A New York Perspective on Rye - Wine & Spirits Magazine

A New York Perspective on Rye

Photo Courtesy of Ryan Balas

“Making whiskey is an act of love. Making rye is masochism,” Carlo DeVito, author of The Spirit of Rye, proclaims at the opening of the documentary Fire, Water & Grain: The Story of Empire Rye.

The process of creating a New York rye whiskey category was something brothers and documentary directors Ryan and Alec Balas were eager to capture on film. They gathered the six original founders of Empire Rye along with farmers, policy makers, whiskey writers and bartenders to create a story with diverse perspectives.

The Balas brothers tell the stories of Ralph Erenzo, founder of Tuthilltown Spirits, who started the farm distillery license movement. They also interview Frank Tantillo, a local NY farmer who helped Erenzo with his rye, and Chris Briar who first pushed the idea of a new New York whiskey category. The documentary gives the viewer a behind-the-curtain look into the world of distilling while creating a visual love letter to New York rye whiskey and agriculture. “Empire Rye was a notion that arose out of the community,” Chris Briar says. This documentary captures that sense of community with an underdog story for the whiskey enthusiast.

Now streaming on Amazon Prime.

For more about the creation of Empire Rye, read An Empire State of Mind from our Summer 2023 issue.

Based in Los Angeles, California, Alissa Bica is the Spirits Editor and Critic at Wine & Spirits. She is also a Certified Sommelier and co-runs the home wine tasting company, Côte Brune and Blonde. In any rare moments of free time, she writes about obscure grape varieties in the blog Off the Beaten Wine Path.

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