Rye Grain, the poor cousin of Wheat

Rye cereal, not to be confused with rye grass, has been cultivated for many 1,000’s of years and principally in northern Europe where the conditions are less favourable for growing other cereals, wheat in particular. Rye is a winter cereal so it is planted in the autumn when it starts to grow but being a hardy plant, it can then survive the harsh winter conditions, sometimes growing as far north as the arctic circle. It also grows well on poorer soils. When people from northern Europe emigrated to the Americas, they found it grew well in the north, particularly in Canada where it is still grown today. Much of it being used for Canadian Rye Whisky.

Only Rye and Wheat can be used for making bread, both being high in Gluten. It’s the gluten that makes mashing rye for whisky making so difficult. It also helps to create a lot of foam when it is being fermented.

Here in Scotland Rye growing has seen a very significant increase in planting in recent years driven mostly for its use as an energy crop. Where it is processed through Anaerobic Digesters to generate biomethane gas. The gas is either used to generate electricity or it is simply cleaned up and put into the local gas network. The rye being grown for this purpose is harvested early when the plant is still green, a bit like grass for silage.

Growing rye is very similar to winter wheat, but it does grow very tall, almost twice the height of its cousin wheat. Despite this, it still appears to keep standing in the usual Scottish weather. There is a particular problem with growing rye and that is a fungus called Ergot. Today this is managed by a very interesting and natural solution. Although at first glance a field of rye looks to be the same variety, it is not. Around 10% of the rye crop is a different variety to the rest of the crop. This different variety flowers about a week before the main crop which mean as soon as the main crop flowers, it can be fertilised immediately so preventing the development of the fungus.

Foaming when being processed is a well know problem with making Rye Whisky but here in Scotland there are some varieties that do not foam as much. InchDairnie has a contract for the supply of Fife Grown Rye but for a variety that has low foaming properties.

Unlike most of the Rye Whisky distilled in Canada and America, InchDairnie gets its rye malted. This helps in its processing, reducing the effect of the Gluten. Also using a malted cereal is closer to our Scottish traditions. We mix the malted rye with malted barley in the hammer mill before it is mixed with hot water to start the starch to sugar conversion process. After the conversion process is complete, we filter the mash to give us a clear wort. This is also unlike most of our America and Canadian friends where they do not filter the mash. We add our specially selected yeast strain to the clear wort to start the fermentation. When the fermentation is complete the wash is first distilled in our wash still and then the low wines is distilled in our unique Lomond Hills still. All of this combines to give the unique flavour profile of our RyeLaw Single Grain Scotch Whisky.

Ian Palmer