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If you’re in the market for the best rye whiskey you can find, there are some factors to consider—even though the category is pretty rigidly defined, there are differences in style, cask finishes, alcohol content and even mashbill to take into account. The good news is that there are so many excellent choices of rye whiskey brands out there for you, so we’ve put together this list to help steer you towards some of the best to buy in different categories. Happy hunting, and cheers.
Our Best Rye Whiskey Picks
- Best Overall Rye Whiskey: Knob Creek Rye
- Best Barrel-Proof Rye Whiskey: Wild Turkey Rare Breed
- Best Cask-Finished Rye Whiskey: Barrell Seagrass
- Best Rye Whiskey Under $100: High West Rendezvous Rye
- Best Rye Whiskey Under $50: Old Overholt Straight Rye
- Best Rye Whiskey for Cocktails: Michter’s US 1 Kentucky Straight Rye
- Best Craft Rye Whiskey: 291 Colorado Rye Whiskey
- Best Single Barrel Rye Whiskey: New Riff Single Barrel Rye
- Best Splurge Rye Whiskey: WhistlePig The Boss Hog
- Best 100 Percent Rye Whiskey: Alberta Premium Cask Strength
- Best Bottled in Bond Rye Whiskey: Sagamore Spirit Bottled in Bond Straight Rye Whiskey
Best Overall Rye Whiskey
Knob Creek Rye
This rye whiskey from Knob Creek, part of the Jim Beam Small Batch Collection, just got a new seven-year-old age statement. But that’s not the real reason this is the best rye whiskey out there. At 100 proof, it’s sturdy enough to use in a cocktail or sip on its own, and the Kentucky style mashbill of somewhere just above the legally required 51 percent rye grain means there’s a bit of spice, but also loads of sweet vanilla, tannic oak, and butter caramel notes on the palate.
Best Barrel-Proof Rye Whiskey
Wild Turkey Rare Breed Rye
Wild Turkey is better known for its 101-proof bourbon, but the distillery has been making rye whiskey for decades as well. This barrel-proof rye, part of the Rare Breed line, debuted just three years ago in 2020, and it’s a fantastic high-ABV whiskey. At 112.2 proof, it’s assertive but not overpoweringly so like other barrel-proof whiskeys which can soar well above the 120-degree mark. This whiskey is also made from a mashbill of just above 51 percent rye grain, giving it a versatility that others might lack.
Best Cask-Finished Rye Whiskey
We’re big fans of Barrell Craft Spirits, a Louisville company that sources, finishes, and blends whiskeys into sums that are greater than the parts. Seagrass is a fantastic example of this, a cask-strength blend of rye from America and Canada that is finished separately in three different types of barrels—Martinique rhum, madeira wine, and apricot brandy. The resulting whiskey is fruity, spicy, and ripe with raisin and dried fruit notes. This whiskey even made our Best of the Best Spirits list of 2021.
Best Rye Whiskey Under $100
High West Rendezvous Rye
High West is a Utah distillery that produces its own whiskey, but has built its reputation upon sourcing barrels from others and blending them into consistently excellent expressions. The distillery also does bourbon and single malt, but rye has been its staple since its founding. Rendezvous Rye is the flagship whiskey for High West, and while it has changed over the years the current iteration is a blend of 95 percent rye from MGP in Indiana and 80 percent rye/20 percent malted rye produced in-house. This is a steal at less than $100, and should be a part of your home bar.
Best Rye Under $50
Old Overholt Straight Rye
Old Overholt is proof that you don’t have to shell out a lot of cash for a dependable rye whiskey. This brand, produced at the James B. Beam Distilling Co. in Kentucky, is an affordable rye that will make any cocktail sing. The brand has been upgraded in recent years—it now has a four-year-old age statement and the proof has been raised to 86. There is a bottled-in-bond version available as well, but this bottle is readily available and always reliable.
