Stu Whytcross stands within the dusty stockyard of a dying Australian farm in southwest New South Wales, Australia, a six-and-a-half-hour drive west of Sydney, the place the luxurious farmland of the east coast offers technique to the arid inside—or what Aussies name the Outback. He’s there for a clearance public sale, the final likelihood for a destitute farmer to promote what little stays of the household legacy; he bids unopposed on a bag of scrappy, irregular seed rye that will find yourself supplying the makers of the world’s finest rye whiskey.
Whytcross works for the boutique malt home Voyager, which, along with its work researching and creating new and heritage grain varieties, buys grains from native farmers and processes them for craft breweries and distilleries. That bag of rye could be propagated and replanted—first in a greenhouse, then a backyard plot, and at last to a number of paddocks—earlier than being harvested and bought to Sydney’s Archie Rose Distilling Co. for its Sandigo Heritage Rye Malt Whisky.
“We’re not even certain of the number of the rye that was in that bag,” says Whytcross, “however the farmer had been rising it for the previous 60 years and replanting the identical seed, so it might have modified and developed in response to its surroundings.” Whytcross thinks the distinctive character of Australian rye comes from the land. “The varieties we’ve got right here, like Bevy and Vampire, are likely to develop within the sizzling and dry marginal farming areas the place it survives higher than wheat and barley,” he says. “We get fairly a small grain dimension and yields aren’t huge. However that’s the way you get depth of taste.”
“The concentrated earthy, spicy funk that outcomes from the grain struggling on this drought-hardened land—that defines Australian rye.”
Traditionally, Australia hasn’t had a lot of a marketplace for domestically grown rye, which is used principally as a hay crop in marginal farmland or exhausted soils. The shortage of demand means there hasn’t been plenty of selective breeding for elevated yield. “With barley, there’s been 50 to 100 new varieties over my lifetime developed for yield and tolerance,” explains Whytcross. “However plenty of that has been on the sacrifice of taste and aroma. With rye, most farmers are nonetheless planting 60-year-old strains that haven’t had the flavour bred out of them.”
It’s that grain character—the concentrated earthy, spicy funk that outcomes from the grain struggling on this drought-hardened land—that defines Australian rye. And it’s not like something you’ll discover in america or Canada. “Rye grown in a dry local weather is cereal-forward, not like most American rye,” says Andrew Fitzgerald, co-founder of Melbourne rye distillery The Gospel. “Loads of American ryes drink like a bourbon with a little bit of rye spice. Ours drinks like liquid rye bread.”
In 2020, Archie Rose was awarded World’s Finest Rye on the World Whiskies Awards for the distillery’s Rye Malt Whisky, a kind of hybrid rye/single malt that’s each scrumptious and completely Australian. Archie Rose, like most Australian rye, is made utilizing strategies realized from single malt Scotch: malting the grains, double-distilling in copper pots and infrequently using ex-bourbon or ex-wine casks for maturation. “We intention to make one thing distinctly Australian,” says Dave Withers, grasp distiller at Archie Rose. “It doesn’t have a lot to do with the American manner of doing issues.”
Peter Bignell of Tasmania’s Belgrove Distillery was the primary to provide a one hundred pc Australian rye, again in 2010, 4 years earlier than Archie Rose’s first nonetheless run. An engineer, farmer, artist and environmentalist, Bignell’s work is maybe the epitome of grain-to-glass Australian distilling. His whiskey took place in a decidedly pre-industrial style, when one yr he ended up with a bumper crop of the rye he was rising to feed the sheep on his household farm. Placing his abilities to make use of, he constructed his personal 500-liter (132-gallon) copper pot nonetheless, retrofitted a business tumble dryer right into a malting kiln, and fired them up with biodiesel he makes from discarded deep-fryer oil from the truck cease up the highway.
Belgrove rye is deeply earthy and extremely wealthy in grain character, like wild rice cooked in bone broth and eaten with a well-worn picket spoon. It’s as unusual and complicated and Australian as Bignell himself.
“We intention to make one thing distinctly Australian,” says Dave Withers, grasp distiller at Archie Rose. “It doesn’t have a lot to do with the American manner of doing issues.” | Photograph: Dominic Loneragan
Together with Archie Rose, The Gospel and Belgrove, different Australian ryes, corresponding to Backwoods and Tiger Snake, are every contributing to what’s changing into a novel regional character, regardless of the distilleries’ wildly completely different approaches to manufacturing. This commonality is far more durable to seek out amongst different Aussie whiskey kinds. For context, the overwhelming majority of Australian whiskey is produced from malted barley that’s double-distilled to make single malt. Rye was all the time an afterthought—a distant overseas cousin to the malts Australians know and love. However for a nation struggling to outline itself in a world awash with craft whiskeys, rye, regardless of its indelible hyperlinks to North America, provides maybe the most effective instance of a really Australian whiskey.
It’s a giant a part of the explanation The Gospel wished to make rye within the first place. Tucked within the mild industrial backstreets of Melbourne’s internal suburb of Brunswick, the model stays a lot nearer to American manufacturing strategies than most, utilizing unmalted rye and maturing in charred new oak. Regardless of the similarities to conventional American rye, The Gospel tastes essentially completely different. “Our rye could be very grain-forward, with a vibrant fruit character that you simply don’t usually see in American rye,” says Fitzgerald. “It tastes just like the Australian countryside.”
A part of Fitzgerald’s curiosity in making rye in Australia is predicated on practicality. Whytcross neatly sums up the logic: “In comparison with corn, wheat and barley, it’s higher for the farmers, higher for the soils and higher for the surroundings. It wants much less water and fewer nitrogen-based fertilizer, which causes an enormous quantity of CO2 emissions and runs off into our fragile river methods. It additionally has deeper roots, so it even helps to regenerate tapped-out soils.”
As craft whiskey producers in Australia, and internationally, search methods to distinguish themselves from established manufacturers, terroir is changing into an more and more essential issue. Hyperlocal yeast strains, distinctive microclimates and heritage grains like those used to make Australian rye have turn out to be a staple of the craft whiskey playbook. From Bruichladdich’s “Islay Barley” single malt Scotch, made solely with native barley, to Balcones’ Child Blue corn whiskey, made in Texas with heritage blue maize, these grains and the place they’re grown are writing a brand new chapter within the craft whiskey story.
Australian rye, with its scrappy varieties, resilience, genetic variety and intense cereal taste, is rising because the nation’s most singular spirit. As Fitzgerald says, “Making rye is the closest we will get to taking the flavour of an Outback Australian farm to the world.”
The Gospel Rye is obtainable within the U.S. immediately from the distillery’s web site, delivery to 40 states. Belgrove can typically be present in boutique bottle outlets. Archie Rose is presently not accessible within the U.S., however as one in all Australia’s largest trendy distilleries, don’t be stunned to see it stateside in coming years.