Top Rye Whiskeys For Easy Drinking
Like bourbon, its sweeter counterpart, rye is a quintessentially American type of whiskey. Although there are Canadian ryes, they can be quite different from those made in the United States. (They even spell “whiskey” differently as “whisky.”) Federal law requires that rye whiskey must be made from a mash containing at least 51 percent rye grain, distilled to no more than 160 proof and aged in charred, new oak barrels. If the spirit is aged for at least two years, it can be further designated as “straight rye whiskey.”
Many of the options on GAYOT’s list of Best Ryes have been aged considerably longer. Enjoy the recent rye renaissance by downing these fine whiskeys straight, or hearken back to their heyday and mix them in a Manhattan, Sazerac or an Old-Fashioned. These selections are presented in alphabetical order.
1. Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye
Origin: Gimli, Canada
Price: $30 for 750 ml.
By: Crown Royal
In 2016, Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye became the first Canadian rye to earn World Whisky of the Year in Jim Murray’s Annual Whisky Bible.
Along the western shore of Lake Winnipeg lies a small village called Gimli. This is where Crown Royal creates its Canadian whiskies. The Northern Harvest Rye boasts a distinctive Canadian rye grain character with the smoothness that Crown Royal is known for. It has flavors of rich butterscotch, spiced vanilla and hints of oak and white pepper that leave a creamy finish.
2. George Dickel Rye
Origin: Tullahoma, TN, U.S.A.
Price: $25 for 750 ml.
By: George Dickel
This startling rye begins with a 95 percent rye mash bill and ends with the Lincoln County Process, which filters the whiskey through George Dickel’s proprietary sugar-maple charcoal.
It is chilled and filtered before bottling for a fresh and complex nose that includes Thai lemongrass, pineapple, cedar, oak, caramel, and a touch of menthol and cherry. The palate is even more complex, with a flavor profile that combines a cereal graininess with rye spice, vanilla, fennel and a little citrus. The finish — roasted nuts, hot cinnamon stick and chocolate mint — provides a robust ending to a delicious whiskey.
3. High West Rendezvous Rye
Origin: Park City, UT, U.S.A.
Price: $58 for 750 ml.
By: High West Distillery
High West Rendezvous Rye hails from Utah where chilly winters are the norm.
So is it any wonder that the folks at High West know a thing or two about keeping warm? This spicy blend of two whiskeys— a 6-year-old with a 95 percent mash bill and a 16-year-old with an 80 percent mash bill — will keep you toasty with fragrant notes of cinnamon and clove complemented by vanilla and caramel, with a touch of mint that rounds out the sweeter elements. The spirit is balanced start to finish with a slight smokiness that never overwhelms. Because Rendezous is not chill-filtered, it sometimes appears cloudy in the bottle, which by no means affects the quality and can quickly be remedied with a swirl. Ideal when sipped neat, Rendezvous also makes an indulgent Manhattan.
4. Masterson’s 10-Year-Old Straight Rye
Origin: Sonoma, CA, U.S.A.
Price: $70 for 750 ml.
By: 3 Badge Mixology
The idea behind Masterson’s 10-Year-Old Straight Rye was to make a serious whiskey with solid age that would also drink easy.
Bottled in Sonoma, California, with rye sourced from Canada, this international product smells rich and sweet. Initially, a honeyed dragon fruit and nuttiness are surrounded by toasted cocoa and toffee notes. The palate offers a serene bouquet of nutmeg, oak, caramel, cinnamon stick and pine, while the rye spice is apparent and perfectly enveloped by the other flavors. Sparking your appetite, the finish is rounded by soft herbal notes and molasses in conjunction with juniper and green apple. A rye that has both power and elegance, Masterson’s is masterful.
5. Michter’s US 1 Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Rye
Origin: Louisville, KY, U.S.A.
Price: $40 for 750 ml.
Legend has it that the recipe for Michter’s Straight Rye dates back to 1753.
