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Best Rye Whiskey Reviews

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Best Rye Whiskey

Best Rye Whiskeys

Over the past few years whiskey has really gained in popularity as more and more people discover the category and experiment with different ways to enjoy it. Within the category of whiskey, nothing has been hotter than Rye Whiskey. When Bulleit launched their rye whiskey, it literally doubled their overall sales and they already had a significant amount of whiskey sales.

So why is rye so hot? Most American whiskey on the market is bourbon, which is made from at least 51% corn. While corn delivers some really nice flavors, it can sometimes lack complexity. Rye is often added into the mix to help give whiskey depth, spice, and character. Popular bourbons like Woodford Reserve, Four Roses and Wild Turkey use a fairly significant amount of rye in their mix.

To be labeled an American rye whiskey, you must include at least 51% of rye in the mix. Many of the rye whiskeys on the market are exactly that, as rye is an expensive and difficult to use grain, however some go even deeper into the rye pool to make the rye the centerpiece of the whiskey. The most profound example of this is Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Rare Rye, which is made from 100% rye.

Since not all rye whiskeys are created equally, we thought we’d give you a run down of several of the major rye whiskeys on the market and our take on them. This list doesn’t cover them all, the space is vast with a ton of options and we’ve picked a representative cross section of some of the best options. Not to be overlooked are some amazing rye gems out there including Thomas H. Handy Rye, Van Winkel Family Reserve Rye and Rittenhouse 25 year Rye, unfortunately they are nearly impossible to come by so we tried to keep our focus on the ones which are easier to find.

Russel's Reserve 6 Year Rye Whiskey

Russel’s Reserve 6 Year Rye Whiskey

Russell’s Reserve 6 Year Rye (45% / 90 Proof, $37)- it’s hard to think of a rye whiskey that does a better job of showing off the rye grain and what it brings to the equation in whiskey. For us this is the rye to which all other ryes are compared. The nose has a spicy floral quality to it, with a lightness that you don’t see in most whiskeys. The spice is backed by a light vanilla, marsipan, and touch of oak.

Once Russell’s Reserve Rye hits your palate, there’s no mistaking that it’s rye. The first burst of flavor tastes like rye bread. It’s light, spicy, and simply perfect. The rye notes are joined by light vanilla, oak, and allspice. Russell’s picks up some heat as the spice intensifies in the midpalate, but it manages to maintain the light, fresh rye note. The finish is long and flavorful, preserving the rye as the top note with oak spice laying the floor underneath. If you are looking for the best expression of rye in a whiskey, Russell’s Reserve 6 year rye is the rye for you.

Knob Creek Rye

Knob Creek Rye

Knob Creek Rye Whiskey (50% / 100 proof, $40) – A relatively new entry into the rye space from the folks over at Jim Beam. Beam has experimented beyond the traditional Jim Beam Rye before with R(1) and had some limited success. It’s clear that they’ve learned a lot from that and have applied their findings to the Knob Creek Rye. Of all the rye whiskeys we tried, Knob Creek Rye has the most oak in the nose. This gives the nose a nice complexity as you get the sweet vanilla mixed with the light floral rye spice, cinnamon, and oak. The combination is seductive and extremely inviting.

The entry on the Knob Creek Rye is jam packed with flavor. There’s so much there right from the get-go that you almost immediately want to start digging through it all. The balance of flavors here is superb, with vanilla, rye, cinnamon, and oak all there from the start – all very clear and all completely integrated. In the midpalate it’s the cinnamon, which helps drive the spice but doesn’t overpower or obliterate the rye. Together they are a little bit of a dynamic duo of spice. Following right behind is solid oak. Many of the rye whiskeys on the market dial down oak in the mix, but the strong oak notes really work here and serve to add complexity and character. The finish of the Knob Creek Rye is long and spicy with cinnamon and rye notes lingering for a long, long time. Knob Creek Rye is simply a delicious whiskey. Rather than showcase the rye, it takes a more integrated approach and shows how well rye fits within the mix of other classic whiskey flavors.

Bulleit Rye Whiskey

Bulleit Rye Whiskey

Bulleit 95 Rye (45% / 90 Proof, $27) – Most of the rye whiskeys on the market do not disclose how much rye they use in their mix. The regulation requires 51%, but how much rye used beyond that is often a mystery. Bulleit is very clear in boasting that they use 95% rye in their whiskey. This is a tremendous amount of rye, which is one of the most difficult and expensive grains to use in whiskey. The nose on the Bulleit Rye is light, showcasing the light floral notes of rye. There aren’t a lot of esters coming off the nose, which helps give the spice notes a soft and sweet quality.

