Bourbon is a major player in the whiskey world and it’s even regarded as “America’s Native Spirit.” But even if you consider yourself only a bourbon drinker, might we suggest expanding your whiskey repertoire and trying out rye?
Think of rye as bourbon’s polar opposite cousin: Both qualify as whiskey and have compelling flavors. They’re similar in how they can be enjoyed – on the rocks, neat, or in a cocktail. Their primary difference? If you want to get technical, according to United States law, rye whiskey is comprised of at least 51 percent rye while bourbon is crafted with at least 51 percent corn. That said for fans of the spirit, rye is a top pick thanks to its bold body coupled with its spicy bite.
Whether you’re new to rye or a longtime fan, there’s one out there for you. Allow this list of the best rye whiskey brands to be your guide regardless if you’re into drinking it neat or in a classic cocktail such as an Old-Fashioned or a Manhattan.
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Stormy River Rye Whiskey
When you think whiskey, does Peoria, Illinois come to mind? It should. This city was once deemed the “Whiskey Capital of the World.” Now, distilleries such as JK Williams Distilling, are keeping the legacy of the bootlegger who inspired their name alive along with that of telling Peoria’s whiskey history through two gems: Gold Zephyr Straight Bourbon and Stormy River Rye Whiskey. You’ll smell banana and plum initially while also tasting cinnamon and dark cherry flavors.
Sazerac Rye Whiskey
You know that favorite sweater you look forward to breaking in every fall? Yeah, that’s this rye. It’s a classic that’s sure to be your next favorite go-to. You’ll taste vanilla and baking spices like clove and cinnamon. Sazerac Rye is at the top of its class in terms of flavors and consistency.
Milam & Greene Straight Rye Whiskey Finished in Port Wine Casks
If you’re obsessed with whiskeys finished in former wine barrels, then this one’s for you. Using old Port wine casks from Portugal, this flavorful rye is something you’ll definitely want to keep all to yourself. The aroma pulls you in with the smell of chocolate, cinnamon, and berries. Enjoy this one neat.
Traverse City North Coast Rye
Anything that reminds us of spring is a surefire winner. A honeysuckle aroma entices you to give this rye a mouthful – slowly, of course. The rich flavor includes hints of caramel and cinnamon, before you enjoy vanilla and spice at the back of palate.
Heaven’s Door Straight Rye Whiskey
Normally it’s easy to be skeptical of brands that collaborate with celebs but this rye whiskey, which developed in partnership with Bob Dylan, does not disappoint. You’ll notice a strong oak smell as well as notes of coriander and orange peel, which is due to the spirit being finished in toasted oak cigar barrels that are air-dried in Vosges, France.
Pinhook Rye’d On
Every year, Pinhook releases a bourbon and rye named after a promising young horse that might make its way to the Kentucky Derby. Rye’d On, as its name suggests, is the brand’s first spirit to come out of the resurrected Old Taylor Distillery after it was abandoned 1972. You’ll smell cinnamon while the palate features cherry and caramel flavor notes. It’s not nearly as spicy as the others and we suggest ditching the bourbon for this rye in a twist on the classic Mint Julep.
Riverset Straight Rye Whiskey
This is the perfect gift for your whiskey-loving friend (or yourself) that has affinity for the unconventional. The Tennessee-crafted spirit tastes like leather, vanilla, and anise with a fleeting finish that’s a nice swirl of sweetness and warmth.
Chicken Cock Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey
Chicken Cock is the head whiskey in charge dating back to the mid-1800s. If it’s good enough to survive Prohibition, then end after World War II, only to be resurrected in the current day, then it’s great enough for us to enjoy. You’ll initially taste toffee while baking spices such as cinnamon become more pronounced on the second sip.
Bulleit 95 Rye
If you’re a rye purist, then you’ll opt for Bulleit. It consists of 95 percent rye and five percent malted barley, so you can expect a bold burst of spice along with a lingering finish that’s meant to be sipped slowly. There are delicate hints of dark cherry and vanilla as well.
Tincup Straight Rye Whiskey
While most ryes have an overtly spicy palate, this one is lighter and more refreshing with a peppery, sweet warmth. You’ll also smell a blend of vanilla and baking spices. Enjoy it neat but if you need a cocktail idea, it’s especially delicious in a Rye Manhattan.
Redemption Rye Whiskey
If you’re on the hunt for an excellent pick at a great price and value, this is it. A buttery mouthfeel meets a hint of citrus and caramel notes for this supremely balanced drink. Thank us later for saving you a few coins while introducing you to a top-notch rye.
WhistlePig 10 Year 100 Proof Rye Whiskey
WhistlePig 10 Year is another amazing classic with the awards to back it up. The complex tasting rye features a dash of caramel along with orange zest for a subtle sweetness.
Burnside Oregon Oaked Rye
Portland-based Eastside Distilling has created some exceptional spirits including this rye that features Garryana, which is an Oregon oak. The inclusion of the wood gives this exceptional sipper a subtle hint of oak that’s complemented with a fusion of chocolate and brown sugar notes. The creamy mouthfeel coupled with the nice, long finish makes it worth trying.
291 Colorado Small Batch Rye Whiskey
Colorado makes some of the country’s finest whiskeys and 291 Distillery is among the forerunners of the art of quality whiskey-making in the state. This small batch rye has an interesting blend of flavors consisting of cinnamon and maple syrup drizzled with brown sugar alongside robust oak. The spirit is finished with Aspen staves, which are strips of wood taken from barrels and adds a complexity to this unique rye.
Sagamore Spirit Signature Rye Whiskey
Ask any whiskey expert and they’ll tell you this: A quality water source is vital. Sagamore Spirit prides itself on creating a delicious rye with the assistance of naturally filtered spring water that’s fed from a limestone aquifer. The result? A rye that’s just as perfect chilled as it is in a spirit-forward cocktail.