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James Asks..."What Is Rye And What Is Branch Water?"

American Rye Whiskey

Rye (Secale cereale) is a grass grown extensively as a grain and forage crop. It is a member of the wheat tribe (Triticeae) and is closely related to barley and wheat. Rye grain is used for flour, rye bread, rye beer, some whiskies, some vodkas, and animal fodder. It can also be eaten whole, either as boiled rye berries, or by being rolled, similar to rolled oats.

In the United States, "rye whisky" 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 whisky".


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 both Jim Beam and Wild Turkey 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.

Rye is known for imparting what many call a "peppery" flavor to the whisky, and it also has a bitter quality. Bourbon is distilled from at least 51% corn mash, is noticeably sweeter, and tends to be slightly heavier bodied than rye. As bourbon gained popularity beyond the southern United States, bartenders increasingly substituted it for rye in cocktails?Whisky Sours, Manhattans, Old Fashioneds, etc.?initially made only with rye. All other things being equal, the character of the cocktail will be somewhat drier and less sweet with rye, preferred by some.

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He had to ask about Rye... Music explains it all!

Branch Water Has Many Meanings
  • Water from a stream (a term primarily used in the southern United States)
  • Water that is steeped with a fresh young branch of a Douglas Fir tree, imparting upon it a distinct piney flavor and a heightened level of oxygenation. Anecdotal evidence suggests that water prepared in this way is cleansed of some impurities and odors and is also oxygenated.
  • Addition of plain water rather than soda water to a mixed drink (for example, "Bourbon and branch" refers to Bourbon whiskey with plain water)
  • When a whisky is ?cut? (i.e. watered down) prior to bottling, the water that is used is very important to the final product. The preferred source of water is called ?branch water?. Branch water comes directly from the stream that the distillery is built on; some companies even bottle this water, so that bar customers can further dilute their bourbon with the original bourbon water. This branch water starts its life in the underground limestone shelf that exists under most of Kentucky and part of Tennessee. The limestone shelf acts as a natural filter for water that passes over it. Branch water is particular for its lack of character, with no traces of iron or other minerals that would be harmful to the whisky making process.