The entry on Bulleit is a perfect union of sweet and rye spice. Soft vanilla combines with a hint of honey which is wrapped around a light rye spice note. While Bulleit’s rye note doesn’t jump out of the glass like Russell’s Reserve 6 year, it’s still very well presented. What we love about the entry of Bulleit Rye is how well integrated it is. The sweet and spice come together like a pair of love birds. In the midpalate the rye spice emerges from the embrace to be joined by cinnamon and oak spice. The finish is wonderfully spicy, flavorful, and long. There’s a reason why Bulleit’s sales doubled when they introduced this rye: it’s an exceptional product with a very well crafted taste experience that serves as a thesis on why people love a good rye whiskey.

Wild Turkey Rye 81 and 101

Wild Turkey Rye 81 and 101

Wild Turkey Rye (now 40.5% / 81 proof, $25) – there’s been some rumbling around Wild Turkey’s change on the proof of their rye. Wild Turkey Rye used to be at 101 proof, which matched the proof of their iconic bourbon. In an effort to try to shake off the misconception that they are a fiery whiskey, they’ve brought out Wild Turkey Bourbon 81 and now this rye at the lower proof. The difference is immediately apparent in the nose – Wild Turkey Rye 81 has less alcohol on the nose, and its spice is softer and sweeter. The entry of the 81 is soft and sweet leading with vanilla accompanied by a light floral note. Whereas the light rye spice on the Russell’s comes in right at the beginning, here it develops more in the midpalate.

Wild Turkey Rye 81 picks up some heat toward the end of the midpalate, but it never really gets all that spicy. The finish is fairly long and dry, with the floral rye spice note lightly left on the palate. There’s some nice cooling on the finish that shows off very good distillation.

The Wild Turkey Rye 101 is a completely different taste experience. The entry is still slightly soft with vanilla, but the floral rye presents stronger and spicier. The midpalate is also far less delicate as it explodes with flavors of vanilla, rye, oak spice and tobacco (a note that just doesn’t come through on the 81). There’s more spice at the end of the midpalate but oddly less heat. The finish has some nice solid spice that lingers for a very long time.

For us, the Wild Turkey Rye 101 is unmistakably Wild Turkey, while the 81 feels muted and slightly apologetic. We’d love to see Wild Turkey stand tall on their 101 and not feel like they have to reformulate to change a misconception about their amazing whiskey. (Note: we are told the 101 will be re-released again as a special edition. When it is, be sure to snatch it up.)

Rittenhouse Rye

Rittenhouse Rye

Rittenhouse Rye (50% / 100 proof, $22) – a favorite among many mixologists, Rittenhouse has found its place as an essential ingredient in many whiskey-based drinks at craft cocktail bars. Part of the excitement around Rittenhouse Rye is that it’s one of the most affordable quality rye whiskeys on the market. Another is the way it delivers its flavors and aromas. The nose on Rittenhouse Rye is a nice combination of slightly sharp spice and softly sweet. Rittenhouse has a subtle cardboard-like note in the nose that rounds everything out.

The entry on Rittenhouse is one of the sweetest we’ve seen in the rye category, with vanilla and caramel right from the start. The sweet notes quickly make way for a very quick ramp up of cinnamon and rye spice that powers right through to become the predominant notes in the whiskey. Things get quite spicy in the midpalate as the 100 proof alcohol comes through with some heat to bolster the spice. The finish is dry and long with very solid spice that sticks around for quite a long time.

Rittenhouse Rye’s journey from sweet to spicy, and its long finish, are perfect to riff off of in a cocktail, but things aren’t as integrated as Knob Creek’s Rye, and the rye notes aren’t as elegant as Russell’s or Bulleit. Still, if you are looking for a bold and spicy rye to mix with, it’s hard to think of one better for the task than Rittenhouse.

Michter's Straight Rye Whiskey

Michter’s Straight Rye Whiskey

Michter’s Single Barrel Straight Rye Whiskey (42.4% / 84.8 proof, $39) – Michter’s may be one of the lesser known ryes we’re profiling, but it’s based on one of the older rye recipes being produced, which dates back to 1753.   As we’ve seen in the case of Wild Turkey Rye, proofing a whiskey can make a huge difference in the way it delivers flavor and the intensity of those flavors. It’s clear here that Michter’s is exacting with their proofing, coming in at an odd 84.8 proof. The nose on the Michter’s is a nice blend of light rye spice and corn. You get some light vanilla and oak but the predominant quality of the Michter’s Rye nose is light and airy spice.

