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.'