There’s no other whiskey quite like Kilbeggan Distilling Co.’s Small Batch Rye, a limited-release, pot-distilled Irish whiskey with a mash bill that’s roughly 30 percent rye.
The significant amount of rye within the mash bill gives the whiskey a kiss of spice, albeit far less spice than an American rye (and not technically a rye whiskey, according to U.S. regulations that require rye to make up at least 51 percent of a whiskey’s mash bill). The result is a whiskey that’s creamy with a chewy mouthfeel and notes of pear, cantaloupe and toffee.
And then there’s the method; the whiskey is produced on a pot still that’s about 180 years old and features a mash bill inspired by the Irish whiskeys made throughout the 19th century.
The roots of Small Batch Rye extend to 2007, when Kilbeggan celebrated the 250-year anniversary of receiving its distilling license. To commemorate the occasion, Kilbeggan acquired a roughly 180-year-old pot still that had originally been used at Old Tullamore Distillery. It then began building a boutique distillery around that still that sought to replicate the size and scale of a distillery from the 1840s. That was out of necessity because the pot still is small; it can only produce about 400 liters of spirit a day, while the distillery’s other two stills produce 1,600 liters and 3,000 liters.
As Kilbeggan began researching the mash bills that Irish distillers were using in the 19th century, it found a number of recipes that were a mix of malted barley, unmalted barley and other cereal grains, says John Cashman, the distillery’s brand ambassador. Using rye, oats and other cereal grains enabled them to minimize their exposure to the significant taxes on malted barley.
“They’d use whatever they had on hand,” he says. “If they had (unmalted) barley, they’d use barley, if they had oats, they’d use oats, if they had rye, they’d use rye.”
Throughout the first couple of decades of the 20th century, rye was a typical ingredient used in Irish whiskey. But over the years, rye became less common as more farmers shifted to growing barley, which could more easily feed the people.
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“Rye died out,” Cashman says. Until Kilbeggan released Small Batch Rye, rye had rarely, if ever, been used in Irish whiskey over the past few decades.
But what’s old is new again. Small Batch Rye may hark back to the whiskeys produced more than a century ago, however, it feels remarkably fresh and new.