Rye Whiskies Accelerate In The U.S., As Distillers Boost CapacityApril 8, 2019
With rye whiskey enjoying a renaissance in the U.S. market, distillers have been investing to meet increasing demand. A mainstay in the U.S. right up to Prohibition, rye suffered a sharp decline in the latter half of the 20th Century—but now it’s back in a big way. According to Impact Databank, the rye category now stands at just over 1 million cases, up from just 100,000 cases in 2010.
Beam Suntory-owned Knob Creek, which debuted a Kentucky Straight rye whiskey ($41 a 750-ml.) in 2012, has since added limited-edition Cask Strength ($70) and Twice Barreled ($55) rye expressions. Knob Creek Cask Strength rye finished at No. 2 on Whisky Advocate’s Top 20 Whiskies of 2018. The Booker’s and Basil Hayden’s brands from Beam Suntory have also expanded their rye repertoires in recent years.
Diageo-owned Bulleit added its rye whiskey ($28) back in 2011. The label rose 7.5% last year to 452,000 cases, making it the leading rye brand by volume in the U.S. In recent weeks, a 12-year rye ($50) also joined the lineup. Going forward, global brand director Ed Bello notes that Bulleit Rye will take a larger share of the brand’s marketing efforts.
“Most customers buy rye on the premise that they drink Bulleit Bourbon, so they’ll try Bulleit Rye,” says Tyler Sharon, president of Atlanta retailer Tower Beer, Wine, and Spirits. Tower, which offers around 45 rye SKUs, has given the category its own section in the store. Bulleit, Knob Creek, WhistlePig, and Rittenhouse are among Tower’s most popular rye brands.
In February, Brown-Forman’s Old Forester brand debuted a Kentucky Straight rye ($23) that takes inspiration from Normandy Rye, a historic brand that was discontinued in 1940. The new expression has a mashbill of 65% rye, 20% malted barley, and 15% corn, and is a permanent addition to the portfolio. Campari-owned Wild Turkey has long been active in rye, both under the flagship brand and Russell’s Reserve.
Craft players have also been hugely significant in boosting rye. Park City, Utah-based High West Distillery, owned by Constellation, was among the first to draw attention to the category more than a decade ago, with two of its core expressions—Rendezvous Rye ($60) and Double Rye! ($35)—spearheading growth. High West initially made its mark as a blender, but the company’s own-make rye from its distillery in Wanship, Utah has recently been integrated into Double Rye, Rendezvous Rye, and Campfire Whiskey ($65), among others.
High West was a pioneer in sourcing whiskies from Indiana-based MGP, and many other brands have since turned to MGP as well, including Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits’ Redemption Rye and Baltimore, Maryland-based Sagamore Spirit. Redemption has released high-end, extra-aged offerings like Barrel Proof 18-year-old ($400). Deutsch Family vice president of spirits brand development Susan Kilgore says Redemption is experimenting with various maturation methods, with new launches on the way. Sagamore currently offers two core expressions, Straight rye ($40) and Cask Strength rye ($74), and opened a distillery in Baltimore two years ago.
After years of bottling MGP-sourced rye, Templeton Rye opened a $35 million distillery, visitor center, and museum in Templeton, Iowa last year. Likewise, Vermont’s WhistlePig made a name for itself by blending and bottling ryes sourced from Canada’s Alberta Distillers, as well as MGP. In 2015, WhistlePig opened its own distillery in Shoreham, Vermont, marking the start of its transition toward own-make whiskies.
Michter’s, which recently launched a Barrel Strength Rye ($75), and Kentucky Owl have followed similar routes. Michter’s now has two distilleries in Kentucky, and Kentucky Owl (owned by Stoli Group) has its own project in the works. Market Watch has more on the burgeoning rye category on its website.—Julia HigginsSubscribe to Shanken News Daily’s Email Newsletter, delivered to your inbox each morning.