Two Rs of education

Two Rs of education

In the latest in our series looking at whisky terms we look at the letters Q and R,and in\rparticular rye whiskey and reflux.

Production | 19 Jun 2008 | Issue 72 | By Rob Allanson

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RYE WHISKEY If there is any confusion as to exactly what rye whiskey is, it is probably because it’s a term used to describe two very different products.Canadian whisky, which still enjoys a high level of popularity across the world even though it hasn’t been considered fashionable for some years,was traditionally referred to by the generic term ‘rye’ as in ‘rye and ginger’ and the like. Once upon a time rye was a prominent ingredient in Canadian whisky but in the modern era the country has been known for its blends,and while several (and sometimes many) different rye whiskies feature in their make up, rye is not a dominant flavour component.Indeed,Canadian blended whisky is often noted for its smooth and rounded characteristics.American rye whiskey, on the other hand, is at the other end of the flavour scale.Once the dominant whiskey style in some parts of the United States,American rye fell out of favour and almost disappeared altogether.But the renewed interest in whisky styles has seen rye enjoy a renaissance.Rye is a grain related to both barley and wheat.An American rye whiskey must by law contain at least 51 per cent rye but like corn in bourbon, the percentage is normally considerably higher.The rest of the mashbill is normally made up of corn and malted barley, and the production of the whiskey is pretty much bound by the same sort of stringent regulations that apply to bourbon.Rye whiskey has a distinctive full, spicy and intense flavour.REFLUX Reflux is a term that refers to the process during distillation by which some spirit vapours ascending the copper pot still cool back into liquid and fall back to the bottom of the still, failing to reach the condensing stage of the spiritmaking process.Once back at the bottom it starts its distillation journey afresh.During distillation heat causes alcohols to separate from water.The first alcohols to rise up the column are the lightest and by definition the most volatile.Subsequently during the length of the distillation run the heavier alcohols containing congeners and oils will boil off.But the journey from the bottom of the still to the lyne arm– the pipe joining the still to the condensers – and the condensers will be too great for some alcohols. As the spirit rises it cools, and eventually returns from vapour to liquid form.This will fall back into pot.The longer the distance up the still and to the condensers, the greater the reflux.As a result long high stills encourage reflux, as do widenecked ones.The angle of the lyne arm to the still is also relevant – an upward sloping line arm will make the journey for heavier vapours even more difficult.Big tall stills will therefore only permit the lightest, most floral flavour compounds to make the journey. In small squat stills,where the journey is much shorter,more of the heavier alcohols will pass through to the condensing stage.And as these congeners and oils contain more dominant flavours it follows that whiskies produced in small stills will be oilier,meatier and more full of flavour.GLOSSARY
Atwo handled Celtic
drinking vessel often used
for sharing whisky
and used in rituals
and ceremonies
A mechanism used in pot
stills to stir up the liquid in
the still to prevent solids
settling on the bottom of
the still during firing,
resulting in scalding and
an unpleasant tasteto
the spirit
Name given to the spirit
that is collected from the
still during distillation
A grain from the wheat
family with properties
similar tothose found in
barley and wheat
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