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 Prohibition, and both Jim Beam and Wild Turkey produce their versions of rye.
Although the continued production has largely been due to bourbon producers, the home of George Washington, Mount Vernon, has recently begun to distill and sell a version of the rye Washington distilled. Stronger and—many would say—smoother in flavor than Bourbon, rye whiskey is sometimes referred to as America's equivalent of an Islay whisky. Though it has remained the standard drink of the secret Bishop Madison Society of the College of William and Mary since the early nineteenth century, rye is currently undergoing a small but growing revival in the United States.
Differences between Rye and Bourbon
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 (though it may contain rye as well), and has a very different flavor. Bourbon is noticeably sweeter, and tends to be slightly heavier bodied than rye. The two whiskys can be used fairly interchangeably in cocktails calling for one or the other. 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. Some experts maintain that cocktails traditionally made with rye taste better that way.