Jaywalk Rye Revives a Historic New York Grain

The rare rye varietal in New York Distilling Company’s new whiskey dates back centuries

March 21, 2024 6:16 am
Two bottles of Jaywalk Rye, a new whiskey brand from New York Distilling Company
Two of the new Jaywalk Rye expressions
Photo illustration/Gabi Porter

What we’re drinking: Jaywalk Straight and Bonded ryes 

Where they’re from: Jaywalk is a new release from the New York Distilling Company, founded in 2011 by Allen Katz, Tom Potter and Bill Potter.

Why we’re drinking these: NYDC marked a return of urban distilling to New York City (Brooklyn, to be exact). Now nestled in a larger space, the distillery is making good on its promise to grow, distill and age their spirits in the state — and this time out, they’re using a particularly rare, 17th-century rye varietal native to New York.

As the story goes, the distilling team worked with Cornell University’s College of Agriculture to find a varietal with historic and distilling roots in NY. They came across Horton Rye, which dates back to the 17th century. They then partnered with Pedersen Family Farm in Seneca Falls to grow the rye, a process that took five years before they could even start distilling. 

Besides scarcity, Horton is also a bit harder to work with than other ryes. “We started with 10 seeds,” says Katz, NYDC’s owner and co-founder (and a NY drinks luminary). “And if you notice the size of the rye…does size matter? You bet your ass it does. It matters because all of the sugars of this particular rye are concentrated in its tiny head. But it’s not about volume. It’s about flavor.”

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Jaywalk Straight is a blend of six-, seven- and eight-year-old whiskey aged in 53-gallon char #3 oak barrels, crafted from both Horton Heirloom Rye and organic Field Race Rye, both grown in the Finger Lakes region of New York (the full mashbill for all three ryes is 75% rye, 13% corn, 12% malted barley). Bonded is exclusively seven-year-old whiskey, comes in at 100 proof and is also a mix of the two rye grains. Heirloom, which we tried briefly at the distillery but is not part of this tasting review, is an annual offering with 75% Horton Rye and features select single barrels bottled at cask strength (114-116 proof).

New York Distilling Co. co-founder Allen Katz
New York Distilling Co. co-founder Allen Katz
New York Distilling Co.

“We’re celebrating New York with this,” Katz says. “Jaywalk acknowledges and pays homage to the history of rye, but we also wanted to create a contemporary and international brand.”

How they taste:

  • Jaywalk Straight Rye (92 proof): Designed primarily for cocktails — and the bottle design on all three ryes is certainly built to be bartender-friendly, from the long necks to the highly grippable bottle shape — this one is sweet and tropical with intense caramel notes and a moderate amount of herbaceous spice and mint on the finish.  
  • Jaywalk Bonded Rye (100 proof): Slightly more herbal, the tropical notes (primarily pineapple) shine through here with the sweetness going a little more toward butterscotch. 

Fun fact: So why call it Jaywalk? “It’s a city attitude,” Katz says. “It’s a New York, ‘I’m walking here’ attitude. It’s fun to be a little attitudinal.” And because they want the brand to resonate outside of the city, NYDC did some market research. “We looked at six international cities to see if the concept of jaywalking translated — and, thankfully, it does.”

Where to buy: Jaywalk Straight Rye ($50), Bonded Rye ($55) and Heirloom Rye ($119) are available for purchase on NYDC’s website


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