American rye whiskey
In the United States, “rye whiskey” is, by law, made from a mash of at least 51 percent rye. (The other ingredients of the mash are usually corn and malted barley.) It is distilled to no more than 160 (U.S.) proof, and aged in charred, new oak barrels. The whiskey must be put into such barrels at not more than 125 (U.S.) proof. Rye whiskey that has been so aged for at least 2 years may be further designated as “straight”, as in “straight rye whiskey”.
Rye whiskey was the prevalent whiskey of the northeastern states, especially Pennsylvania and Maryland, but largely disappeared after Prohibition. A few brands, such as Old Overholt, survived it. Today Heaven Hill, Copper Fox, Jim Beam and Wild Turkey (among others) also produce rye whiskeys, as does a distillery at Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington, which sells a version of the rye Washington made. Rye is currently undergoing a small but growing revival in the United States.
Canadian rye whisky
Canadian whisky is often referred to as “rye whisky”, since historically much of the content was from rye. With no requirement for rye to be used to make whiskies with the legally-identical labels “Canadian Whisky”, “Canadian Rye Whisky” or “Rye Whisky” in Canada, provided they “possess the aroma, taste and character generally attributed to Canadian whisky”, in some cases the corn-to-rye ratio may be as high as 9:1. Most contemporary Canadian whiskies contain only a fraction of rye, with the exception of Alberta Premium which is one of the very few whiskies made from 100% rye mash.
In contrast with the US “straight rye whiskey” counterpart, a minimum of 3 years of small (700l/~185USG or less) wooden barrel aging is required for the “Canadian Whisky”, “Canadian Rye Whisky” and “Rye Whisky” labels, although they need not be new oak, nor charred.
Differences between rye and bourbon
Rye is known for imparting what many call a spicey or fruity flavor to the whiskey. Bourbon, distilled from at least 51% corn, is noticeably sweeter, and tends to be fuller bodied than rye. As bourbon gained popularity beyond the southern United States, bartenders increasingly substituted it for rye in cocktails like Whiskey Sours, Manhattans, and Old Fashioneds, which were initially made only with rye. All other things being equal, the character of the cocktail will be drier with rye.
Approximately twenty US distilleries produce about forty different ryes. Among them is a single malt produced by the Anchor Brewery of San Francisco, known as Old Potrero Single Malt Whiskey, one of the few single malt whiskeys made in the United States.
Approximately a dozen Canadian distillers make rye whisky today. Only a few produce a whisky with majority rye content, most famously Alberta Distillers’ Alberta Premium and Alberta Springs, and Wiser’s Old Rye Whisky, long distilled on the shores of Lake Ontario. Popular international brands of Canadian whisky are Canadian Club and Crown Royal.
“Rock and Rye” is the name of two distinct beverages: a citrus fruit flavored whiskey-based liqueur made from American rye bottled with a bit of rock candy (crystallized sugar); and a toddy made with rye whiskey, bitters, and rock candy.