What is Triticale Whiskey?

We know that whiskey is made from grain.  A lot of new micro-distillers, in an effort to try something new and set themselves apart, are creating interesting artisanal whiskeys with odd-ball grain combinations.  Americans have grown comfortable with bourbon whiskey made with corn, rye whiskey made with rye, and malt whiskey made with barley.  But triticale whiskey?  What is that?

Triticale is a hybrid of rye and wheat.  Rye is booming on the whiskey market today. (Rye whiskey is made of at least 51%rye in the grain recipe/mashbill.) Everyone is tripping over themselves to buy a bottle of the wheated bourbon that is Pappy Van Winkle. (A wheated bourbon usually has a dominance of corn -usually close to 70%- and uses wheat as a flavoring grain- usually 16%.) Triticale is a reasonably new grain.  It was developed in Scotland in 1875, but that hybrid cross was sterile.  It was in Germany in 1888 that the grain was developed successfully.  The name triticale (pronounced trih-tuh-KAY-lee) was first seen in the early 30’s.

The grain was very promising for farmers.  Rye grain can grow where barley and wheat cannot.  Is can survive flood conditions and heavy heat in the summer.  It can be planted in both planting seasons and can sprout to feed grazing cattle in the fall and early winter before fully maturing in the spring for harvest.  Unfortunately, rye developed a bad name which had nothing to do with its amazing qualities as a crop.  The nobility in western cultures ate wheat bread, while the poor ate the more nutritious rye bread.  The wealthy backed wheat production, people demanded wheat and so the farmers planted wheat.  Rye grain, as it turns out, was the healthier grain all along.  It is more easily digested, is higher in fiber, reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes, and has higher anti-oxidant levels.  Wheat makes up about 2/3 of the grain consumed by Americans, so adding the rye and wheat together to make triticale seems to make sense.  The grain never took off, though it is gaining ground in Washington state.  Washington producers grow more triticale than any other state in the country.  Thank goodness there are whiskey makers out in Spokane to take advantage of this interesting grain- Dry Fly Distilling makes a straight triticale whiskey.  It is made from 100% triticale mash.

Another company that is producing triticale whiskey is Corsair Distillery in Tennessee.  They thrive on their experimental styles of whiskey.  Jim Beam’s Signature Craft Collection is introducing many new grain whiskeys to the market as well.  Triticale has proven to be a remarkable grain for whiskey production because it doesn’t need to be boiled before mashing.  It takes the spiciness of rye and soothes and rounds it out with its wheat influence.  If this grain were grown more in the United States, it would make wonderful whiskey for more distillers.  I think it’s the name that gets people.  Once people familiarize themselves with the grain, or they give triticale whiskey a better name, I can’t imagine why this style wouldn’t take off.