Rye whiskey is a notable American whiskey type that suits the flavor preferences of a variety of whiskey drinkers.
It is especially preferred by those who like spicy, sharp, punchy, and bold flavors that are complex and layered yet uniquely balanced. In addition to spicy, rye whiskeys may have sweet, savory, toasted, and even smoky notes.
There are plenty of excellent whiskey brands, and you may already be familiar with some of these brands from other types of whiskeys, such as bourbon and Scotch.
In this article, we’ll highlight the top 13 best rye whiskey brands to try if you’re looking to jump into the wonderful world of rye.
They are all quite different, with distinct standout notes and various price points, so there’ll surely be the perfect one for you.
High West Whiskey Double Rye
If you love a particularly spicy rye, then you’ll likely fall in love with the 92-proof High West Double Rye.
It blends together two different types of rye whiskey to double the spiciness. Both whiskeys are aged at least two years.
It combines cinnamon, honey, and anise with its rye spices and additional allspice flavoring, with herbal, floral, minty, and nutty hints throughout the sensory experience of each sip.
It’s an excellent choice served neat but also holds up in classic cocktails, with just a bit of water or with some ice. Manhattans, in particular, are a go-to drink for this particular whiskey brand.
High West Double Rye is a relatively newer brand, founded in 2006 by David and Jane Perkins. And just 10 years later, they were named the Distiller of the Year by Whiskey Advocate.
As an honorable mention from this brand, I have to shout out their Rendezvous Rye – one of my favorites if you’re willing to splurge on a more expensive rye whiskey.
New Riff Distilling Rye
New Riff’s Rye Whiskey is a Kentucky Straight whiskey with bold, punchy flavors that can’t be easily ignored.
Not only is it Bottled In Bond, thus meeting the highest standard for whiskey, but it also meets this criterion without chill filtration.
Plus, its distillation process carries tradition, using 5% of malted rye and charred new oak barrels.
Aged four years and 100 proof, this quality whiskey provides spicy, minty, and sweet notes of black pepper, mint, and vanilla, respectively. When it comes to the taste, you’ll get the additional notes of caramel and toasted oak.
This whiskey is an exceptional choice for those who love to end things on a sweet note, as it leaves a lingering taste of brown sugar and buttercream on your tongue.
Ultimately, this whiskey aligns well with New Rye’s values of tradition, transparency, independence, and, of course, great whiskey.
Elijah Craig Straight Rye Whiskey
If drinking award-winning whiskey is important to you, you’ll be happy to hear about Elijah Craig’s Straight Rye.
This whiskey has won the Platinum Best Of Class award by SIP, the Double Gold Award by San Francisco World Spirits Competition, and the Top 10 Whiskey award by Whiskey Advocate.
What makes this whiskey so worthy of these awards and distinctions? For starters, it has a unique taste, with its blend of sweet corn and its smooth, satisfying feel.
It’s a winning mixture of 51% rye, 35% corn, and 14% barley, but that’s just the beginning. It also includes baking spices, honey, and smooth oak for a complex flavor with noticeable depth, as well as a smokey, chocolatey aroma.
This 94-proof works well as a Manhattan and is a great addition to other Elija Craig whiskeys, all distilled in charred barrels.
Rittenhouse Straight Rye
The Rittenhouse Straight Rye takes a very balanced approach to their rye whiskey, combining the flavors of oak, dill, honey, licorice, fruit, anise, and bread.
It’s a 100 proof, 4-year old, Bottled-In-Bond whiskey that tastes as high-quality as it sounds. The Rittenhouse liquors tend to have a distinctly spicy tone, and the Rittenhouse Rye does not disappoint.
Plus, it’s won the SF’s Spirits Competition’s Double Gold award not once but twice, as well as WSWA Spirit’s Best Rye Whiskey award.
Instead of simply including baking spices or black pepper notes, this whiskey combines sweet and spicy in one fell sweep with notes of sweet pepper. It also has the aroma of dried fruit and toffee, with a maple-like finish.
