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Rye is often confused with Canadian Whisky, but Canadian is actually made mostly from corn and is blended whiskey. Of the many Canadian whiskies, most of them contain rye, but only about six or seven are actually built from rye. American Rye is a type of whiskey that by law must be distilled from a fermented mash of at least 51 percent rye grain. It was traditionally distilled in copper pot stills, but mass production is done primarily in column stills.
Rye was the predecessor of Bourbon. Early settlers of the colonies produced whiskey, and George Washington was one of the noted whiskey producers of the time. The Scotch-Irish of Western Pennsylvania brought their whiskey making traditions to this country. These settlers of Pennsylvania are where bourbon roots began, and are most noted for their part in the "Whiskey Rebellion" of 1791 to 1794. To help finance the revolution, the Continental Congress put a tax on whiskey production. The settlers of Western Pennsylvania refused to pay. The Rebellion is history, and Washington not only ended up pardoning all, he also made a settlement with them, if they would move to Kentucky (at that time part of Virginia). Thomas Jefferson, Governor of Virginia, offered sixty acres of land in Kentucky in exchange for a permanent structure and crops of "native corn". Dawn the origination's of Bourbon.
Rye Whiskey continued in popularity throughout the 1800's. Hayner's Rye Whiskey was one of the very few to not only survive the Temperance Movement, Hayner's actually prospered by it. William Hayner married Mary Jayne Harter Coleman in 1891. Surprisingly, she was a member of the Women's Christian Temeperance Movement however, her family owned Dr. Harter's Medicine, which was most known for their Wild Cherry Bitters. The Financial Panic of 1893 did not sway the prospering Hayner empire one bit. Hayner moved the Medicine plant to Ohio in 1894 and doubled production of alcohol in 1895. The medicine production was small potatoes in the business thanks to the help of Walter Kidder, Hayner's right hand who introduced Hayner to mail order. Hayner died in 1912, and Kidder took over operations, shipping Rye by mail order in plain brown boxes. Prohibition in 1920 slowed the Rye operations. Kidder tried to help the rye farmers by trying his hand at making cereal. It failed. In 1925, a scandal involving investigation by the Federal government proved that a government official issued permits for a large liquor consignment to be withdrawn. The Hayner doors finally closed in 1928. American's had lost their taste for Rye after Prohibition, or had gotten used to lighter varieties of alcohol.
Today there are very few producers of Rye, but if you can get hold of the real stuff...
(c) 2013 Kathy Hamlin