U.S. from the end of the Civil War until Prohibition.
Cocktail culture is exported from London and finds its way to America, and classic drinks like the Manhattan and the Old Fashioned become rye whiskey staples.
Unsurprisingly, a law prohibiting the sale, manufacture, and transport of alcohol hurt the rye whiskey business greatly. By the end of Prohibition, the stockpile of American whiskey had dwindled throughout the country.
Prohibition didn’t last, but as Canadian rye flooded into the newly open market, American distillers weren’t able to keep up and rye’s reputation plummeted. Kentucky bourbon was better suited to bounce back, and rye whiskey all but disappeared following the repeal.
Rye whiskey’s reputation continues to fall as pop culture portrays rye as the drink of choice for unsophisticated drinkers.
THE RISE OF COCKTAIL CULTURE
Starting around 2006, cocktail culture began a resurgence throughout the country, led by San Francisco, then New York and Chicago. People began to rediscover classic Rye cocktails. Since 2009, rye whiskey production has grown by about 500 percent. (Click here for source information).
INTERNATIONAL WHISKEY DAY
Founded in 2008, International Whiskey Day celebrates all the whiskeys of the world on March 27th each year. We’ll toast to that.