The entry follows the theme of light and airy with a nice rye spice present up front.  Instead of the vanilla and caramel you get with many of the other ryes, the entry is light rye spice. It’s not quite as clean and wonderful as the Russell’s, but we love the intense focus that Michter’s has on the rye note. The experience of Michter’s Rye is a little singular, though. It’s a fairly straight line from the entry through the finish where this light rye spice dominates. You do get an undercurrent of the sweetness from the corn, a little caramel and perhaps some stone fruit, but those notes are all fairly muted. Since things really don’t build or crescendo, it’s hard to place the dividing line between where the midpalate ends and the finish begins. Michter’s Rye certainly isn’t a bad whiskey, it’s just sort of one dimensional. That dimension is rye, but it’s just not as affable as Russell’s and not as well integrated as Bulleit Rye.

Whistle Pig (Canadian) Rye Whiskey

Whistle Pig (Canadian) Rye Whiskey

Whistle Pig Rye (50% / 100 Proof, $60 ) – As with the Bulleit Rye, Whistle Pig discloses the amount of rye that they use in their whiskey, which is 100%. Unlike many of the other ryes, Whistle Pig also has an age statement at 10 years. While Whistle Pig talks about being hand bottled in Vermont, the whiskey itself is imported from Canada. Whistle Pig has the highest rye content of the whiskeys we tried, but it also comes with the highest price tag – almost three times that of Bulleit, which has 95% rye.

The nose on the Whistle Pig Rye is slightly nutty with clear oak notes. You also get clear caramel, slight cinnamon, and very subtle rye. Considering that this whiskey is 100% rye, it’s a surprise that there isn’t more light rye on the nose, but it’s clear that the barrel’s impact has become dominant in the nose. While we may be left wanting in the nose, the taste more than makes up for it.

Whistle Pig is lush and sweet from the start with vanilla and caramel leading the pack. It’s not as singularly sweet as the Rittenhouse entry, as the sweet notes are mixed with cinnamon. The transition to spice is delightful and the midpalate is an welcome union of spice notes with cinnamon, clove, rye, and oak all coming together. There’s a slight heat at the end of the midpalate which carries to a long finish. Whistle Pig is a delicious whiskey, but its price and taste experience feel a little out of line. Also, the things we love about rye are overtaken a bit by the aging process. Still, it’s a whiskey we’d happily drink. Whistle Pig also has an 11 year old Whistle Pig TripleOne which is nearly twice as expensive but not nearly as good.

Be sure to check out our other Rye Whiskey Reviews.

  • Bob Sisak

    I think you left out some really nice ryes. What about Old Portrero (100% rye), Redemption (95% rye) or Riverboat??? There are a few others,but they’re not up to the quality needed to make the list, imo.

    • http://www.drinkspirits.com Drink Spirits

      We also didn’t cover Thomas Handy’s which is fantastic but hard to come by. Tried to focus on the ones which are most readily available. Will add yours to the list for the next round :)

  • http://www.libertybars.com Andrew Friedman

    Not a bad list – a couple of comments, though…

    Knob Creek: Reportedly, it’s just Overholt, a light-flavored, 80proof bartender’s favorite, but @ 100proof.

    Michter’s: Why not place the 10yr there, instead? Sure, it’s really difficult to the point of impossible to find, but THAT is great rye.

    A notable omission? While there are many very expensive ryes not on this list, I notice that the tasty, reasonably priced & easily-found rye, Sazerac (Baby Saz) rye is not listed? A notable omission.

    • http://www.drinkspirits.com Drink Spirits

      Sazerac was an unintended omission, will update the piece when I can get a sample.

  • http://www.acebevdc.com Joe

    No High West? No Jefferson’s? No Van Winkle? Not even nods to Old Overholt and Jim Beam Rye? No Prichards? No Sazerac 18? Some omissions I can understand (i.e., Templeton, Tuthilltown), others I cannot.

  • http://porknwhiskey.com porknwhiskey

    A couple other Ryes to try are the Hudson Valley and if you can get it, the Pappy.

  • http://intoxicology.net Professional Drinker

    Big fan of the Rittenhouse. I need to step my whiskey collection up by I keep getting rum/vodka requests at the blog.

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  • Fred Frederickson

    All right people, the reviewers didn’t include Handy or Pappy or Sazerac 18 because it’s just darn hard to get one’s sweaty mitts on them. Instead of bitching, why not send them a little sample from your personal collection of cult, small release American whiskies?

  • 13michaelmc

    i also like jeffersons at 100 percent rye and 94 proof i like it better than the bulleit rye im in the middle of, i am not as eloquent in description of flavor but do know what i like, templeton has been a fave for years and chicago’s own lions pride also does a nice rye if you can find it out of illinois

  • theBitterFig

    Two Ryes from Canada I really like are Alberta Premium and Wiser’s Legacy.

