The 15 Best Rye Whiskeys

May 20, 2021

Category: Vices

As is often the case when it comes to the spirits industry, what was once old is now new again, for drinkers everywhere are taking to rye with a gusto unseen since the pre-Prohibition era. And it’s not without good reason; after all, rye is currently having itself a bit of a moment, with more and more distilleries trying to cash in on an opportunity to distinguish themselves from the booming (but highly competitive) bourbon market. It’s resulted in some incredible experimentation because the requirements for the spirit are considerably more relaxed than those of its corn-based counterpart. In fact, so long as it’s under 160 proof, aged in new charred oak, and, of course, made with 51 percent rye, you have yourself a bonafide rye whiskey in every sense of the word. After that, distilleries are free to choose their adventure — the rest is open up to you (unless it’s of the “straight” variety, meaning no additives and at least two years of aging).

While there are plenty of great ryes on the market these days, that’s not to say that the segment is without its fair share of bad apples (like any type of whiskey). As such, it can prove to be quite the minefield come time to buy a bottle for yourself, what with the massive influx in new distilleries, a wide range of pricing, and uncertainty surrounding age statements. Because, the fact is, an up-and-comer may surprise you, cost doesn’t guarantee quality, and age isn’t everything. Lucky for you, though, we’re well-steeped in the world of rye whiskey, having searched high and low for only the finest blends, straights, and Bottled-in-Bonds the industry has to offer. What follows below is the fruit of our efforts: a lineup of lust-worthy spirits that are undeniably some of the 15 best rye whiskeys you can buy (and afford).

What Makes A Rye A Rye?

Makeup Of The Mash

Put briefly, a given whiskey’s style is defined by its mashbill, the collection of ingredients (primarily grains) that are brewed together to create the wort that is then fermented into alcohol. In order for a whiskey to be properly defined as a rye, that mashbill must be made up of at least 51% rye grains, usually alongside corn and malted barley. By contrast, bourbon — one of the most widely popularized American whiskey styles — has to feature at least 51% corn in its mashbill. In regards to flavor, rye whiskey’s makeup tends to result in spirits that are a bit spicier and drier than their sweeter, full-bodied bourbon cousins.

Rittenhouse Rye

No matter if you’re a novice whiskey enthusiast or a seasoned rye sipper, Rittenhouse has something for everyone. For starters, it’s widely available — and at just $20 a bottle, too — making it a great option for an everyday dram. But that’s not all; because of its lower rye content (51%), it also tends to much more approachable for most palates than your uber-high-rye alternatives. Considering that it’s both Bottled-in-Bond and aged for four years, it makes for a value proposition that seems too good to be true.

Purchase: $20

Old Forester Rye

At only two years in production, Old Forester’s rye may be something of a newcomer to the whiskey world, but don’t be too quick to assume that it’s just one option amongst a number of other budget buys. On the contrary — it’s based on a unique high malt recipe from the 1940s that gives it some subtle floral notes with all of the brown sugar sweetness you’d expect from the brand. Oh, and at 100 proof, this is one whiskey that plays quite nice with cocktails.

Purchase: $23

Redemption Straight Rye

Like other MGP-sourced brands such as Bulleit and Dickel, Redemption is distilled from a mashbill containing 95% rye and 5% malted barley. In practice, this makes it great for mixing spicy Manhattans, as it brings lots of dark fruit and herbal spice to the nose, and it follows things up with a flavored palate packed full of citrus zest, caramel sweetness, and oak. While it’s on the younger side (supposedly around 2 years), you shouldn’t let that put you off; it’s definitely grain-forward, but it works surprisingly well all things considered.

Purchase: $23

Sazerac Rye Whiskey

So the story goes that the Sazerac Company was founded after a cocktail consisting of brandy, absinthe, and bitters became particularly popular at a coffee house of the same name located in New Orleans. Seeing an opportunity, Thomas H. Handy acquired the bar in 1869 and began marketing and bottling the mix from the 1890s onwards. These days, the Sazerac cocktail might be made with rye, but Buffalo Trace’s spirit complements the Peychaud all the same. Spicy yet sweet, this complex cult favorite is even an easy drinker when enjoyed neat.

Purchase: $30

Knob Creek Rye

If you know Knob Creek for its budget-friendly bourbon, then you’ll be pleased to hear that its rye is another whiskey well worth your while. For in addition to packing a full 100 proof, it’s also easy to find and kind to your wallet. Pouring a light gold in color, it features a flavorful nose befitting much higher rye expressions and a palate that’s spicy without taking away from the lingering oaky finish. Sure, this might not be one for special occasions, but it’s more than deserving of a spot on your shelf for daily drinking.

Purchase: $36

New Riff Kentucky Straight Rye

While New Riff Distillery might be an upstart compared to the rest of the whiskey industry, its Kentucky Straight Rye is one spirit that’ll have you thinking otherwise. That’s because it’s made using an unique mashbill consisting of 95% rye and 5% malted rye, a combination that’s surprisingly smokey on the nose, complex in the palate, and fiery through the finish. Oh, and because it’s of the Bottled-in-Bond variety, you best believe that it’s been aged for the requisite four years.

