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

Knob Creek Cask Strength Rye Whiskey
96 points
Amber color. Complex aromas of smoked pineapple, fresh ginger, raisins, fine chocolate, crystalized orange peel, chocolate dusted almonds, licorice, and violet with an oily, lively, fruity medium-to-full body and a peppery, involved, very long dried cherries, paprika, tajin on mangoes, patent leather, walnut, mahogany, vanilla custard, and blackberry preserve finish. A densely concentrated rye akin to a fine Bordeaux wine; succumb to its power and grace.
Awards: 2018 Best Rye Whiskey
96 points $69.99
Old Potrero 18th Century Rye Whiskey
94 points
Golden amber color. Aromas of hay, carob, dark chocolate, and pumpernickel crisps with a satiny, vibrant, dryish medium body and a peppery, interesting, medium-length cracked pepper, fresh tarragon, caraway, butterscotch, and toasted sesame finish. A complex and peppery Rye whiskey with great herbal character.
Rossville Union Master Crafted Straight Rye Whiskey Barrel Proof
94 points
Amber color. Attractive aromas of cherry stone, passionfruit scone, fresh violets, and madagascar vanilla with a round, full body and a distinctive, long peach tea, limestone, geranium, gingersnaps with chocolate fudge, and aniseed finish. A velvety, rye with intense, mature character that is sure to please.
94 points $69.99
Masterson’s 10 Year Old Straight Rye Whiskey
94 points
Golden amber color. Aromas of apple-cinnamon, pastry dough, concord grape jam, and banana-cashew shake with a supple, bright, dry-yet-fruity light body and a breezy caraway, ginger sweet-and-sour sauce, challah, béchamel with dill, and lemon zest finish. A creamy, rye-forward whiskey that offers a delicate sipping option.
Knob Creek Barrel #6295 Single Barrel Select Rye Whiskey
93 points
Gold color. Aroma of glazed corn with a satiny, crisp, dry-yet-fruity medium body and a tingling, appealing, medium-length chewy caramel, nougat, chocolate ganache, bay leaf, dark toasted pumpkin loaf, and black pepper finish. A nutty, nectar-like rye that will appeal to bourbon drinkers and rye enthusiasts alike.
Russell’s Reserve Straight Rye Whiskey
93 points
Golden amber color. Aromas and flavors of rye bread with caraway, graham cracker, honey, coriander, rose petal, amarena cherries in syrup, toffee popcorn, and lemon cookies with a slightly chewy, vibrant, dry-yet-fruity medium body and a warming, charming, medium-long finish with notes of leather, honeydew, ginger powder, candied walnut, sweet almond oil, and green peppercorns finish. A spot-on rye with elegant character and a spicy finish.
93 points $59.99
Old Pepper Finest Kentucky Oak Straight Rye Whiskey
93 points
Dark amber color. Aromas and flavors of ripe black cassis, rose petal, honey on crispbread, caramelized passionfruit, sprouts, spearmint, and nutella on pumpernickel toast with a velvety, bright, dry-yet-fruity medium body and a seamless, nuanced, medium-long finish revealing impressions of spiced caramel and warm bread pudding finish. A complex rye with welcome floral aromas and plenty of flavors to dive into.
Wild Turkey 101 Rye Whiskey
91 points
Amber color. Spicy aromas of toasted sourdough, cultured butter, fresh tarragon, white pepper, and spiced pecans with a velvety, dryish full body and a smooth, complex, medium-long spiced apricots, kasha and clove finish. A rich and spicy Rye that will make an excellent Manhattan.
91 points $37.99
Knob Creek Straight Rye Whiskey
91 points
Golden amber color. Nutty aromas of caramel on almond nougat, honey-roasted peanuts, milk chocolate, and toasted multigrain bread with a velvety, crisp, fruity medium body and a graceful, medium-length cherry almond bark, creamy caramel, and frosted spice cake finish. A rich and nutty rye with candy-bar sweetness.
91 points $29.99
Noteworthy Rye Whiskey
90 points
Best Buy
Amber color. Fresh aromas of violets, ginger-honey refresher, cedar, and star anise with a satiny, crisp, fruity medium body and a warming, appealing, medium-length spice cake, cheddar scone, and caramel-drizzled gingerbread finish. A poignant rye that will make and excellent cocktail or sipper.
90 points $21.99 Best Buy