Since they first started distilling in 2018, Asheville’s Eda Rhyne has built a portfolio of spirits unique among most craft distillers. Their first bottlings focused solely on amari instead of the more typical vodka and gin (although they got around to the latter eventually). That approach was rooted in a desire to spotlight the Appalachian heritage of locally crafted medicinal spirits that in their opinion deserved as much, if not more, attention than moonshine. At the very least, it was more interesting to drink. Still, Eda Rhyne never intended to completely ignore whiskey. When I first met the owners in 2018, they were already talking about developing an heirloom rye whiskey, plans that eventually became The Heirloom Project. To wit:
The Eda Rhyne Heirloom Project is our vision and commitment to making exceptional whiskey while protecting rare and endangered grains. Our traditional double pot distilled method captures the distinctive flavors of these grains almost forgotten by time.
We also help preserve these wonderful heirlooms by supporting farmers that have kept these grains alive.
Our first release will be Eda Rhyne’s Rare Grain Rye Whiskey, which captures the rich, nutty flavor of Seashore Black Rye. This unique heirloom grain was introduced to the United States in the 1830’s but as of 2016, it grew in perhaps as few as five farms in the South, mainly as a cover crop.
The corn in the Rye Whiskey mash bill is even more rare. Conor Family Corn is an heirloom variety saved from extinction by one family in the mountains of Eastern Tennessee. We are honored to be the first commercial distiller to use this single source grain.
Five long years later, a limited amount of Rare Grain Rye whiskey is finally coming to market, in North Carolina only, with more presumably to follow. We received samples of the first two rye expressions on offer. Thoughts follow.
Eda Rhyne Rare Grain Rye Single Barrel – The aroma is rustic and brooding with sweet, cooked grain, chocolate mint, campfire ash, and burnt caramel. A lacing of soft baking spice and mild black pepper add some warmth, while the oak, fresh and youthful, layers on a sizable helping of barrel char and pencil shavings. The palate is warm and oily with dark rye spice, clove, and baking chocolate. A potent, peppery warmth extends across the sip and simmers on the finish with black bread, molasses, and Thin Mint cookies. Rye tends to grow up faster in the barrel, but even at five years old this still feels quite spritely. Still, it’s not without a lot of promising depth and unique complexity. 108 proof. B+ / $23 (200ml bottle)
Eda Rhyne Rare Grain Rye Fernet Barrel – Finished for an unspecified period in an Appalachian Fernet cask. The finishing cask has certainly had its way with the aroma, imbuing it with thick notes of licorice, fresh ginger, and walnut skins. As it opens, a bit of dark rye spice pokes through with some peppercorn and subtle wintergreen, but it’s a far different experience than the standard single barrel. Ditto for the palate which unfolds in silky waves of gentian and candied ginger, tons of clove, and minted simple syrup. There’s a roundness to the experience that the standard rye lacked, and those younger oak notes have been nicely sanded down, revealing butterscotch, cinnamon stick, and dry tobacco. The finish is long and warm with menthol and cardamom. Almost a cocktail on its own, but the mixing potential seems endless. Time may tell a different story for the standard Rare Grain Rye, but at present, this combination of Eda Rhyne’s two spirits passions is the one to seek out. 111 proof. A- / $60 (200ml bottle)