top of page

European Rye On The Rise

Updated: Mar 2


European rye whiskies

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


Rye whiskey is widely known as one of the most iconic North American spirits. It was the first type of whiskey produced in the Americas, gaining immense popularity and profitability by the late 1800s. However, after the Prohibition era and the subsequent closure of many distilleries, the whiskey experienced a decline in popularity, with corn-made spirits becoming the focus instead. For years, it seemed rye whiskey only appeared as a component in classic cocktail recipes like Manhattan and Sazerac - although some were replaced by bourbon in practice.


Recently, the trend of producing rye whiskey has seen a resurgence due to changes in production laws in many states. Many American distilleries now produce rye whiskey alongside their bourbon varieties, with around 48.4% of US distilleries producing both types of whiskey.


However, the real reason for this article is the trend of making rye whiskies outside the US. Countries such as Germany, the Netherlands, Finland, Ireland, and Scotland are increasingly producing whiskey from rye. And these whiskies are not just for use in cocktails. Rye whiskey is now being enjoyed on its own, as it deserves to be.


In this article, we will be looking closer at European-made rye whiskies by country.




 

What is Rye & Rye Whisky?


Making whiskey from rye is a challenging process. Rye grains are known to be difficult to germinate, which results in less sugar production required to create alcohol. As a solution, most distillers add a proportion of malted barley to the mash bill to encourage sugar production. The proteins in rye also thicken the mash and give it a slimy texture, which makes it more difficult to mash. Therefore, rye whiskey production is more expensive per litre and produces less yield per distillation.


Rye grain is considered to be one of the oldest crop grains cultivated after the last ice age, dating back around 13,000 years. It spread alongside the earliest human civilisations and established itself for thousands of years in areas where other crops, such as wheat, oats, and barley, struggled to grow. It is believed that rye was first cultivated in Turkey and Syria, but later, it spread extensively throughout Europe, where rye and rye bread are still part of the daily diet.

Rye grain belt Europe

Image by producer.com


Rye was introduced to the US and Canada by early settlers. In subsequent years, European high-yielding and hardy hybrids have arrived in North America, enabling farmers to confidently grow their crops. During the Prohibition era, rye became synonymous with Canadian whisky, which helped to keep the lawbreakers hydrated. After World War II, rye crops in North America were mainly used as animal feed. Recently, rye has gained newfound popularity in whisky circles and with cocktail enthusiasts due to its spicy flavour and association with early colonial history.


To be classified rye whiskey by US standards, the whiskey has to be made from at least 51% rye grain, aged in virgin oak barrels with no minimum ageing ('straight' for at least two years) and has to be bottled at a minimum of 40% ABV. In the case of malted rye, the mash has to contain at least 51% malted rye grain.


In Europe, rye whiskies follow the American rye guidelines with a European twist. Most European rye whiskies have more than 51% rye content but are aged for a minimum of three years. Some are even distilled using copper pot stills or Lomond stills. Currently, there are no regional regulations for European-made ryes, mainly because it is a new addition to the market. The new world of rye is about experimentation.




 

Rye Whiskies by Country


The world of whisky is always on the lookout for new innovations to offer consumers. Rye, an indigenous and common crop in many European countries, is an obvious choice for expansion and experimentation. With a long tradition of farming rye and making rye bread, the current whisky boom has brought the distilling of rye to the attention of some of the big producers.


A number of new distilleries have been established to make European rye whiskies, and producers prefer locally-grown rye varieties and enjoy experimenting with different cask types. We have selected nine European countries that currently offer rye whiskies on the market to showcase the diversity of ryes produced.


Map of European countries producing whisky from rye

Image by Deuzkorr / Edited by The Whisky Ardvark - European countries producing whisky from rye



 

The Netherlands


Zuidam distillery is often credited as the first European distillery to release a modern rye whisky. They started ageing whisky in barrels in 1996 and launched their first rye whisky in 2007. The distillery's Millstone brand is dedicated to its whisky collection, which includes single malts, five-grain whiskies, and ryes. Additionally, the distillery is well-known for its range of gin and genever. 'Millstone' comes from the milling stones used to grind grains.


