As the world of craft spirits continues to grow across the United States so does the need to differentiate one’s products from one distillery to another and from one state to another. Whiskey, in a similar fashion to wine, has its own terroir by region. Overall, there are five or six main things that effect a whiskies flavor including grains, water, yeast, fermentation, distillation, maturation and bottling. There are standard definitions for things like bourbon and rye whiskey and now more and more states are coming up with their own definitions for regional spirits. Things like Kentucky Bourbon, Missouri Bourbon or Tennessee Whiskey each have their own unique definition and now, so does Indiana Rye Whiskey.
What is Indiana Rye Whiskey?
Effective July 1, 2021 Indiana will be the newest state to have its own definition for one of its distilled spirits as agreed to by many of the states distillers, legislators and the governor.
Indiana State Rep. Chris May worked with several Indiana distillers to help create a legal definition for Indiana rye whiskey. To help support local distillers and help make Indiana rye stand out May said it’s important for Hoosier distillers to have to meet a higher standard to call their spirit Indiana rye whiskey.
“We want Indiana to be as popular for its rye whiskey as it is for basketball and racing,” May said. “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.”
The bill which follows pretty closely to the TTBs definition of a “straight rye whiskey” has a couple of things added to make it unique to Indiana. The full definition for Indiana Rye Whiskey is included below.
“Distillers in Indiana have historically produced some of the highest quality rye whiskeys in the world,” said Hard Truth Distilling Co. Master Distiller Bryan Smith. “Rye is a notoriously difficult grain to handle through the mash, fermentation and distillation process. Craftsmen and women here in Indiana have long shared secrets and tips and tricks, resulting in a quality standard which sets Indiana apart in the world of rye whiskey making. Hard Truth Distilling Co. is proud to be a part of the Indiana Rye Whiskey community making history with this law.”
The Distillers Rye “Swear Factor” Scale
Another way to look at this score is as a “swear factor” with a score of 4-5 meaning that one could comfortably cook this variety in front of your grandmother, all the way down to a score of 1, recommended to be cooked in the company of sailors and/or distillers only. Read more about this scale here.
Related Story – What is American Rye Whiskey?
The new designation follows the federal requirements for rye whiskey. It must be 51% rye in the grain bill, distilled at no greater than 160 proof, placed in a barrel at no more than 125 proof then adds the Indiana-specific requirements that it be mashed, fermented, distilled, and then rested at least two years in the state of Indiana.
“We knew that if we tried to narrow the scope all we would be doing is excluding other Indiana distillers. The whole spirit behind this was to get a rising tide event for all the distilleries in the state of Indiana and get the state to get behind us to promote Indiana crafted products. We basically stayed with the exact statement of identify designation that exists for rye whiskey and added that it had to be mashed, fermented, distilled and rested for at least two years in the state of Indiana.” The two year requirement technically makes this a Straight Rye Whiskey.
Smith added that this is a first for establishing state standards and the law could be tweaked in the future as the need arises.
“Coming up in the future one of my goals is to have all of our rye whiskey to have Indiana grown grains. Perhaps this law gets refined over the years as Indiana gets better at growing rye grains but for now it’ll be used to help promote Indiana distilled spirits producers.”
We also reached out to Spirits of French Lick Distillery Master Distiller and Spirits Historian Alan Bishop to get his thoughts on this new law.
“I think it’s awesome, I think it’s fantastic that the Indiana legislature is finally standing up for the distilling heritage in the state of Indiana,” said Bishop. “I think it’s been a long time coming. I think it’s going to do a lot to help cement what Indiana can offer.
“I’m excited to put out an Indiana rye whiskey but the caveat that I’ll add to that is that Indiana was never traditionally a rye state. I don’t think it’s a bad thing, I think it’s a great thing.
“It’s a great start with the legislature and I hope that there are other categories we can do something like this with. I think if Indiana wants to reclaim its heritage I think brandy, in particular apple brandy might be the next thing to jump into, that’s the heritage.”
And finally, we reached out to Indiana’s big kahuna of distilling MGP Ingredients for their thoughts on the new Indiana rye designation. MGP is well known in the distilling industry as one of the top producers of American bourbon and rye whiskies. They have a handful of brands that fall under their own brands while most of the time their amber spirits are sold to other distilleries for finishing and bottling under other custom brands.
“We raise a glass to the new “Indiana Rye” designation”, said MGP Ingredients Vice President of Alcohol Sales and Marketing David Dykstra. “MGP is proud to carry on the legacy of our historic distillery in Lawrenceburg, where our people bring passion and dedication to producing the finest ryes. We’re glad their work will receive additional recognition.”
Indiana is home to more than 30 distilleries. Data from the Distilled Spirits Council – DISCUS shows the Indiana distilled spirits industry supports 25,600 jobs, contributes $2,509,640,000 to the state’s Gross Domestic Product and accounts for $57,171,838 in State Exports.
The new law defining Indiana Rye Whiskey goes into effect on July 1, 2021.
The Definition of Indiana Rye Whiskey
HOUSE BILL No. 1409
A BILL FOR AN ACT to amend the Indiana Code concerning alcohol and tobacco.
Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Indiana:
SECTION 1. IC 7.1-3-28 IS ADDED TO THE INDIANA CODE AS A NEW CHAPTER TO READ AS FOLLOWS [EFFECTIVE JULY 1, 2021]:
Chapter 28. Rye Whiskey
Sec. 1. As used in this chapter, “Indiana Rye Whiskey” means a liquor that was:
(1) manufactured in Indiana;
(2) produced with a mash bill that is at least fifty-one percent (51%) rye;
(3) distilled to not more than one hundred sixty (160) proof or eighty percent (80%) alcohol by volume;
(4) aged in new, charred white oak barrels;
(5) placed in a barrel at not more than one hundred twenty-five (125) proof or sixty-two and one-half percent (62 1/2%) alcohol by volume;
(6) rested in a rack house for at least two (2) years in Indiana; and
(7) bottled at not less than eighty (80) proof or forty percent (40%) alcohol by volume.
Sec. 2. A person may not advertise, label, sell, or refer for marketing or sales purposes liquor as:
(1) Indiana rye;
(2) Indiana rye whiskey;
(3) Indiana rye whisky;
(4) Indiana sweet mash rye whiskey;
(5) Indiana sweet mash rye whisky;
(6) Indiana sour mash rye whiskey; or
(7) Indiana sour mash rye whisky;
unless the liquor meets the requirements of Indiana rye whiskey as set forth in section 1 of this chapter.