The world's first ryegrass whiskey is now available. This is not the rye grain that many of you are familiar with - this is ryegrass, the plant grown for turf and forage here in Oregon's Willamette Valley. Actually, we are the ryegrass capitol of the world and produce much of the planet's grass seed. During my previous biofuel research using ryegrass, we learned that there is quite a bit of usable sugar in the grass at certain growth stages. Where there is sugar, there can be fermentation! We made the beer and it was awful due the salts that the grass plant also takes up. We then distilled the beer and got a whole different animal. The resulting flavor profile that is hard to describe - maybe a rhum agricole or a lighter Highland single malt - earthy and, yes, sort of grassy. We then created a whiskey with a ryegrass component and put it into a new 30 gallon charred American Oak barrel.
After a year in new oak, the ryegrass whiskey is moved to an old barrel to mellow. It is available only at the tasting room and selected events. The only size is 375 ml and the price is $39.95. Stop by and taste this unique offering.
***History discussion ahead*** Click here if you want to skip to the tasting notes.
Our excitement about this innovative offering was quickly tempered when the Alcohol Trade and Taxation Bureau said: "Please submit FDA evidence that ryegrass is allowed in a human food." Uh-oh. So began a five year trip through bureaucratic hell to get ryegrass whiskey approved.
It was looking pretty bleak for a couple years until I happened to attend the "PROOF" tasting event hosted up in Seattle. A roving journalist was asking each distiller to share their story. After sharing my ordeal, he was very interested and published a nice article about Spiritopia in Artisan Spirit magazine (with a hint of warning to other distillers to check any potentially novel ingredients). That article is now framed and posted on the wall of our tasting room because it was the turning point for ryegrass whiskey. Shortly after publication, I was contacted by a fellow chemist who informed me that they had an anti-allergy medicine made from ryegrass that was FDA approved. With the help of that data, ryegrass whiskey was finally approved.
But it wasn't over. The machinations with the label were almost as intense. To summarize, I will say that there are a LOT of arcane regulations about spirit labels, especially about whiskey. The good news is that most of them are there to protect you, the whiskey drinker, from misleading or unscrupulous statements from makers. Eventually, we were able to satisfy all the requirements and ryegrass whiskey was released in November of 2018. Whew, what a haul. Okay, let's move on to tasting.
2018: Pale golden color with a hint of amber. Aroma: Medium tenor oak notes with a suggestion of earthiness. Taste: Mellow with topnotes of vanillins and hay. Finish: Soft, but not overly long. SOLD OUT
2019: Finally got back out there and did some cutting for this year's batches. Many thanks to Mark McPherson for letting us whack a bit of his crop. Also thanks to my anonymous helper/scythe coach for only giggling at me a little. Details and video are in this blog post: The Glad Reaper.
2020: The next batch of ryegrass whiskey will be available in April/May of 2020. More to come on the taste profile.