Similar to how grape varietals and terroir influence the style and character of wines, so do varieties of Rye cereal grains and the soils and micro-climates they grow in. Rye whiskey derives its unique spicy and flavorful characteristics from the complexity of the grain. Remember the last time you had a bite of Rye bread, it’s definitely got a lot more going on flavor wise than Wonder Bread. Many of the rye grains that grow well in the Mid-Atlantic region are very traditional varieties brought over from Europe. There are also some newer hybrids that are being tested especially for our climate and soil conditions by Universities in the region like Penn State. Following are three rye grain varieties which are finding popularity with rye grain farmers and distillers in Virginia.
Abruzzi /Abruzzese Rye
This Italian heritage grain is a great heirloom rye that has deep roots in the South and is known for its ability to handle the climate and soils. It is a very tall growing Roman variety. It is delicious in taste and a proven standard over many decades of use by distillers, brewers and bakers in the region. It is also commonly used as a cover crop.
Quote from the Anson Mills website - “But of all the grains we grow at Anson Mills, we prefer our humble Abruzzese rye for simple pleasures. We love the comforting visual of Abruzzese rye’s whole-grain coarse crimson germ and bran flecks in simple flatbreads, and we love the defining citric flavor “ping” in the very low-alcohol session beers brewed with Abruzzese rye (which are really food, in our humble opinion, not beer). Above all, we love the unimaginable depth of nutty flavors, and the lean and laser-focused mineral and robust field-grain flavors of just-harvested Abruzzese rye. Baked, roasted, simmered, or brewed in anything, the compendium of these flavors reminds us of clean spring mountain water over stone. Like no other grain, Abruzzese rye has a unique and romantic quality that expresses something from a thousand years ago.”
Danko rye is traditional grain originally from Poland and is a true milling-type rye. Rye grain has been the staple ingredient of Polish Vodkas for centuries. Danko has large, plumb, blue-green berries with a good flavor balance between bready and spicy. It is a favorite among beer makers and distillers. Bakers love it for producing authentic European-style rye breads with a deep nutty flavor. Agronomically, Danko rye also does well with our regional soils.
A newcomer on the block, this hybrid rye grain developed in 2014 by German breeder KWS, is making its presence known with successful trails at Penn State University and in multiple small and large scale commercial ventures. Brasetto, the best performer in Penn State’s rye trials in 2016, can produce 100 bushels per acre with good management. Three Monkeys Farm in Loudon County, Virginia has shown success with growing Brasetto rye organically and working with Virginia distillers to develop products.
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