Purchase: $55

High West Rendezvous Rye Whiskey

Upon its founding in 2006, High West became Utah’s first legal distillery since 1870 — a good cause for celebration in a state that’s always had some of the strictest liquor laws in the country. When it comes to their Rendezvous Rye, you’ll find that the blend of both 16 and 6-year ryes lends itself to some wonderful balance. Though it starts off sweet and sugary, it quickly transitions into a complex, full-flavored palate before finishing off nicely with some smooth woody spice.

Purchase: $60

Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Rye

Throughout his tenure as Master Distiller, Jimmy Russell never gave much thought to rye — it simply wasn’t a whiskey to his liking. However, that all changed when his son Eddie took over the operation because he not only embraced the style but also managed to turn Wild Turkey into one of the spirit’s leading producers. Just take this Single Barrel Kentucky Straight, for instance. It’s certainly no slouch at 104 proof, but thanks to its vanilla-yet-earth flavors, it’s as equally enjoyable neat as it is working alongside other ingredients.

Purchase: $63

Willett Family Estate Bottled 4 Year Rye

When Willett resumed production in the early 2010s, it was the first time in over 30 years that the family had made its own whiskey on-site. In no time at all, the distillery began to round out its rye offerings, beginning with a two-year and soon moving to this four year once it had reached a proper age. Like all of Willett’s in-house expressions, it makes for a pretty distinctive dram, marrying gentle floral flavors with a bit of contrasting fruit for an added element of complexity.

Purchase: $71

Angel’s Envy Rye

In contrast to other distilleries whose finished whiskies are mostly gimmicky one-off releases, Angel’s Envy has been experimenting with the stuff since its outset. As such, it should come as no surprise that their rum-finished rye is a cut above the rest — give it a quick sip and you’ll see that it’s more than deserving of its praise. Aged for up to 18 months in Caribbean casks, the resulting marshmallowy taste is so sweet and rich it’s almost dessert-like.

Purchase: $82

WhistlePig 10 Year

If you’re willing to look past this whiskey’s controversial Canadian origins (some aren’t — it can get pretty contentious), then WhistlePig’s 10 Year makes for one of the best aged ryes you can buy. Made from 100% rye and finished in American Oak bourbon barrels, it’s vibrant, fruity, and actually pretty delicate when compared to what the rest of the market has to offer. Sure, it’s not some of Kentucky’s finest, but that doesn’t mean that it’s any less deserving of your dollar.

Purchase: $90

Wild Turkey Rare Breed Rye

In the event that the above pick from Russell’s Reserve isn’t quite distinguished enough to be your druthers, we’d recommend you give Wild Turkey’s Rare Breed Rye a try. At 112.3 proof, this cask strength whiskey is as bold and boozy as you’d expect; something that’s great for drinkers who are after an expression that’ll put some hair on their chest. That being said, it may surprise you. For despite its strength, there’s actually a surprising amount of depth to its lemon and pepper palate.

Purchase: $93

Peerless Kentucky Straight Rye

Up until the 1920s, Kentucky Peerless was a booming distillery producing some 200 barrels of whiskey per week and in excess of 23,000 barrels a year. However, once Prohibition struck, Peerless shuttered its doors until Corky and Carson Taylor revived the brand in 2014. Charging $100 or more for a two year might seem like a bit of a reach, but this is one instance in which numbers aren’t everything. That’s because Peerless’ Kentucky Straight Rye is a whiskey that punches well above its weight, serving up a delicious combination of fruity flavors and baking spice with far less youthfulness than you’d expect.

Purchase: $120

Lock Stock & Barrel 16 Year Rye

Another whiskey from the Great White North, Lock Stock & Barrel’s 16 Year is an option that’s great for those who are after big, bold flavors and want to splurge. Double distilled from a 100% Canadian rye mashbill and aged in charred American Oak barrels, the result is a spirit that pours a warm amber color with a sweet-yet-herbal nose and a palate that really brings some richness in the form of brown sugar, toasted pecans, and vanilla.

Purchase: $160

Colonel E.H. Taylor Straight Rye Whiskey

Buffalo Trace’s Colonel E.H. Taylor is a name that needs no introduction, as its various branded bourbon expressions have quickly become some of the more sought-after (and thus hard to find) whiskeys on the market. The rye we’ve featured here is no exception — it’s all but impossible to find. However, assuming you can get your hands on a bottle, it’s worth every penny. Aged for around nine to 10 years and made using Buffalo Trace’s high-rye mashbill, it’s herby up front, smokey in the palate, and characteristically fresh through the finish. Truly a great sipper to relax and enjoy.

Purchase: $230

The 10 Best Japanese Whiskies

While rye is one whiskey that’s seeing a resurgence in popularity, it’s far from the only one. If you’re curious about the hype surrounding the Island Nation’s spirits, make sure to head over to our guide to the best Japanese whiskies.

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