Thomas Earl gives us an update on our current rye crop, located just 1/4 mile south of our distillery. He wrote this at the end of June and we will be seeing our harvest in the next week or so. More details on the crop coming soon!
As most of our followers know, we are a New York State farm distillery. This means we source a minimum of 75% of our raw material from New York State farmers. We contract grow our grain with only the best local farmers. My farm background comes in handy sometimes. These pictures were taken last Friday on a beautiful sunny afternoon in a field of rye planted in an old Concord grape vineyard overlooking Seneca Lake. I decided to take a gander at what we had, as the weather affects rye very easily and I have been concerned with the wetter-than-normal pattern we have seen this season. We use a lot of rye in McKenzie Rye and Bourbon whiskies, and this field is one of many.
It was getting more rain than I wanted a couple of weeks back, but it pollinated well despite the rain and if you look close, you can see the rye kernels have filled in nicely. It is currently, in what I term, the milk stage; just like corn, when you buy it to eat off the cob. Other grains go through this stage as well. It’s when the plant is nourishing the kernels with what we need to have starch, which in turn makes that tasty product we work to produce. If you bit into the rye kernel now, you’ll find it sweet, just like corn on the cob.
Now, we need some dry weather, so the kernels will begin to become less sweet and harder, it will dry and become starchy and hard. I call it drying down. Now, based on my observation, this field has a nice heavy crop. If we have some dry weather, (and the grape growers need it badly as well) in about a month, this field will be ready to harvest.
But Mother Nature, can be fickle. If we have a wind storm at just the right time, all of this nice rye could be destroyed in a matter of minutes. Kind of makes you worry. But don’t, we have hedged our bets a little on this field. You farmers that follow us may notice this rye is not your typical run of the mill NY rye. The seed for this field is from Northern Europe. The color of the straw is a little more silver and the stalk is sturdier and shorter than other varieties. Meaning, if we do get a wind, we stand a good chance to have this field stand through it. Plus, the rye itself is superior; making for nice spicy notes our customers have come to expect from McKenzie rye and a hint in our bourbon. In Europe, rye is more of a staple grain. They have bred it over the years to produce a rye plant superior to any common US rye grain. Most rye in NY has only been grown as a cover crop. Planted in winter to hold the ground over until spring planting for corn.
It all starts in one place, the field. Attention must be paid to each step of the McKenzie process from the selection of seed all the way to milling, mashing, distillation and maturation. Mess up on one, and we have let you, our customer, down. So next time you pick up a bottle of our Rye or Bourbon Whiskey, think of how closely we are tied to local farming.