About Rye Whiskey

About Rye Whiskey
Rye Whisky must contain a minimum of 51% rye grain, be distilled at less than 80% ABV (160 proof) and be aged for a minimum of two years in new charred barrels. A small amount of straight Rye whiskey is bottled and marketed, but most of the industry production is blended into other whiskies to give them additional character and structure. Canadians frequently refer to their whisky as "Rye," though it is in fact made primarily from corn or wheat.

The Taste: While the best Bourbon is known for a creamy, caramel-like palate, the best Rye whiskey makes its presence known with a spicy, grainy, hard-edged firmness that is distinctive and unique. Usually very dry, with notes of walnut, toasted grain, and black pepper, straight rye has a bold assertive character that has earned it a small but dedicated following among discerning whiskey fans.

The Scotch-Irish immigrant distillers had some exposure to using rye in whiskey production, but for their German immigrant neighbors rye had been the primary grain used in the production of Schnapps and Vodka back in northern Europe. They continued this distilling practice, particularly in Pennsylvania and Maryland, where Rye whiskey, with its distinctive hard-edged, grainy palate, remained the dominant whiskey type well into the 20th century.

Rye whiskey was even more adversely effected by National Prohibition than Bourbon. A generation of consumers weaned on light-bodied and relatively delicate white spirits turned away from the uncompromising, pungent, full-bodied straight Rye whiskies. Production of Rye whiskies had vanished altogether from its Mid-Atlantic homeland by the 1980s. A handful of modern Rye whiskies are currently being made by Bourbon distilleries in Kentucky and Indiana. America’s first indigenous whiskey style is today only barely surviving in the marketplace. Its primary use is for blending to give other whiskies more character and backbone, although a small but vocal group of Rye whisky enthusiasts continue to champion it.

Top Picks for Rye Whiskey

Five & 20 Spirits Rye Whiskey
94 points
$49.95
Bright golden amber color. Aromas and flavors of leather and suede, dried nectarine, butter caramel corn, and pickle barrel with a supple, bright, dry-yet-fruity medium-to-full body and a warming, intricate, long rye bread, spiced fruits, pistachio gelato, and cola finish. A fun, flavorful rye whisky that is sure to please in a variety of applications.
94 points $49.95
Russell’s Reserve 6 Year Old Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey
93 points
$41.99
Pale golden amber color. Perfumed aromas of peach chutney, charred oak, curry, and nutmeg and mace with a velvety, vibrant, dryish medium body and a warming, complex, medium-long rose jam, honeycomb cereal, black tea, rye crispbread, menthol, burlap sack, and caraway finish. A fantastically spicy rye with heaps of exotic flavors and satisfying length.
Awards: 2017 Best Rye Whiskey
93 points $41.99
Great Northern Distilling Rye Whiskey
93 points
$42
Brilliant amber color. Complex, grainy aromas and flavors of saddle leather and soap, buttered toasted dark rye bread, dark roasted chestnuts, and bbq spices with a silky, bright, dryish medium-to-full body and a silky, intricate, long rye flour, raisin bran, dulce de leche, and sweet and peppery spices finish. A complex and pure rye that captures the essence of the grain in a beautiful oak frame.
Cascadia Rye Whiskey Finished in Port Barrels
93 points
$49
Brilliant amber color. Spicy, grainy aromas and flavors of nut bran cereal, dried dill, carob bar, and leather bound cigar box with a supple, lively, dry-yet-fruity medium-to-full body and a warming, layered, long herbal honey on pound cake, menthol mint, sandalwood, and turmeric chai finish. An exotically spicy and herbal rye.
Union Horse "Reunion" Straight Rye Whiskey
93 points
$51
Medium golden amber color. Aromas and flavors of chocolate mint cookie, leather, clay and putty, and spiced apricot with a lightly tannic, lively, fruity medium-to-full body and a warming, complex, long mixed peppercorns, menthol tobacco and fennel, raisin rye bread pudding, and rye flour finish. A spicy, grainy, youthful rye with lots of great sipping and cocktail possibilities.
Blackback "Lucky 13" Rye Whiskey
93 points
$53.49
Pale golden amber color. Fruity, floral aromas and flavors of spiced peaches, vanilla-caramel buttercream, toffee, and buttered muffin with a satiny, bright, dry-yet-fruity medium-to-full body and a silky, medium-long honeyed rye toast, chocolate cream, and spiced nuts finish. A very smooth and flavorful rye that will be a great introduction to the category.
93 points $53.49
Sazerac Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey
92 points
$29.99
Golden amber color. Fresh, fruity, floral aromas of violet candy-coated aniseed, marzipan, Swedish fish candy, and grape soda with a round, crisp, dryish medium body and a peppery, delightful, medium-long herbal lozenge, caramel, chocolate chew, and candied ginger and white pepper finish. A snappy and satisfying rye whiskey for cocktails and sipping.
92 points $29.99
Roaming Man Tennessee Straight Rye Whiskey
92 points
$49.99
Bright dark amber color. Rustic aromas of leather saddle, dried bouquet, prune and dark chocolate cherry bon-bons, and brown sugar oatmeal with a round, vibrant, dryish medium-to-full body and a tingling, charming, medium-length maraschino cherry pit, honeycomb, chocolate malt, and mixed peppercorns and ginger finish. A expressive rye that will serve well as a rustic shooter or craft cocktail base.
92 points $49.99
Old Potrero 18th Century Style Whiskey
92 points
$69.99
Bright gold color. Aromas of wet grain, wood shavings, sourdough bread, and ginger-mint gum and brown mustard with a glycerous, dry-yet-fruity medium body and a peppery, appealing, medium-length green cardamom, chocolate spread on multigrain toast, vegetable pate with black pepper, and tarragon and licorice finish. An esoteric rye whiskey for craft spirit lovers.
92 points $69.99
Kinsey Rye Whiskey
92 points
$29.99
Brilliant gold color. Buttery aromas and flavors of peanut brittle, buttered rye toast, and mint fruit chutney with a soft, shy, dry-yet-fruity light body and a silky, fast chocolate cream bar, vanilla cola, cream of corn, and hint of pepper finish. A mellow classic rye.
92 points $29.99