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The 12 Best Rye Whiskeys to Add to Your Home Bar

Photo: Peerless

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 (rye ages quicker than corn whiskey). 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 best rye whiskeys you can buy.

Best Rye Whiskeys

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 its sweeter, full-bodied bourbon cousin.

Old Forester Rye

Best for Cocktails: After only a few 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 nicely with cocktails.

ABV: 50%
Tasting Notes: Black pepper, cinnamon stick, dried dill, baked apple, brown sugar

Redemption Straight Rye

Best Cheap 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.

ABV: 46%
Tasting Notes: Dark fruit, citrus, caramel, oak

Knob Creek Rye

Best You’ll Find Almost Anywhere: 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.

ABV: 50%
Tasting Notes: Black pepper, vanilla, caramel

High West Rendezvous Rye Whiskey

Best of the West: 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.

ABV: 46%
Tasting Notes: Sourdough, lime, rye spice, woody

Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Rye

Best Single Barrel: 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.

ABV: 52%
Tasting Notes: Vanilla, earthy, butterscotch

Alberta Premium Rye Cask Strength

Alberta Premium Rye Cask Strength

Best Canadian Rye: Rye and Canadian whisky have an interesting relationship. Often synonymous with any whisky product from our neighbors to the north, “rye whisky” can often refer to corn-dominant mashbills with rye grain added to them. However, there are a lot of quality spirits from Canada that are 100% rye. Since its beginnings in 1946, Alberta Premium has risen to become the number-one rye producer in North America and maker of the best-selling 100% rye in the world. Last year, the distillery brought back its coveted Cask Strength version, which showcases the complex nuances of the spirit that seem to change each time you drink it.

ABV: 65.1%
Tasting Notes: Cinnamon, chocolate

Willett Family Estate Bottled 4 Year Rye

Best Overall: 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.

ABV: 54.5%
Tasting Notes: Cinnamon, vanilla, rye spice

WhistlePig 12 Year Old World Rye

WhistlePig 12 Year Old World Rye

Best Cask-Finished: If you’re willing to look past this whiskey’s controversial Canadian origins (some aren’t — it can get pretty contentious), then WhistlePig’s critically-acclaimed 12 Year Old World Rye makes for one of the best aged ryes you can buy. But this award-winning expression takes the distillery’s craft one step further. Made from 100% rye that spends well over a decade in American Oak bourbon barrels, it then gets finished in a trio of ex-wine barrels from Europe that include Madeira, Port, and French Sauternes. Sure, it’s not some of Kentucky’s finest, but that doesn’t mean that it’s any less deserving of your dollar.

ABV: 43%
Tasting Notes: Berries, dark chocolate, fruitcake

Wild Turkey Rare Breed Rye

Best Cask Strength: 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.

ABV: 56.1%
Tasting Notes: Vanilla, lemon, cereal, pepper

Peerless Kentucky Straight Rye

Best Brand Revival: 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.

ABV: 53.8%
Tasting Notes: Fruit, baking spice

Lock Stock & Barrel 16 Year Rye

Best Top-Shelf Canadian: 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.

ABV: 53.5%
Tasting Notes: Brown sugar, toasted pecan, vanilla

Colonel E.H. Taylor Straight Rye Whiskey

Best Bonded: 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 bottled-in-bond 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 corn-free mashbill, it’s herby up front, smokey in the palate, and characteristically fresh through the finish. Truly a great sipper to relax and enjoy.

ABV: 50%
Tasting Notes: Caramel, vanilla, cinnamon, spice

The Best Japanese Whiskies

Photo: Suntory Hibiki Harmony

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.