If you’ve only encountered rye whiskey in passing, you may still be familiar with two common descriptions of the spirit: that it’s bourbon’s spicier sibling, and that it’s crucial in the creation of a handful of classic cocktails. While these statements ring true, they also benefit from further elaboration.
The inclusion of rye (the grain) in any mash bill indeed lends a spicy kick, but that characteristic can take on many forms, from savory spice, like caraway and black pepper, to sweet baking spices, such as cinnamon and cloves. Another distinguishing factor that defines many rye whiskeys is fresh, herbal notes — think dill and mint. Though not always present, these notes complement the grain’s signature spice, but it would be a stretch to define them as spicy by nature.
On the cocktail front, it’s true that rye is vital for any properly made Manhattan or Sazerac, and competently takes the place of bourbon in an Old Fashioned or Boulevardier. But were it not for the revival of those cocktails, there’s a high chance that rye would have continued down its path of dwindling popularity to reach near extinction by this point. In short: Rye is essential in these drinks but the drinks themselves are just as important in the whiskey’s modern history.
So rye’s is a complicated tale, and the waters are only muddied further by another point that should be raised: Given the recency of this style’s resurgence in popularity, many distilleries have been forced to source from or contract distill their rye at external facilities — the most notable Indiana’s MGP. Now this is also true in the bourbon industry, but given that even some of the major brands continue to do so with their rye expressions, it’s worth reiterating. So, too, is the simple fact that there’s nothing inherently wrong with this practice, especially as those buying and bottling this juice are increasingly transparent about doing so.
Now that those formalities are out of the way — and for more information, see VinePair’s complete Rye 101 Guide — let’s explore some of the finest expressions on the market. Here are the 30 best rye whiskeys at every price point for 2022.
Table Of Contents
Alberta Premium Rye Whiskey
Though its distillery sits a stone’s throw from one of the production facilities of Canada’s largest malting business, Alberta Distillers employs a recipe of 100 percent unmalted rye for this whisky. Key to its production is a cocktail of proprietary enzymes, which not only aid fermentation but also impart unique flavors to the final spirit. This affordable bottle sings with aromas of cranberry, cherry, and oak, while the palate dials up the richness with notes of sweet baking spices and caramel. This is a great budget pick that’s ideal for cocktails and fuss-free sipping.
Average price: $25
Old Overholt Bonded Straight Rye Whiskey
In 2020, one of America’s oldest whiskey brands entered a new chapter. A formula shake-up saw Old Overholt’s core expression gain a few extra proof points; a new, 114-proof line also launched; and all whiskeys in the lineup are now bottled without chill filtration. The latter factor is key, with more complexity and texture maintained in the final spirit. With attractive herbal notes surrounding a caramel core, the 4-year-old, 100-proof Bonded expression punches well above its price tag, and represents the most versatile option in Old Overholt’s stellar, budget-friendly lineup.
Average price: $25
Wild Turkey 101 Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey
This rye ticks all the boxes that a bartender (home or professional) should seek from a well pour. It’s balanced, with an overall sweet profile accented by fresh herbs and faint savory spices. The ABV content and decent concentration of flavor mean it’s ready for action at cocktail hour, while a fairly lengthy finish ensures it can be enjoyed neat alongside a cold beer.
Average price: $25
Old Forester Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey
With 65 percent rye included in this whiskey’s mash bill, the palate delivers more distinguishable spice than many other Kentucky expressions. Arriving with notes of dried banana, brown bread, and caramel, this rye has a distinctive personality and offers another worthy option for cocktails.
Average price: $26
Rittenhouse Straight Rye Whisky
Born in Pennsylvania and now owned and produced in Kentucky by Heaven Hill, this rye opens with a remarkably floral nose that tiptoes into botanical territory. With full flavor, 50 percent ABV, and a lengthy finish, the palate confirms why this brand (and expression) has become beloved among bartenders.