Essentially, it’s difficult not to find a particular flavor in this whiskey, making it less complex than you might assume and adding to an overall balanced feel.
WhistlePig 10 Year Old Straight Rye
The WhistlePig Old Straight Rye is one of the best rye whiskeys when it comes to the aging process.
This whiskey is 10 years old, sure to provide a bold, layered taste that will take the sipper through a complex journey of flavors.
As one of the highest-rated whiskeys, it’s certainly versatile and can go well in many forms, including straight, on the rocks, watered down, or in cocktails.
However, given its high quality, complex flavors, and sweet butterscotch and caramel finish, it would be a shame to not at least try to sip it straight or as a simple yet classic Old Fashioned.
This whiskey speaks to Whistepig’s ideas about experimenting with innovation while keeping tradition and history close to the heart.
Michter’s 10-Year Single Barrel Rye
Michter offers another 10-Year rye, their Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Rye.
Seeing as Michter’s, originally named Shenk’s, is America’s first whiskey company and rye is America’s first whiskey variety, it should come as no surprise that this rye whiskey is at the top of its class.
This 92 proof whiskey has limited production, so if you’re lucky enough to get your hands on it, you’ll be able to enjoy its toffee, vanilla, toasted almonds, crushed pepper, and orange citrus tasting notes.
This is an elegant, exclusive whiskey and should be treated as such through slow sipping and as little manipulation as possible.
If 10 years simply isn’t old enough for your liking, meet the 18-year Sazerac Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey from the Sazerac Coffee House founded in 1850.
This rye isn’t as spicy as some of the other brands on this list and isn’t too sweet either. It comes from the Buffalo Trace brand that makes some of my favorite bourbon as well.
The spicy is mellow, the sweetness is dry, and the notes of oak, molasses, and allspice come together to create an overall mature and ultra-satisfying experience.
It’s a warm, cozy experience at that, with notes of cinnamon, vanilla, and eucalyptus in the mix and a pepper taste that lingers on the tongue afterward.
This whiskey is a go-to drink for sipping. I don’t recommend using this finely aged whiskey for mixed drinks.
Old Overholt Rye Whiskey
Old Overholt Rye Whiskey is straight from Kentucky and has a bonded version that is four years old and 100 proof.
This bottle presents whiskey lovers on a budget an excellent bang for their buck, with a high-quality whiskey distilled in a charred American oak barrel for a fraction of the price of similar styles and ages of this liquor.
It’s smooth and goes well neat or as an Old Fashioned, but its high-value price permits more versatility in the way you enjoy it. Feel free to mix it up for a cocktail as well.
Knob Creek Straight Rye Whiskey
Knob Creek is a well-known whiskey brand, and with good reason.
It offers a quality, bold, 100 proof Straight Rye Whiskey at a reasonable price, and you won’t have to forgo any of the classic rye flavors you love, such as spicy rye, sweet vanilla, and undertones of oak.
The aroma is lacking a bit with the whiskey, as you’ll get some herbal notes without the complexity that other whiskey brands on this list offer.
However, if you find the taste of whiskey significantly more important than its aroma, this likely won’t be an issue for you.
It’s also a little less spicy and punchy, especially for rye, but instead keeps the flavors balanced and light, which some drinkers prefer.
Old Forester Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey
The Old Forester Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey is a relatively — and perhaps ironically — newer addition to the Old Forester brand, as it was released 150 years after the company was founded.
However, the recipe itself is still quite historical, from 1940, and combines a mixture of 65% rye, 15% corn, and 20% malted barley.
This is a higher level of barley than other whiskeys, and it allows for an all-natural fermentation process.
The result is a rich, 100 proof whiskey with floral and sweet aromas, sharp and savory taste, and a dry, lemony finish. There’s no wonder it won Gold in the 2020 International Wine and Spirits Competition.
Woodford Reserve Rye
The Woodford Reserve Rye is a celebratory whiskey, perfect for both special occasions and nightcaps after hard working days.