Zuidam's Millstone 92 Dutch Rye Whisky is made with 49% malted rye and 51% unmalted rye distillate, aged for at least four years in virgin American oak barrels and then bottled at 46%. The distillery also produces a more mature version of the whisky called Millstone 100 Rye. This award-winning variant is made with the same mash bill and aged for at least 100 months, or 8.5 years, before being bottled at 50%.


Zuidam Dutch rye whisky

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


Due to the warm and dry climate in The Netherlands, the average angel's share per year is four to six per cent, which for the warehouse means a total loss of 125 litres of spirit per day.


Zuidam has bottled its rye for Brewdog's Boilermaker series and by independent bottlers such as Dumanjin J. Fils.



 

Finland


Finland has established itself as a prominent producer of rye whiskies, with two rye-producing distilleries operating in the country since 2014. Kyro, one of the distilleries, has gained significant recognition and was ranked 24th in the world's 'most admired whisky brands' by Drinks International in 2023, surpassing brands such as Glenfiddich and Glenlivet.


Kyro has gained a reputation in the spirits industry since it launched its 100% rye spirit-based Napue gin (now known as Kyro Gin) in 2014. The distillery also introduced an unaged rye spirit, Juuri, followed by Verso, a rye spirit aged for at least four months in American oak barrels. After releasing a range of limited small-batch bottlings of its 'coming of age' rye spirits, the distillery launched its Kyro Malt Rye whisky in August 2020. Today, the portfolio includes a range of limited cask finishes and peated editions.

Finland rye whiskies

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


Helsinki Distilling Company, established in 2014, is a distillery that produces a variety of whiskies. They offer two different rye whiskies, a single malt, and the only corn whisky from Finland. The Rye Malt variety is made from barley and rye, while the 100% rye malt whisky is made entirely from rye. The master distiller of Helsinki Distillery, Mikko Mykkanen, has also created his namesake rye whiskey, Muteman, which is finished in sherry casks.


 

Denmark


Stauning Distillery was founded in 2005 and has recently gained recognition for its rye whiskies. The first rye whisky was introduced to the market in 2011. In 2018, the company inaugurated their new distillery, which happens to be Denmark's first purpose-built whisky distillery. Stauning offers a range of whiskies, which includes the Danish Rye whisky, made by blending barley and rye. The whisky is prepared using locally sourced ingredients and aged for three to four years in new American oak barrels. They also offer a higher ABV variety of the Danish Rye whisky.

Denmark rye whiskies

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


Thy is a Danish distillery that has been in operation since 2010. The Spelt-Rye organic whisky produced by Thy distillery has only been released as a limited edition in 2023. The whisky is made from locally grown barley, spelt and rye grains, with 50% rye content. It is aged in virgin oak American and ex-bourbon barrels, and the spirits used were distilled between 2017 and 2018, and bottled at 52%.



 

Germany


Stork Club distillery in Germany has been making rye whiskies using locally grown crops since 2004. In 2015, under new ownership, the distillery was transformed into Germany's first rye-only distillery. They use both unmalted and malted rye to create a wide range of expressions, from straight and smoky to barrel-finished whiskies. To mature their core expressions, they use American and German Napoleon oak barrels as well as ex-sherry casks for complexity. Stork Club Smoky rye whisky is partially aged in ex-Laphroaig casks from Islay.

Germany rye whiskies

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


The Hardenberg family has been producing spirits since 1700. They established their current distillery in 2019 and now offer a wide range of spirits. One of their offerings is straight rye whiskey, which is made of 95% rye and 5% malted barley. The whiskey has been finished in Coopers Reserve and German Napoleon oak casks, which adds complexity to its taste and aroma.


 

England


The East London Liquor Company, founded in 2014, is well known for its diverse range of spirits. Their London Rye, which was introduced in 2018, is a blend of 55% rye and 45% malted barley. The whisky has been aged in a combination of regenerated, Hungarian, American oak, and London Brandy casks to achieve maximum complexity.

English rye whiskies

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


The Oxford Artisan Distillery has been in operation since 2017 and primarily uses rye as its main grain. They launched their first aged rye spirit to celebrate their first anniversary in 2018. The first core expression, Purple Grain Rye, was released in 2022 after being aged in charred new American oak casks for two years, followed by 14 months in Portuguese Moscatel Roxo barrels.


