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 being 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 2023.
Table Of Contents
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) is 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
Old Overholt 114 Proof Aged 4 Years
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, and this 114 proof release also debuted. All of the whiskeys in Old Overholt’s line are now bottled without chill filtration, which crucially maintains more complexity and texture in the bottled spirit. While made in the “Kentucky style” — i.e., with a low but still majority percentage of rye — it serves scintillating spice, which is amplified by the whiskey’s strength.
Average price: $33
Greenwood Whiskey Rye
The aromas of this 3-year-old rye instantly recall stewed apple, which for some might trigger memories of childhood (or parenthood). Dill and green oak then enter the fray, setting up a bright and energetic palate that brings a smile to the face. Bargain buy right here!
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
Russell’s Reserve 6 Year Old Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey
Though it arrives on the relatively 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
Castle & Key ‘Restoration Rye’ (2022)
“Add this line of ryes to your watchlist (and shopping list)” is what we wrote about the first batch (2021) of this series last year. We’re happy to report that the 2022 bottling lives up to those high expectations, with intense rye spice aromas and just a hint of licorice kicking off an expressive nose. The 63 percent rye, 17 percent yellow corn, and 20 percent malted barley mash bill is skillfully balanced on the palate, while the oak influence is deft. Pound for pound, these are some of the best 45 bucks you can spend in the rye space.
Average price: $45
Great Jones Distilling Co. Rye Whiskey
Notable for being the first legal distillery to open in Manhattan since the repeal of Prohibition, Great Jones is a truly New York rye, with 100 percent of the grains grown in-state. Its profile lands firmly within the medicinal, herbaceous camp, with maraschino cherries also making an appearance on the mid-palate. The price feels more than fair for this whiskey and the finish delivers a lively kick of grain spice.
Average price: $45
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
Milam & Greene Port Cask Finished Rye
Cinnamon Toast Crunch is the instantly recognizable tasting note that kicks off this fascinating port-cask-finished release from independent bottler Milam & Greene. Distilled in Indiana, then batched and finished in the company’s Texas warehouse, the oak influence is profound here (due to those aging conditions, no doubt), but doesn’t completely drown out attractive rye spice and dry, textural grip. Fifty bucks well spent right here!
Average price: $52
Buzzard’s Roost Char #1 Rye
This 95 percent rye, 5 percent malted barley, sourced release is aged in Buzzard’s Roost’s proprietary “Char #1” casks for four years. According to the brand, those aging vessels impart cherry and dark fruit notes, and they’re certainly apparent on nose and palate, interweaving with cooling mint aromas and cherrywood flavors. It’s an enjoyable sip that doesn’t go too heavy on the spice.
Average price: $55
FEW Bottled-In-Bond Rye Whiskey
Now part of the greater Heaven Hill family, following that company’s 2022 acquisition of the Samson & Surrey group, this is a solid bottled-in-bond release. The nose might mislead drinkers into thinking it’s a wheated bourbon if tasted blind, such is its soft, sweetness; but that profile is soon followed by ripe black cherries and peppery spice. The palate plays a similar tune, and the price doesn’t fully count it out of the cocktail conversation.
Average price: $55
Dread River Sherry Finished Rye Whiskey
Sour apple, subtle smoke, and umami — those aren’t the typical notes one expects to encounter when nosing rye, but it’s an interesting mix and quickly piques the interest of the drinker. On the palate, things start to head into more familiar rye territory, with a pronounced caraway note. Also of interest: This 3-year-old release was made using the 95 percent rye, 5 percent malted barley mash bill. Many associate that with MGP and sourced whiskey but (as far as we can tell) this is proprietary distillate produced in Alabama.
Average price: $56
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
Old Potrero 6 Years Old Straight Rye Whiskey
Established in 1993 by Fritz Maytag (of Anchor Brewing fame), the Anchor Distilling Company, which rebranded to Hotaling & Co. in 2018, produces this 100 percent malted rye using pot stills. That combination delivers a rich, weighty spirit, which pays as much homage to the fine whiskies produced across the Atlantic as it does to the prickly base grain. This is a certified whiskey geeks’ release and one of the most intriguing bottles in this roundup.
Average price: $65
Wilderness Trail Straight Rye Whiskey
VinePair 2021 Next Wave Award winner Wilderness Trail performs mysterious wonders with rye, somehow amplifying the grain’s mentholated, medicinal, herbaceous character to levels rarely seen in the category. Coupled with rich oak notes (vanilla and coconut), the flavor profile lands somewhere halfway between savory, spice, and vegetal and green notes. That’s a great accomplishment, evidenced by the fact it’s quickly become a go-to for so many whiskey fans.
Average price: $65
Five & 20 Spirits Deep Water Rye
Aged for seven years and bottled at 49.5 percent ABV, this rye oozes oaky sweetness. It ticks a decent number of boxes in the flavor note column, with spice (savory and baking), herbal, and stone fruit all present. For $70, we’d love just a little more in the way of complexity — but that shouldn’t detract from the sound balance on display.
Average price: $70
New Riff Distilling 6 Year 100% Malted Rye
New Riff’s 100 percent malted rye arrives surprisingly muted on the nose, even when rested in a Glencairn glass for a few minutes. But the (not unattractive) oak aromas that are present seem to be a bluff, because on the palate, this is a phenomenally complex and nuanced spirit. Caraway, rye spice, dark cherry — the greatest hits for this style of whiskey — are present, while the finish goes on and on for an age. We’ve come to expect big things from this distillery, and once again New Riff has hit the mark.
Average Price: $74
Starlight Double Oak Rye Whiskey
Double-oaked and produced using a blend of two rye-heavy mash bills, this whiskey is also produced using estate grown rye and locally sourced malted barley. The dual oak influence certainly drives its profile but leaves enough room for perfumed potpourri notes to shine.
Average price: $77
Old Elk Straight Rye Whiskey
Old Elk’s master distiller Greg Matze spent 14 of his 40 years in the business as master distiller at MGP, so his experience producing rye is practically unrivaled. That this 5-year release would stand as the dictionary definition of the classic rye profile should therefore come as no surprise. Underripe cherries, vanilla, and oak notes open the nose. The proof and weight of the palate keep things moving nicely, and there’s enjoyable spice on the finish. We’d score this higher but the price here also feels ever so slightly steep. Nonetheless, this bottle would make for a worthy addition to any collection.
Average price: $80
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
Angel’s Envy Finished Rye
Here’s an 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
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
Hinterhaus Distilling Trapper’s Oath 18 Year Rye
This release certainly doesn’t nose like a traditional rye, likely due to its lengthy aging (18 years) and stout cask finishing. And that shouldn’t be taken as a slight; Trapper’s Oath delights with vibrant aromas of cherry-flavored bubble gum, which prove to be a worthy foil for old oak and the aforementioned finishing casks. On the palate, we’re greeted by immediate intensity, with the cherry note from the nose complemented by sweetness and toast. It tastes like the ABV — 49 percent — was the product of careful consideration, and, given this whiskey’s age, the price could be argued as being on the lower end of the spectrum.
Average price: $130
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?
While it can be admittedly hard to come by — especially at MSRP — Michter’s 10 Year Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey 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.