It has won four gold medals among several other awards and uses a 53% rye ratio that pays homage to the pre-prohibition era.
The historical approach continues with a spicy tobacco note that dominates the flavor, complemented by floral, fruity, and sweet notes to balance things out.
Given this balance and its long finish and party-promoting overall taste, this is an excellent whiskey for making various cocktails and delightful celebratory drinks.
Plus, the Woodfire Reserve Distillery dates all the way back to 1812 and is a National Historic Landmark, so if notes of tobacco have turned you off, maybe the historical backing will keep you interested in at least giving this one a try.
Bulleit 95 Rye Whiskey
Bulleit 95 Rye Whiskey is another staple in the everyday man’s/woman’s home, as it offers easier access to offers award-winning tastes.
Bulleit Rye is not as historic as some of the other rye whiskeys, as it was only released in 2011. Still, it has already made a significant mark on the Kentucky rye whiskey scene, winning several medals, challenges, and distinctions.
Bulleit recommends that you combine this whiskey with sweet vermouth, elderflower, and Peychaud’s bitters for a gorgeous “Ryes Up” cocktail.
Wild Turkey 101 Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey
The Wild Turkey 101 Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey has a warm and smokey flavor that immediately complements the initial rich, complex aroma of vanilla caramel spice.
It doubles as a great sipping whiskey as well as a powerful mixer for cocktails. However, the best option for enjoying its lingering spicy finish is by drinking it straight or as an Old Fashioned.
Each bottle is aged at least four years, and this whiskey even won the Ultimate Spirits Challenge in 2020, among other awards.
It’s not too surprising, though, as Wild Turkey has been making bourbon for 75 years.
George Dickel Rye
George Dickel Rye Whiskey is another popular favorite amongst whiskey lovers.
George Dickel rye features a mash bill that is 95% rye and 5% malted barley. This is a spicy rye bottle, with a smooth finish that goes down easy straight or in classic cocktails.
This is one of the best rye whiskeys for an Old Fashioned, in my opinion.
This rye whiskey brand has a unique flavor in part due to the finish, which is chill filtered with charcoal. It has tasting notes of dill, citrus, and vanilla.
What is Rye Whiskey?
Rye whiskey must be made with at least 51% rye grain, although some rye whiskey brands use a higher percentage of it. In addition to the rye, distillers use corn, wheat, or barley to create the final mixture.
Because of this higher percentage of rye, it typically tastes grassier and spicier than other types of whiskey, which has a sweeter and softer flavor profile, or Scotch whiskey, which has a sharper and more malty flavor profile.
Ultimately, rye uses more rye, bourbon more corn, and Scotch more barley and wheat.
However, Rye whiskey can still come with many different flavor profiles, depending on the aromas, tasting notes, and finishing notes.
Some of the typical notes incorporated into rye whiskeys include but are in no way limited to vanilla, oak, peppers, toasted almonds, chocolate, mint, and honey.
Is Rye Whiskey Good for Sipping?
Rye whiskey is excellent for sipping, especially high-quality rye whiskey.
If a whiskey bottle is around 90-100 proof, Bottled In Bond, distilled in a charred barrel, and is at least four years old, it will be great for sipping.
If it is younger than that or does not meet these other quality specifications, it might still be good for sipping, but it might need a little bit of help from common whiskey agents like sweet vermouth and orange zest.
The two most common drinks people make with rye whiskey are Old Fashioneds and Manhattans.
Rye tends to have a distinct, bold, and memorable taste that whiskey lovers thoroughly enjoy. It is spicier than other types of whiskey and tends to leave a lasting, warm flavor that makes it suitable for sipping and celebrating alike.
We’ve listed some of the best rye whiskey brands on the market at various price points and are appropriate for diverse tastes and preferences.
If you are new to rye whiskey or are looking to challenge yourself to switch from your favorite brand, we hope that this article gave you more clarity on which brand to go for next.