Whiskey on the Prairie

Some favorite whiskies, including ryes, from Tuthilltown Distillery in New York (Photo: Lyn Farmer)

Some favorite whiskies, including ryes, from Tuthilltown Distillery in New York (Photo: Lyn Farmer)

Bread and Whiskey sounds a bit like an odd diet proposal, but in fact, it may be the salvation of a grass roots movement. Literally grass roots since the movement in question is the planting of rye, a grass-like grain that for many years was considered unprofitable by many farmers in the United States and Canada. According to a news report today from Reuters, it's enjoying a comeback, thanks to craft whiskey.

Rye is a late crop, planted in the autumn and harvested in the late spring. Rye is used in making bread, and years ago it was used in making whiskey. Rye whiskey faded from popularity but it's making a big comeback as brown spirits like bourbon and now rye are the darling of the craft distilling movement. Rye is harder to make into whiskey than corn or barley, or even the similarly structured wheat, but the spicy flavors it provides can be had no other way, and so distillers are finding new ways to work with the grain in the distillery and farmers and agronomists are finding new ways to nurture the grain in the field.

An "ear" of rye (Photo: LSDSL, used with permission )

An "ear" of rye (Photo: LSDSL, used with permission)

U.S. whiskey sales rose 9 percent over the past year, according to Nielsen data provided by Beam Suntory Inc , distiller of Jim Beam whiskeys, and quoted by the news agency Reuters. That led to farmers planting more rye. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. farmers planted 1.76 million acres (712,250 hectares) for the 2016/17 season, the biggest area since 1989 and a 12-percent increase over last year.

Statistics aside, there is something quite engaging about a craft spirit giving new life to a craft grain, and as a baker as well as a whiskey drinker, I welcome the wider availability of rye flour for my bread as well. There is a synergy to all this that pleases me immensely.