The lifestyle and palate of America in the 1750s was far more rustic than it is today, and life itself more brutal and challenging. The consumers of the day wanted an uncomplicated, strong, spicy and hearty rye. Today, there are few traditional ryes with a legacy and flavor profile so true to our country’s heritage. This is a no-nonsense drink, due to the utilization of sheared rye, which concentrates the grain’s flavors during fermentation. With an amber-brown color, the whiskey showcases an intensity on the nose well beyond what the 84.8 proof on the label suggests. The sweet corn is apparent along with some rich dark stone fruits and a little vanilla and caramel, but the spiciness of the rye dominates. Upon sipping, flavors of black pepper, vanilla and caramel start out strong before ending in a biting finish mellowed by notes of coconut and a lovely sweetness.
6. Pikesville Straight Rye Whiskey
Origin: Bardstown, KY, U.S.A.
Price: $50 for 750 ml.
This 6-year-old rye falls into the premium category, given its $50 price tag. It is worth it? Absolutely.
With a history dating back to the Civil War, Pikesville Rye has its roots in Maryland. The mash bill is 51 percent rye, 39 percent corn and 10 percent malted barley, which, along with the aging, creates a soft rye character that the Maryland style is known for. Heaven Hill took over the brand after production halted in the 1980s, and Pikesville is now made in Kentucky. At 110 proof, it’s a powerhouse, offering honey and spice up front and finishing with hints of baking spices and sweet vanilla. It also has the distinction of grabbing the number 2 spot in Jim Murray’s 2016 Whisky Bible — no small feat.
7. Ragtime Rye
Origin: Brooklyn, NY, U.S.A.
Price: $45 for 750 ml.
By: New York Distilling Company
Why drink Ragtime Rye? Among other reasons, New York Distilling’s owner Allen Katz loves cocktails, so he makes his spirits with that malleability in mind.
Made with 72 percent rye, 16 percent corn and 12 percent malted barley, Ragtime explodes with the spiciness that rye lovers embrace. It spends three years in new, charred American oak barrels, which add to the vanilla and caramel notes. And, at 90.4 proof, it’s big enough to stand up to any cocktail it encounters without losing its personality.
8. Rittenhouse Straight Rye Whiskey
Origin: Bardstown, KY, U.S.A.
Price: $25 for 750 ml.
By: Heaven Hill
There is a reason this rye is the go-to for many bartenders and home enthusiasts.
It easily stands up to more expensive brands, while still maintaining a modest price. At approximately $25, it’s a steal, boasting the familiar zing of rye spice countered by sweet vanilla and butterscotch flavors. Composed of only 51 percent rye, the whiskey is neither overwhelmingly spicy nor herbal, and the 39 percent corn adds a rich sweetness without taking away the muscle. While not recommended for sipping neat (keep WhistlePig and Masterson’s for that indulgence), Rittenhouse may quickly become your bottle of choice if you are on a budget and tend toward mixing drinks.
9. Rod & Hammer’s SLO Stills Straight Rye Whiskey
Origin: San Luis Obispo, CA, U.S.A.
Price: $40 for 750 ml.
By: Rod & Hammer’s SLO Stills
The origin of this distillery is SLO Brew, San Luis Obispo’s first craft brewery established in 1988, which distilled its first whiskey in 2012, followed by the creation of the Rod & Hammer SLO Stills line in 2019.
Distilled from 95% rye grain and aged for two years in new American white oak barrels, the end result is a rich honey-hued bold spirit that starts hot with notes of black pepper and cedar, followed by a smoky finish with notes of leather, tobacco and a hint of caramel sweetness. An interesting twist is the adding distilled and purified Pacific Ocean water in the final stage to bring it to its desired alcohol content and to capture the soul and essence of the area in which it’s produced.
10. WhistlePig 10-Year Straight Rye Whiskey
Origin: Shoreham, VT, U.S.A.
Price: $68 for 750 ml.
As the Master Distiller of Maker’s Mark for more than 14 years, Dave Pickerell sought to create the best rye whiskey in the world.
If he hasn’t succeeded with WhistlePig 10-Year Straight Rye Whiskey, he’s come pretty darn close. WhistlePig is distilled in Canada from 100 percent Canadian rye, but bottled in Vermont at 100 proof. It is rich with American influences, as you would imagine. WhistlePig’s color, nose and palate are in many ways closer to those normally associated with bourbon. The heavier char, the rich vanilla and toasted Thai-chili spiciness come through in an elegant and balanced manner. An alternating clove-nutmeg-cinnamon coalition tickles the palate while the finish is among the smoothest we’ve ever experienced in a rye.