Why rye? Andrew Fitzgerald talks all things whiskey

In 2019, whiskey fanatics Andrew Fitzgerald and Ben Bowles embarked on an adventure to become Australia’s first dedicated rye whiskey distillery. Just four years and three distilleries later, they have already succeeded in their mission to shine a light on the true spirit of rye through their much-loved whiskey The Gospel.

With passion woven into everything they create, The Gospel embodies Andrew and Ben’s fierce love of rye whiskey, but their journey began long before they started distilling.

Andrew reflected: “Back in 2016, I travelled the US extensively with Ben, my Co-Founder, visiting distilleries and bars. We drank and experienced so much whiskey, but the stand-outs for me were all ryes. This, coupled with an early introduction to a Rye Old Fashioned Cocktail, has been the foundation of my love of rye.”

“We aren’t just fanatical about rye. We are borderline obsessed with how expressive this hearty grain is. A lot of the work we do to create our whiskey is about expressing where the grain is from, and it has resonated with those that drink our whiskeys or those we meet in the trade.”

“We did an extensive search when it came to sourcing our rye, landing on a single farmer in the Murray Mallee region of South Australia. The climate is harsh, and the rye from this area is small and dense. The result is a rye that is unmatched by rye from any other area and contributed to our Straight Rye Whiskey being the highest-scoring Australian whiskey at the 2023 International Wine & Spirit competition.”

Although The Gospel is well-renowned for its premium range of whiskies, becoming the first dedicated rye whiskey distillery in Australia wasn’t without its own difficulties.

“There are two significant challenges in rye. Firstly, making it without the right equipment is a true test of anyone’s will. When Ben and I initially started our first distillery, it was so painful to make rye it almost caused us to stop. Every day we would have another problem to solve in the distillery, but we persevered, and over time cobbled together a distillery that worked.”

“Now that we are onto building our third distillery, I would say we have refined the process and equipment to really get the most out of the grain.”

“The next challenge with rye whiskey is the size of the market. The rye whiskey market in Australia is small, so the key for us is teaching people the history of rye, especially its place in classic cocktails and what the benefit of growing rye grain in Australia is.”

As a growing young business The Gospel hasn’t been afraid to expand its offering with a non-alcoholic whiskey, and more recently, its first whiskey featuring grains other than rye, Legacy Rye.

“Legacy Rye is a nod to our great love of Maryland-style whiskeys. A slightly sweeter, slightly more viscous whiskey. The corn addition brings out the best in our dense, punchy rye character. Legacy Rye is, in our eyes, a really great example of those classic, rich American-style whiskeys, made right here in Australia.”

“It’s hard not to see the massive shift in drinking culture towards better quality, in addition to the shift towards no and low alcohol alternatives. But we also know that you risk getting it tragically wrong when trying to make a no-alcohol alternative in the spirits space.”

“We spent over a year working with our resident R&D Distiller (and amazing Sommelier), Ellie Ash, to craft a non-alcoholic rye whiskey alternative that didn’t compromise on flavour for those looking to go dry.”

“We started with a de-alcoholised base of Straight Rye Whiskey to ensure the liquid was full of the rye flavours we are known for. This is then built using a unique blend of botanical extracts to amplify the flavour notes and add a layer of spiciness and warmth. Still, we feel the limits of non-alcoholic whiskey can be pushed further, and we are planning another batch that we hope will be even closer to what people expect from a rye whiskey.”

The Gospel is Australia’s answer to a bold American-style whiskey, with a go-to range of full-flavoured whiskeys. The Gospel is celebrating the hardy rye grain through the month of July with a programme of Rye July events and experiences.

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