Average price: $28
Sazerac Straight Rye Whiskey
Produced at the Sazerac-owned Buffalo Trace distillery in Kentucky, this whiskey brand endured when so many others in the rye field fell by the wayside, keeping its signature, eponymous cocktail alive (especially in New Orleans). It has a well-rounded profile and culminates with a heavy dose of spice, offering the ideal option for mixing that namesake drink.
Average price: $32
Elijah Craig Straight Rye Whiskey
A fairly recent introduction from Heaven Hill that debuted in 2019, this 47-percent ABV charms with a mix of floral, herbaceous, and savory notes. Heady butterscotch flavors bulk up the body, while a sweet cherry note on the finish suggests the first port of call should be mixing in a Manhattan.
Average price: $33
Tattersall Distilling Straight Rye Whiskey
Minnesota’s Tattersall Distilling gives this 100 percent rye (85 percent unmalted, 15 percent malted) two runs through a pot still before aging for at least two years, as is required by law. Those with a sweet tooth will lap up its unique character: on both nose and palate; this rye is a dead ringer for fruit cake, with dried nuts and raisened fruit prominent throughout. This whiskey is distinctive but it’s also unmistakably rye.
Average price: $35
Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey
Distilled from a 53-percent rye mash bill, this rye shows gentle spice and exceptional balance across nose and palate. Most of its spice can be grouped into the baking category, with cloves and cinnamon aromas leading the nose. Rich banana and chocolate chip notes on the palate promise to further please those with a sweet tooth.
Average price: $35
Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey
At this price point, drinkers should start to expect a whiskey that will hold its own in cocktails but also perform valiantly when enjoyed neat. With rich, toasted caramel notes, a heavy dose of sweet spices, and an impressive depth of flavors, Knob Creek’s rye delivers on both fronts. At 50 percent ABV, sipping over ice isn’t out of the equation either.
Average price: $40
New York Distilling Co. Ragtime Rye
Based in Brooklyn, New York Distilling Co. includes 72 percent New-York-grown rye in this whiskey’s mash bill. Bottled at a precise 45.2 percent ABV, its nose effuses red berry, cinnamon, and sumac aromas, which poses the question of whether this is what high-end Fireball might smell like. The palate lands with enjoyable heft and offers a slightly mentholated profile along with fruit sweetness. Pick up a bottle and mix in the cocktail named after the borough from which it hails.
Average price: $40
Pinhook ‘Rye Munny’ Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey
Distilled at Kentucky’s Castle & Key, this rye employs a mash bill of 60 percent rye and equal parts corn and malted barley. Aged for just two years, it’s a shining example that young American whiskey can deliver an enjoyable, thought-provoking drinking experience. Notes of banana bread and corn lead the nose, while the flavor profile matches herbaceous tones with malty sweetness. Ditch the bourbon and reach for this rye for your next Old Fashioned.
Average price: $40
Russell’s Reserve 6 Year Old Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey
Though it arrives on the lower end of the alcohol spectrum (90 proof), this whiskey suffers no lack of character or concentration. It is, however, a decidedly Kentucky-style rye: fruit-forward and rich, with just a hint of prickly spice. While more than capable of impressing during sipping occasions, we advise holding off on the ice.
Average price: $42
Valentine Distilling Co. Mayor Pingree Orange Label Rye
From Detroit’s Valentine Distilling Co., Mayor Pingree combines two mash bills that are each triple pot distilled before resting in barrel for at least four years. Fresh stone fruits including nectarine and apricot rise from the glass, while a whiff of mint leads onto a full-bodied palate where the fruitiness of the nose also carries through. Craft? Check. Character? You betcha.
Average price: $50
Pikesville Straight Rye Whiskey
A one-time Maryland rye, Pikesville is now produced by Heaven Hill and arrives at 110 proof following six years of aging. The alcohol and age combine to provide a layered nose and intense palate. There are dill notes and spice from the rye, banana peel and stone fruit from the corn, and cracked black pepper from the charred oak. This is a nuanced but powerful rye whiskey.