    Alberta Premium is *cheap*. Probably somewhere around $15-20 a bottle, but largely sold only in Canada. It is kinda young, but it’s got a nice cinnamon flavor, and doesn’t smell too acetone for a young, cheap whisky. Smoothish but not flavorless. Not going to start a revolution, but good for the price. 100% rye, 40% ABV.

    Wiser’s Legacy is a bit fancier, around $45 per bottle, 45% abv, and it’s a pot-still rye, instead of column. Big rye bread, nice spice, and a solid wood kick.

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  • Lisa

    I thought your review quite excellent and I used it to start wading in the rye camp. Previously, I did not like bourbon, loved single malt, and am completely in love with Islay Scotch. That being said, I branched out (again) with the rye. First let me say that rye is a scotch drinkers whiskey – found out with experience. I’ve only tried 4 of the reviewed product. The Russell’s was first and still a love – sweet but with complexity. Bulleit was next – very spicy with hardly any sweetness next to the Russell’s but much next to an Islay… The Bulleit was a friend’s (who is also a rye virgin) first foray into the rye whiskey world and he absolutely loved the spice! The Bulleit grew on me. Just before the Bulleit, I tried the Knob Creek – which I loved for another very different reason. The sweet was subtle, the spice was subtle, the taste very nicely mixed…oiy vey what is a peat lover to think…
    Well, on a whim got the Whisle Pig. Didn’t think it would be that much better than any of the aforementioned…
    WRONG – the Whisle Pig is absolutely outstanding! Worth 2x the others…Yes, I would have to say so…complex with depth of sweet and depth of spice. So very interesting. Poor me, I was trying to save some money…But the other 3 are also pretty d—ed good. I would go with the Russell’s or the Knob Creek – for the less than $40 crowd. My luck is the Whistle Creek is only about $65 in my area and well worth it!!!

  • Dennerman

    I’ve been trying to expand my horizons beyond my normal Gin & Tonic and Capt. & Coke. I gave a few whiskeys and bourbons a try (Woodford, Makers, Jameson, etc.) and although I liked some better than others, I eventually realized that they weren’t drinks I was going to come back to very often. So recently I’ve been watching a lot of Mad Men and the main character is a big rye whiskey fan. I realized I hadn’t gone down that road so I did a google search for best rye whiskeys and found this article. Yesterday I bought a bottle of Russell’s and after the first sip I knew I had found what I was looking for. It was everything I liked about the other whiskeys but left our flavor aspects I didn’t care for. I just wanted to write and thank you for putting this list together and helping me find something new that I love!

  • cheese head

    Got some Bulleit Rye for xmas. Fantastic. Very smooth.

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  • Greg

    I have to agree with Lisa, as a single-malt drinker, I have come to really like Rye, which I just “discovered” over the past few months. I have tried Jim Beam, which I bought on a lark, then Bulleit and Knob Creek. Bulleit is my favorite so far.
    Having been put-off by the shocking inflation of prices for single-malts over the past four years or so, I have found Rye to be a much less costly, very enjoyable alternative.

  • Mike Anderson

    Can’t believe you put Whistlepig at the bottom of the list. Price aside, it is by far the best whisky in the group.

    And Knob Creek second? I’m guessing it’s only 51% rye, and lacks the complexity and depth of a seriously good rye like whistlepig.

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  • Mark

    Mike, I like how you think, I also was not overly impressed with Knob Creek Rye, though at least by me its usually under $30. If you like Whistlepig (who wouldn’t?) try Jefferson’s Rye. Also 100% Rye, also 10 years also bottled in US but produced in Canada (don’t know if it’s same juice, can’t claim to be sophisticated enough to match spirits that well), also delicious. Proof is 94 instead of 100, but price is $30-35 for a mighty fine sippin’ whiskey

    • ncyankee

      Mark – my guess is it is the same, as these are the same guys who bought up a lot of old Stitzel-Weller barrels and sold them as Jefferson’s Presidential 17/18 yr old for 1/3 the price of PVW. Seems like their M.O.

  • kjpargolf

    Templeton Rye might be the best whiskey of any kind! Al Capone sure thought so, and it was his favorite. Made in Templeton, Iowa with the prohibition era recipe, Templeton Rye is superb.

    • http://www.drinkspirits.com Geoff Kleinman

      I think the key gripe many have had with the brand is that they said they were making it in Iowa, but in fact it was coming from LDI/MGP in Indiana.

  • Bruce

    I drink only rye whiskey and find that the Pendleton 1910 100% rye is the best that I have tried. At around $40.00 it is affordable and rapidly becoming my staple.

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