‘Indiana Rye’ Whiskey Is (Finally) A Legally-Recognized Designation

Craft distillers and local politicians in Indiana scored a pretty big boon for their local whiskey this week. Starting July 1st, “Indiana Rye” whiskey will be a legally binding regional whiskey style of American whiskey.

Indiana has a long history with rye whiskey and produces the lion’s share of the rye whiskey consumed on the market today. MGP of Indiana alone distills and matures ryes for Angel’s Envy, Bulleit, George Dickel, High West, James E. Pepper, Redemption, WhistlePig, and so, so many more. Their 95 percent peppery rye mash bill is so ubiquitous that most people just think that’s what rye tastes like in general (it’s actually not, at all).

Of course, rye has a much longer history than MGP’s Lawrenceburg plant (which itself stretches back to the 1800s). Rye was way more common as a whiskey in the 1700s and well into the 1800s. The American whiskey trail from antebellum Virginian plantations to the Allegheny and Ohio valleys of western Pennsylvania towards Indiana is the heartland of rye whiskey to this day. Of course, rye whiskey is made all over Kentucky, Tennessee, and in any other state distilling spirits these days. But the real heart of the spirit remains in Indiana and the 30-odd distilleries pumping out local rye whiskey are a testament to that.

The law is pretty straightforward when it comes to whiskey regulations. To be called an “Indiana Rye,” the whiskey needs to be either a sour or sweet mash with at least 51 percent rye as the base ingredient. The juice has to come off the stills at 80 percent ABV or less, go into the barrel at no more than 62.5 percent ABV, and be bottled at 40 percent ABV and above. It’ll have to be aged a minimum of two years in new white American oak barrels.

The heart of the bill is that it allows local distillers to label their product with the term “Indiana Rye” whiskey and have it be a legally binding regional designation federally. In essence, you’re going to start seeing bottles labeled “Indiana Straight Rye Whiskey” in the same vein as you see “Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey” or “Tennessee Straight Rye Whiskey” now.

Does this mean that WhistlePig and Bulleit are going to start labeling their ryes as “Indiana Straight Rye Whiskey”? Probably not. Both of those brands lean into being from Vermont and Kentucky (respectively), regardless of the fact that they source from MGP. This is more of a win for the small, local craft distillers who now get to call their whiskey their own, with laws protecting them. It’s also a play to help make Indiana more of a whiskey destination.

State Rep. Chris May, who spearheaded the legislation, said, “we want Indiana to be as popular for its rye whiskey as it is for basketball and racing.” He continued, “Establishing that market, both in sales and tourism, might one day put the success of our state’s distilleries on par with that of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.”

Those are lofty goals, given that the Kentucky Bourbon Trail brings in north of $8 billion annually. To be honest, most American rye drinkers don’t even realize their rye is most likely from Indiana yet. But this is the first step in shifting that awareness and it may very well lead to a larger sea change.

(Via The Herald-Times)