Average price: $50
New Riff Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey Bottled-in-Bond (Spring 2021)
From Newport, Ky., this whiskey contains a mash bill of 95 percent rye and 5 percent malted rye. Made using the sour mash technique, and bottled without chill filtration, its bold character shines with minty, peppery aromas, and a broad range of baking spices and caramel on the palate. At 100 proof, it hits a perfect stride for cocktails and sipping.
Average price: $55
Widow Jane Oak & Apple Wood Aged Rye Whiskey
Brooklyn’s Widow Jane inserts applewood staves into its barrels during maturation of this sourced rye, then cuts the finished spirit to proof using limestone water from the Rosendale Mines, located 100 miles north of New York City. The aromas are rye-forward with a hint of homemade cornbread. The palate serves equal helpings of sweetness and spice, with dusty dark chocolate emerging on this finish. We love it in an Old Fashioned.
Average price: $55
J. Rieger & Co. Bottled in Bond Straight Rye Whiskey
Put into cask in the fall of 2016, the 2022 release of this bottled-in-bond rye contains a 96 percent rye and 4 percent malted barley mash bill. Six years of aging and 50 percent ABV prove a well-balanced sweet spot here, with savory spice and minty notes contrasted by caramel sweetness and toasted oak. A limited release that hit shelves in early September, seek out a bottle while stocks last.
Average price: $60
Frey Ranch Straight Rye Whiskey
This 100-percent rye whiskey isn’t just distilled, aged, and bottled at Nevada’s Frey Ranch, but all of the winter cereal that makes up the mash bill is also grown by the producer. Those things would count for nothing, or at least very little, if the quality of the spirit didn’t also deliver, but it does. Herbaceous and peppery, with tons of character and energy, this is a serious rye that all whiskey aficionados will savor.
Average price: $66
Buzzard’s Roost Cigar Rye
Pairing cigars with spirits is hardly revolutionary but this rye sees the components combined in a much more literal sense. Aged for four years, the whiskey spends a finishing period in American oak barrels that were cold-smoked with Kentucky-grown tobacco leaves. The marriage doesn’t just work but elevates the final spirit to something that’s greater than the sum of many fine parts. The influence of tobacco is reminiscent of musky potpourri or cologne, though never overwhelms. Smoke passes on the nose presenting dried red berries, green notes, and pepper. The palate performs a swift 180, with rye notes soon taking charge and tobacco relegated to a supporting role. A standout bottle on this year’s list, Cigar Rye is a must-buy.
Average price: $70
Penelope Bourbon Tokaji Cask Finish
The first rye to be released by Penelope Bourbon (don’t be confused by the name), the producer finished this 6 year old expression for 11 months in used Tokaji sweet wine casks. Honeysuckle, boozy raisins, and a hint of rye spice kick off an enjoyable nose whose sweet profile belies the toasted, tannic sips awaiting in the glass. Full bodied, with a slightly creamy mouthfeel, the palate stands out for its textural complexity and spicy, honeyed finish.
Average price: $80
Traverse City Whiskey Co. Barrel Proof Rye
Bottled just a touch shy of 120 proof, this cask-strength rye is surprisingly easygoing. The smell, heat, and taste of alcohol never threaten to distract from its flavor profile, which could serve as the dictionary definition for classic rye. Expect notes of fresh, slightly peppery grains, mature oak, and streak of green earthiness. Pour it over a large cube of ice and appreciate its evolution as melted water soon starts to open its profile.
Average price: $80
Angel’s Envy Finished Rye
Here’s another unconventional rye that, after tasting, you can easily pick out blind from a lineup of dozens of whiskeys. Finished in rum casks, it kicks off with hits of maple, brown sugar, cloves, cinnamon, and every other baking spice you can imagine. The palate continues in similar fashion, and lands with even more intensity than the nose. If you’re all about fall desserts and scented candles, you’ll love this whiskey.
