Rye is staging a strong comeback. Since 2009, rye whiskey revenue soared 609 percent to $106 million, according to new data from the Distilled Spirits Council. That represents about $300 million in sales and more than half a million cases.
"The growth of rye whiskey has been phenomenal, given that as late as 2000, rye volumes were virtually nonexistent with only a handful of brands in the U.S. market," said David Ozgo, the council's chief economist. Rye was once the most popular whiskey in the U.S. prior to Prohibition, according to Imbibe magazine.
Rye is known to be spicier than it's sweeter cousin, bourbon. Like the guy who arrives last to the party, the spicier whiskey has some serious catching up to do. The most recent data available for comparison from the council show that about 12 million cases of bourbon worth $1.7 billion in supplier revenue were sold in 2013 compared with just 400,000 cases of rye whiskey worth $75 million in supplier revenue.
"Consumers are exploring rye due to its unique flavor profile. Its inherent spiciness is a nice companion to bourbon and provides versatility in cocktails," said Woodford Reserve Master Distiller Chris Morris. Brown-Forman released Woodford Reserve Rye Whiskey in January.