Take one look at the modern landscape of spirits in America and the rest of the world, and there’s no getting around the fact that rye whiskey is making a swift comeback. While most of us are well-acquainted with corn-based bourbon, the spicy, earthy character of rye is often considered to be even more versatile than its sweet counterpart when it comes to mixing. Rye isn’t just for tossing into a Manhattan, however — it deserves just as much focus neat or over ice as the world’s finest scotches.
If you’re new to the world of rye whiskeys, there are plenty of great options to dive in with that not only exemplify the distinct characteristics of rye but do so without draining your bank account. For bourbon lovers, transitioning to rye can be a little bumpy, but that’s not to say the two can’t live in harmony with one another — each serves its own specific purpose. Here are the 10 best rye whiskeys on the market at the moment, all of which can be an epiphany in a glass when prepared with care.
WhistlePig Rye Whiskey
It’s not uncommon to find ryes on the market that include corn in the blend, some of which can be upwards to 49% corn / 51% rye. What sets WhistlePig apart from the competition is the fact that it’s concocted of 100% rye, giving it a flavor that cannot be overlooked. Spicy, assertive and devoid of any sweetness, it’s about as American a rye as they come (well as American as a Canadian distilled spirit can be). It’s not dirt-cheap, but it won’t break the bank either.
Knob Creek Rye Whiskey
Most people know Knob Creek as being a well-made bourbon at a moderate price point. Their rye, however, gets overlooked all too often. Sweeter and earthier than many ryes on the market, Knob Creek rye features just enough spice to set itself apart from their bourbon, and at $40, it’s reasonable enough to always keep in the house.
Redemption Rye Whiskey
A relative newcomer, Redemption Rye hit the market just last year in 2013. Rich in flavors of caramel, toasted oranges and dark fruit, it’s an exceptionally smooth spirit that finishes with a distinctive hint of cherry. Perhaps best of all, though, is it’s $26 price point — a steal for what’s contained with the bottle. The company also produces a high-rye bourbon that’s more than worth tasting if you get the chance.
Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye 13 Year
It’s getting more difficult to find as time goes on, but this excellent aged rye is one of the best values on the market right now. Hovering just around $40, Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye is aged for 13 years, which helps to bring out the more subtle notes of the spirit that often hide when it’s young. Look for flavors of cocoa and white pepper to shine though, and don’t hesitate for a second to drink this rye neat. Don’t wait around, though — bottles of this discontinued spirit around flying off the shelves.
Journeyman Ravenswood Rye Whiskey
A lot of people associate age with flavor when it comes to rye, but that’s not to say that certain ryes can’t be drank young. Journeyman Ravenswood Rye is the perfect example, with a bold, grainy character shining through straight off the shelf. It’s an excellent rye for mixing in cocktails, although there’s no reason you can’t sip it over a few cubes of ice.
If you’re looking for a prohibition-era style whiskey, you’ll have a hard time finding a better option on the market than Templeton Rye. With hints of vanilla, pear and cinnamon, there’s a lot going on in this 80-proof whiskey, and it often takes multiple experiences to see the whole picture. It’s mid-tier at $40, but certainly impressive enough to break out on special occasions and share with friends/family — try it in a Sazerac.
Masterson’s 10 Year Old Straight Rye Whiskey
For those who tend to drink bourbon, sometimes it’s best to enter the world of rye with one of the sweeter varieties on the market. Masterson’s is the perfect choice in this case, showcasing notes of raisins and oranges while still maintaining the spicy backbone that rye is known for. The Canadian producer’s 10 year variety may be a bit expensive at around $80, but it’s more than worth the splurge.
Wild Turkey 101 Rye
Looking for an inexpensive rye to constantly have on hand? if so, Wild Turkey 101 Rye is about as close as you’re going to get to the ideal solution. Aged 4-5 years, it’s one of the best mixers for a Manhattan that you’ll find, and a steal at just $26 a bottle. Apple, honey and spice dominate the palate, remaining smooth all the way through to the finish.
Angel’s Envy Rye Whiskey
Sometimes, you’ve got to pull out the big guns and stock your bar with something special. With only 2,500 cases in existence, Angel’s Envy Rye is a great candidate for special occasions. Rich and dessert-like, this rye gains its distinct characteristics from being aged in Caribbean rum casks for 18 months — expect undeniable flavors of vanilla and spice. It may be tough to find a bottle, but the search is worth your while.
Sazerac 18 Year Old Straight Rye
18 years is a long time for any spirit to rest, but it does wonders for this Sazerac rye. Huge flavors of oak, honey, spice and citrus blast through the nose and carry over into the palate, making this an exciting rye to drink straight. It’s also a rarity, with only 28 barrels produced each year. If you’re lucky enough to find a bottle, only bring it out when it’s truly warranted.
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