Average price: $90
Hughes Bros. Belle of Bedford
Distilled at the MGP distillery and selected, proofed, and bottled by Pennsylvania’s Hughes Bros. Distillers, this bottle provides ample proof that not all whiskeys bearing the label “Distilled in Lawrenceburg, Indiana” taste and smell the same. Part of what makes this release distinctive is its age — 9 years old — and also the proof, 52 percent ABV, both of which are a little higher than most sourced ryes on the market. Citronella, cherrywood, lemon oil, and peppermint represent just a few of the aromas that emanate from the glass, while the palate takes on a more savory guise, with strong bursts of caraway seeds most notable.
Average price: $92
Barrell Craft Spirits Seagrass Rye Whiskey
With a blend of American (Indiana and Tennessee) and Canadian rye whiskeys, each component of this spirit is finished separately in Martinique rhum agricole casks, apricot brandy casks, and Madeira barrels. While there’s a lot going on in the production of this whiskey, the final blend works — and magnificently so. Granted, it’s not a “classic” style of rye, but not only has the Barrell Craft Spirits team reached impeccable balance with this unique expression, the influence of the different casks interacts seamlessly with the base rye(s). Buy this bottle now.
Average price: $94
Stellum Fibonacci Blend #1
Six separate rye blends come together in this highly expressive cask-strength whiskey. Fruit remains a common theme throughout, with cherries, blackberries, and citrus oil most prominent on the nose, and crisp apples defining the palate. Extra layers of nuance arrive in the form of baking spices, toasted oak, and honey syrup. Pour a hearty glug into a glass, add a few drops of water, and sit with this one for some time.
Average price: $100
Corbin Cash 1917 Merced Rye
From Atwater, Calif., this farm-to-bottle release is produced from Corbin Cash’s estate-grown rye (100 percent). It spends around half a decade in barrel before bottling without filtration. A well-tamed cask-strength release, this rye showcases intense notes cherry, apricot, cigar box, and toasted oak. It’s a little expensive considering its age, but this is clearly the product of high-quality ingredients treated with care and attention.
Average price: $100
George Dickel x Leopold Bros. Collaboration Blend
Released in December 2021, this limited-edition bottling blends George Dickel’s previously unreleased column-distilled rye with Leopold Bros. Three Chamber Rye, which also employs interesting production equipment and has only been available for around a year. Floral aromas mix with scents of tart, juicy citrus on the nose. The palate leans more traditionally rye in character, and leaves a lasting impression with a lengthy, intense finish.
Average price: $110
Cascade Moon 13 Year Old Rye Whisky
Launched in October 2020, Cascade Moon is an experimental, limited-run series of whiskies from George Dickel under the greater umbrella Cascade Hollow Distilling Co. Available in Texas, California, and Tennessee, this 13 year old rye was distilled and aged for four years in Indiana, then spent a further nine years in barrel in Tennessee. The oldest release in this roundup, sipping Cascade Moon offers an exploration of age and maturation, immediately apparent via aromas of dried fruits, nuts, and cacao nibs. The palate presents a more youthful experience where bright cherry mingles with savory spice. Though light in texture, the finish goes on for an age.
Average price: $334
Michter’s 10 Year Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey
Let’s first address the elephant in the room: You will likely not encounter this bottle at its $170 MSRP, nor will you regularly see it on store shelves, such is the fervor with which the whiskey-collecting community has taken to this expression (along with a few other Michter’s bottles). Economics and the subjectivity of “affordable” aside, the quality of this whiskey is unquestionable. A distinct cherry aroma meets sweet and intense herbs on the nose, and the two continue their dance well onto the finish. Add in nuanced notes from oak and maturation, the spirit’s silky texture, and gentle spiced finish, and we only begin to scratch the surface of its depth and complexity.
Average price: $342. (MSRP $170)
Is rye whiskey smoother than bourbon?
Since rye is best known for its toasty notes of black pepper, it’s often thought of as less soft and less “smooth” than bourbon, which uses higher amounts of wheat and corn in its mash bill.
What is the highest-rated rye whiskey?
With its affordable price point and mature oak complexity, Crown Royal Noble Collection Rye Aged 16 Years is our highest-rated rye whiskey.
What is a good affordable rye whiskey?
Old Overholt Bonded Straight Rye Whiskey is one of the best affordable rye whiskeys on the market.