One of the factors that distinguish Scotch whisky from its American (whiskey with an “e”) counterpart is that the former is typically made from malted barley, while the latter couches itself on malted corn, rye and wheat.
It is a sweeping statement to say that the whisky landscape is completely barren from rye expressions, but this cereal has fallen out of fashion amongst distillers due to the difficulties associated with its growth in Scotland.
Arbikie, an Arbroath-based distillery, has sought to re-introduce rye into the Scotch paradigm with the Highland Rye Single Grain, a limited edition bottling that stands as the first made-in-Scotland rye for over a century.
The Highland Rye Single Grain is made with 52 percent unmalted Arantes rye, 33 percent Odyssey malted barley and 15 percent Viscount wheat, all of which were grown on the Arbikie estate to showcase the terroir of the Scottish Highlands. This farm-to-table spirit was laid in first-fill American oak barrels to mature in 2015, then finished in Pedro Ximénez sherry casks to intensify its spice and rich fruit flavours. Only 998 bottles are available.
Arbikie’s baby steps into resurrecting rye whisky for Scotland comes at the boom in popularity of rye whisky across the past couple of years. The US has reported that revenue generated from rye whisky sales jumped from US$15 million (S$20.6 million) to US$160 million (S$220 million) between 2009 to 2016.
While this dramatic increase in margins is purely measured in terms of American-produced ryes, Scottish distillers are also moving to own a slice of the category, with Arbikie leading the way. Following closely behind are Bruichladdich and InchDairnie, who have begun rye distillations in November, as reported by Scotch Whisky.
One can expect Scotch rye to taste significantly different from the American version given the dramatic difference in climate between Scotland and the States. Rye, which typically requires dry weather to flourish, is challenged by the cold, wet Hibernian clime, coaxing distillers to work around agricultural issues to create rye spirits that taste uniquely Scottish. We can definitely expect to see more whiskies of the kind surfacing in years to come.