Woodford Reserve Commits to Purchasing Local Rye Grain


June 29, 2023

Woodford Reserve rye grain field

In an ongoing effort to bring production of rye grain back to Kentucky, Woodford Reserve announced a five-year commitment to purchasing the grain from local farmers while working with the University of Kentucky to conduct research.

Beginning this summer, Woodford Reserve will run small distillation trials on ten varieties of rye to determine their flavor nuances that impact bourbon.

“If we can bring rye back to Kentucky, it would not only support farmers, but give a sustainable grain to whiskey producers across the state,” Master Distiller Elizabeth McCall said in a news release. “Sustainability is a topic I care passionately about – and, working with partners, we can make a big impact.”

Woodford Reserve will purchase the rye grown by four farmers in the trial for the next five years. The grain will be used in production and distillery trials to run sensory tests on the final distillate.

Rye is difficult to grow in Kentucky because of its generally warm, humid climate. Rye is mainly sourced by distillers from the cooler climates of Canada or Europe. To overcome these challenges, more than $1 million will be invested collectively by partners in the development of an open-sourced Kentucky variety over the course of the program.

This project aims to uncover an open-sourced rye variety that will grow well locally in Kentucky.

Rye is an essential part of a suitable environment as it improves the health of soil by reducing negative impacts of rainfall variability and sequesters carbon. Growing rye locally provides a third cash crop for farmers in a two-year corn and soybean rotation. Partnering with local farmers allows for a reduced carbon footprint at the Woodford Reserve Distillery and diversification in supply while strengthening relationships and the economy.

“Woodford Reserve is committed to the environment and to caring for the natural resources that go into making the world’s finest bourbon,” McCall said.  “Six ambitious sustainability commitments were announced in 2021, including a commitment to creating a resilient and agile agricultural supply chain.”

McCall is also a Dendrifund board director, a non-profit seed fund created in partnership with Brown-Forman and the Brown family with a mission to inspire joint action to improve the natural, social and economic environment for future generations. By working with the Dendrifund, Kentucky Small Grain Growers Association, UK, and Walnut Grove Farms since 2017 on the Initiative to Bring Rye Back to Kentucky, Woodford Reserve helps accelerate open-sourced rye varietals.

“We need to find a rye variety that is well suited to our region of the country,” said Sam Halcomb, President of the KY Small Grain Grower’s Association and Managing Partner of Walnut Grove Farms, the visionary family farm behind the initiative. “Woodford Reserve has been very receptive to those ideas, and they’ve been very patient to work with us as a family farm and allow us to experiment with some things and support us in those experimentations.”

Several Brown Forman family growers have agreed to grow rye “in kind” for agronomy research. Dace Brown Stubbs, owner of Log House Farm, will be growing the seed needed for the farmer trial plots, “Rye is a wonderful crop. Cover crops keep our topsoil from blowing away and supply the soil with proper nutrients for growing other crops,” Stubbs said. “Rye is such a hot commodity in the spirits industry today so why do we buy our rye from Canada and Germany, it needs to happen right here at home.”

“We feel confident celebrating the Rye commitment knowing that our local Kentucky farmers are truly partners and not just suppliers. We look forward to continuing bringing together different stakeholders to grow Woodford Reserve,” McCall said.

To learn more about Woodford Reserve, visit us www.woodfordreserve.com.