What Makes Canadian Rye Unique?

If you want to talk distilling in Alberta, you’ve got to know your rye and barley.



What makes Canadian rye unique? “One word: flavour,” says former Alberta Distillers’ head distiller Rick Murphy. “If you consider rye bread versus Wonderbread, which is enriched white flour and neutral flavour, rye bread comes across as having a more bold, unique flavour with a harder edge. Whisky that’s made from corn tends to have a sweeter character, whisky from wheat tends to have a more neutral character, but rye really stands on its own in having a spicy character.”

Alberta produces around half of all the barley in the country. The grain lends a toffee-like, roasted-cereal flavour to single-malt whiskies. Bryce Parsons, master distiller for Last Best Brewing and Distilling, says it’s a combination of environment and know-how that makes our barley shine. “Number one, it’s climate — nice hot dry summers. And it’s a long history of agriculture. With barley, especially, we’re still getting really good yields off of our varietals per acre,” Parsons says. “The farmers [in Alberta] have the skill set and the generations of knowledge that have been passed down. As well, there are school programs, from Olds College to the University of Alberta, that offer educational aspects, too.”


This article appears in the August 2018 issue of Avenue Calgary. Subscribe here.


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