Monday, November 7, 2011

What Do Terns 'High Rye' And 'Low Rye' Mean?

The question was posed to me about the rye content of bourbon recipes. "What does the industry mean," the questioner wondered, "when they say 'high' or 'low' rye?"

I answered that 'high rye and 'low rye' are terms used more by enthusiasts than by producers. Four Roses is about the only producer that uses them, and they would probably say 'high rye' and 'standard rye.' The two mash bills at Four Roses are 20% and 35% rye, respectively. Even their 'low rye' is high relative to the rest of the industry, where 12% to 15% rye is more typical.

Buffalo Trace, which also makes two rye-recipe bourbon mash bills, explicitly rejects the high/low terminology. They won't reveal their exact mash bills, but #1 is probably less than 10% rye, while #2 is nearer to the 12% to 15% standard.

Bulleit is one of the few producers that talks about rye content. They use the Four Roses 35% rye mash bill. Old Grand-Dad/Basil Hayden, made by Jim Beam, is the other true 'high rye' mash bill, at about 30%. Their other recipe, the one used for Jim Beam and most of their other bourbons, is about 15% rye.

Dynamic Beverages, a small producer, uses the terms which they picked up from enthusiasts. They get their whiskey from LDI which, as a former Seagram's plant, uses many of the same recipes as Four Roses, and Dynamic uses the term 'high rye,' but the 20% rye recipe is hardly 'low.' Their Redemption Bourbon uses the 35% rye formula while their Temptation Bourbon uses the 20% rye recipe.

Four Roses, LDI, Beam, Buffalo Trace and Brown Forman are the only major distilleries that make two or more different rye-recipe bourbons.

At Brown-Forman, the Woodford/Old Forester recipe is 18% rye, Jack Daniel's is 12% and Early Times is 11%. So they have three different recipes but they're all in the 'typical' range.

While there is no industry standard, I would refer to anything with more than 30% rye as 'high' and anything less than 12% as 'low,' while anything in between is 'standard' or 'typical.'

11 comments:

Joe G said...

A question - when one is mixing grains into a mashbill, at what point in the process are the grains mixed?

Chuck Cowdery said...

They're mixed in the cooker, as they cook at different temps. Corn is first, at the highest temp, then rye or wheat, and finally malt.

Ethan Smith said...

I didn't realize Bulliet contains so much rye in their bourbon. Isn't Wild Turkey a bourbon containing a large percentage of rye as well?

Chuck Cowdery said...

I always thought so but WT is actually pretty standard.

mutantlovesongs said...

Chuck, aside from whatever small amount of malt, is the rest of the mashbill then corn, or are both wheat and rye sometimes mixed in?

Chuck Cowdery said...

Rarely both but almost always one or the other (rye or wheat).

Anonymous said...

Is the "Early Times is 11%" for their bourbon or Kentucky Whisky? Their website claims "Early Times mashbill contains more rye than many other whisky recipes."

Chuck Cowdery said...

The mash bill is the same for the Kentucky whisky and the bourbon. The only difference is that the Kentucky Whisky uses about 20% used barrels. Eleven percent rye is more than some bourbons, less than others.

Bedlamist said...

I read someplace that what makes Wild Turkey taste that way isn't that it uses so much rye but that they char their barrels they're "alligatored." But then I see from "Bourbon Basics" at about.com that most distilleries do that. So is it Wild Turkey's mash bill that sets it apart after all, or maybe an unusual mash bill plus #4 char?

Anyway. I just discovered that the "regular" Early Times tastes pretty good to me, grainer, good enough to sip slowly. I wouldn't have expected that from a 3 year old with 20% less woodiness (or however you'd put it). It suits me better than 86 proof Very Old Barton, my former favorite "cheapie," which is twice as old and 100% bourbon. Next payday I'll compare this Early Times to their 354 bourbon: I expect to like that better but it won't surprise me if I don't. Sometimes snobs are silly.

Chuck Cowdery said...

Not everyone uses the 'alligatored' barrels, but many others do. Relatively low distillation and barrel entry proof are probably how Wild Turkey differs the most from other bourbons.

Early Times is a very well made whiskey, it's just young.

Travis said...

Early times is much like bourbon except it is aged in used oak barrels which disqualifies it by legal definition. Bourbon is aged in unused charred oak barrels.