Many are familiar with bourbon and the strict standards it places on distillers. But did you know that many other regions have their own whiskey categories and standards to make it? Enter Empire Rye, the whiskey style of New York, also known as the Empire State.
Like bourbon, Empire Rye has strong historical roots. Before prohibition threw a wrench in distillation across the nation, New York was known for producing its own distinctive northern style of rye whiskey. Rye grains grew strong in the rocky soil and cold climate of New York, making it a perfect spirit to highlight regional crops.
However, when liquor production became illegal in the 1920s, rye whiskey fell by the wayside, and farmers took the brunt of the impact as the demand for rye plummeted.
However, with the recent resurgence of whiskey over the last few years, the spotlight has once again shone on the Empire State and its historical roots in producing rye whiskey.
In 2015, Black Button Distillery banded together with a group of distillers in New York to establish Empire Rye, a historically-based official category. They saw the need to create a style of whiskey that truly highlighted New York’s unique climate and history of producing rye whiskey.
The standards for Empire Rye are as follows:
- Must conform to the New York Farm Distiller (Class D) requirement that 75% of the mash bill be New York grain; in this instance that 75% MUST be New York State-grown rye grain, which may be raw, malted or a combination.
- The remaining 25% of the mash bill may be composed of any raw or malted grain, New York-grown or otherwise, or any combination thereof.
- Distilled to no more than 160 proof
- Aged for a minimum of two years in charred, new oak barrels at not more than 115 proof at time of entry.
- Must be mashed, fermented, distilled, barreled and aged at a single New York State distillery.
- A blended whisky containing no less than 100% qualifying Empire Rye whiskies from multiple distilleries may be called Blended Empire Rye.
A few distilleries have followed these strict standards to produce a whiskey that truly embodies the Empire State. For example, Black Button Distillery makes one that you can check out by clicking here. As a founding and current member of the board for Empire Rye, Black Button Distillery takes its Empire Straight Rye whiskey seriously. It is a delicious pour full of earthy and toasty notes that are approachable for new and veteran whiskey enthusiasts alike.