Terroir Rye

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Celebrating local farmers and grain has always been important to us.

We wanted to better understand how our region affects the flavor of our whiskey. To find out we put on our lab coats and did a multi-year experiment where we made three separate rye whiskies with rye grain from three different geographic regions. After two years of aging each whiskey has taken on its own flavor. Explore each rye individually or try them together and get a sense of how important “terroir” is to whiskey making!

200ml | 40% ALC/VOL (80 PROOF)

The Terroir Rye Project 2015-2018

The Terroir Rye Series is an experiment to investigate the relationship between geography and flavor in whiskey. The concept of terroir, or taste of place, was historically part and parcel of American Whiskey. Now, terroir is most commonly associated with the high-end world of wine.

We were curious to apply the central pillar of terroir, the concept that taste is reflective of the unique conditions of a specific place, to rye whiskey. Large-scale distilleries tend to source grain from wide geographic regions to create their signature spirits. Using grain from large grain supplies creates a consistent product. However, this eliminates the potential distinct flavor characteristics of each region. The contemporary state of whiskey production has created an opportunity for smaller craft producers to provide distinct, flavorful spirits that are representative of the specific region where the products were created.

Our core belief is that craft distillers relevance depends on their ability to produce spirits bursting with terroir. As a Pittsburgh distillery, we are sensitive to the special legacy of Monongahela Rye as a regionally-specific product. Historically the demand for Monongahela Rye was so high that distilleries in the Pittsburgh area were producing half a barrel of Monongahela Rye for every man, woman, and child in the United States.

The Experiment

This experiment began when we sourced rye grain from three distinct geographic regions in the United States and Canada to our distillery in Pittsburgh. We designed a  standardized mash bill for these experimental batches, made up of 80% rye grain and 20% malted barley. The mashes were fermented and distilled in a consistent manner to create a high-proof spirit that could then be transferred into new, 23- gallon, charred, American-Oak barrels.

By controlling as many variables as possible during the production of the whiskeys, we felt we could truly delve into the contribution of the distinct grains. The variables we controlled were: mash bill, yeast, fermentation temperature, fermentation time, distillation method, distillation proof, barreling strength and barreling size. Samples from each batch were sent off for chemical analysis by gas chromatography (GC) at multiple points throughout the experiment. First, the raw grain was analyzed so that we had baseline data to start the experiments. Next, we collected samples of the new-make spirit directly after it was distilled but before it had been transferred into oak cooperage. We then collected another set of samples after each whiskey had aged for approximately 12 months in barrels. The final samples were collected and sent for analysis after each whiskey had completed two years of aging.

What We Learned

Results from GC analysis suggest that certain flavor contributors are regionally specific. The whiskey produced with rye grain from Pennsylvania had considerably higher levels of Acetaldehyde, Isobutanol, and Iso-amyl alcohol compared with the samples from Minnesota and Canada (Figure 1). These compounds are most commonly perceived as fruity, spicy, sour flavors in whiskeys. Additionally, tasters who sampled each whiskey were able to identify the whiskeys as distinct. Furthermore, the tasters identified pronounced notes of apple, spice and smoke from the Pittsburgh Rye sample.

Next Steps

With this multi-year project, we set out to explore the relationship between flavor and region. Our results demonstrate that the flavor of whiskey could be influenced by the geographic source of the grain. Further experiments will be necessary to better understand the mechanics of how region and flavor are connected. Including the specific climatic information, soil composition, or farming practices (amongst other variables), for each region could add context that is critical when considering the flavors of the whiskey.

Region/Parameter Minnesota Pennsylvania Saskatchewan
Acetaldehyde (ppm) 11.89 22.03 12.57
Ethyl Acetate (ppm) 193.41 263.00 234.85
Methanol (ppm) 5.35 2.91 4.28
n-Propanol (ppm) 154.63 111.04 83.96
Isobutanol (ppm) 418.78 613.79 374.03
1-Butanol (ppm) 3.11 2.75 3.11
Active and Iso-amyl Alcohol (ppm) 1596.47 2388.08 1826.55
Furfural 18.85 19.88 19.04

Contact Us

We invite you to taste each and would love to talk more with you about the project. You can email meredith@wiglewhiskey.com and we’ll connect you with the project team. Cheers!


Minnesota – 200ml, Saskatchewan – 200ml