The mash bill for Oxford whiskies is comprised of 70% rye, 20% wheat, and 10% malted barley. In addition to Purple Grain Rye, other rye expressions from the distillery include vintage Harvest Rye and The Dissertation releases. The latter uses two distinctive mash bills and cask types, with an extra portion of 100% rye mash whisky aged exclusively in Italian Ramandolo sweet wine casks.


The Circumstance distillery launched its first single-grain rye whiskey in 2023. The whiskey is composed of 51% malted rye and 49% malted barley and aged for 37 months in ex-bourbon, new European oak, and oloroso sherry-conditioned casks.



 

Ireland


Midleton distillery, one of the largest whiskey producers in Ireland, is the proud home to several renowned brands, such as Jameson and Redbreast. Interestingly, two of their brands, Powers and Method & Madness, have recently released a rye variety.


The Method & Madness Rye & Malt was first introduced in 2021 as an experimental small-batch whiskey produced by Midleton's micro-distillery. It is made using a mash bill consisting of 60% rye and 40% malted barley and is aged in ex-bourbon barrels. Powers 100% rye, on the other hand, was released in 2023. It is made from rye specially grown at Cooney Furlong Farm in county Wexford and is aged in a combination of virgin, first-fill, and refill American oak casks.

Irish rye whiskies

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


Established in 2007, Kilbeggan distillery produces traditional Irish whiskies. Its Small Batch Rye whiskey, launched in 2018, is double distilled in a copper pot still and contains only around 30% rye. Whether it can be called a rye whiskey is debatable.


Rademon Estate Distillery, which was established in 2015, produces whiskey under the Shortcross brand. In 2022, the company released its Rye & Malt whiskey in two different strengths. This whiskey is made using barley and rye grown in Ireland and has been aged in a combination of virgin Chinquapin Oak, high char, first-fill bourbon, and Tennessee whiskey barrels.



 

Scotland


Arbikie is one of the few Scottish distilleries that produces rye whiskies. It was founded in 2015 and released its first Arbikie 1794 Rye in 2019. Today, the distillery offers a range of expressions, including limited vintages, cask strength and multiple cask finishes. Although the exact proportions of each grain used are not disclosed, the mash bills are known to contain rye, barley and wheat grains.


Ryelaw by InchDairnie distillery is one of the most luxurious-looking rye whiskies ever bottled. The first edition of this whisky was distilled in 2017 and bottled in 2022. It is made using a mash bill of 53% malted Scottish rye and 47% malted barley, distilled in an unusual Lomond still. The first release was limited to 200 charred new oak casks, which were then bottled and distributed worldwide.


Scottish rye whiskies

Image by The Whisky Ardvark


Bruichladdich distillery, located in Islay, is renowned for its innovative approach to whisky-making, which involves using locally sourced grains. In 2023, the distillery announced the launch of its latest creation - the first-ever Islay rye whisky. This limited-edition, five-year-old expression is made from 55% rye, which was grown on the island in 2017 as part of the Regeneration Project. The whisky has been aged in a combination of first-fill bourbon and American oak barrels and is bottled at 50% ABV.


Johnnie Walker also created High Rye blended scotch in 2021 for use in cocktails. It's made with a 60% rye mash and aged for at least three years in American oak barrels.


To note, Mossburn Distillers also established the Reivers distillery in 2020, which is dedicated to distilling spirits by using rye.



 

Sweden


Rye grain is commonly used in Scandinavian countries, but only one Swedish distillery produces whisky from rye. The Spirit of Hven distillery was founded in 2008 and has since introduced a variety of spirits, including multiple expressions of whisky and the only Swedish corn whisky. Hven Hvenus, a limited batch rye whisky, was launched in 2018. It is made with a mash bill comprising 78.6% rye, 11.9% wheat, 4.8% corn, and 4.8% barley and aged in American oak casks. Each batch is limited to 42 barrels, which are aged for three to six years.

Swedish rye whisky

Image by The Whisky Ardvark

 

France


France has recently ventured into producing rye whisky. One of the producers is Domaine des Hautes Glaces, which was established in 2009 and started releasing its whiskies in 2014. The distillery's Moissons organic whisky, produced with 100% French rye harvested in 2018, was released in 2023. The expression is aged using the solera ageing method.


French rye whisky

Image by The Whisky Ardvark

 

Thank you for reading The Whisky Ardvark! Please check some of our other informative articles.



105 views0 comments

Comments


bottom of page