Best Rye Whiskey for Cocktails
Michter’s US 1 Kentucky Straight Rye
Michter’s has mostly transitioned to bottling whiskey distilled at its Shively, Kentucky distillery for its core lineup, but over the years it has contract distilled and sourced bourbon and rye, and most of it has been very good. The flagship rye whiskey is a single barrel release that is bottled at 84.8 proof, and happens to be a superb cocktail component. The flavor will vary a bit depending on which barrel it came from, but expect notes of toffee, apple, and baking spice on the palate, which is bold enough to stand out in any classic or new-school whiskey drink you can think of.
Best Craft Rye Whiskey
291 Colorado Rye Whiskey
Distillery 291 is a Colorado craft distillery that focuses on rye whiskey with a special twist—each expression is finished with toasted Aspen wood staves to impart an extra burst of flavor into the liquid. There are other 291 expressions available, ranging from barrel-proof to limited-edition bourbons, but if you’re looking for a high-quality craft rye whiskey, check this bottle out. Colorado whiskey continues to impress, and this rye whiskey is a stellar example of how good the the whiskey coming out of that state can be.
Best Single Barrel Rye Whiskey
New Riff Single Barrel Rye
New Riff has made a big impact on the world of Kentucky whiskey since its founding nearly a decade ago. The distillery makes bourbon and rye that is bottled-in-bond, non-chill filtered, and can compete with anything else out there in the crowded whiskey field. The flagship rye whiskey is certainly worth tasting, but the single barrel version is also a great one to seek out. While single barrel whiskey is, by its very nature, inconsistent, this rye whiskey is a safe bet. It’s made from a mashbill of 95 percent rye grain, giving it ample notes of spice and licorice to complement the oak and vanilla picked up from its time aging in a barrel.
Best Splurge Rye Whiskey
WhistlePig The Boss Hog
WhistlePig is a Vermont distillery that has been sourcing rye whiskey from America and Canada since it was founded in 2007, virtually creating the premium rye category here in America. The core lineup is very good, but the distillery’s Boss Hog series is worth a splurge (be prepared to shell out at least $500 for one of these bottles). The ninth in the series is called Siren’s Song, a single barrel rye whiskey finished in fig nectar and Greek tentura barrels—the latter is a spicy liqueur that was made at the distillery. Like previous Boss Hog releases, this whiskey is unique and worth the time and expense involved in seeking it out.
Best 100 Percent Rye Whiskey
Alberta Premium Cask Strength
A rye whiskey made from a mashbill of 100 percent rye grain stands out. There are many distilleries making this type of whiskey, but Alberta Distillers has been doing it longer and better than most. Other brands source and bottle whiskey from this Calgary distillery, but its own Alberta Premium Cask Strength is one of the best. This is a high-ABV whiskey released in batches—the latest clocked in at over 130 proof. But cool it down with a little ice or some water and you’ll soon realize what this intense whiskey brings to the world of rye with its complex palate balanced between spicy and sweet.
Best Bottled in Bond Rye Whiskey
Sagamore Spirit Bottled in Bond Straight Rye Whiskey
Like many other newer distilleries, Baltimore’s Sagamore Spirit has been sourcing whiskey over the years. But the team has also been distilling its own rye, and this Bottled in Bond expression is proof of the quality of the in-house produced liquid. “Bottled in bond” means the whiskey must be bottled at 100 proof and aged for a minimum of four years. The latest batch is made from a blend of high-rye and low-rye mashbills, aged for five years, and provides all of the spice and oaky char that you expect from a rye whiskey worth the barrel it was aged in.
What is rye whiskey?
There are some key requirements for a whiskey to be called rye whiskey. It must be made in the USA from at least 51 percent rye grain and aged in new charred oak containers (virtually always barrels). It cannot be distilled to more than 160 proof, cannot go into a barrel at more than 125 proof, and must be bottled at a minimum of 80 proof. If there’s an age statement, it must list the youngest whiskey in the bottle. Straight rye whiskey means it’s been aged for at least two years, and if it’s less than four years old the age must be on the label. And unless it’s labeled as straight rye whiskey, a small amount of coloring or flavoring can be added to rye whiskey.
How should you drink rye whiskey?
The short answer is however you like it. There is no wrong or right way to enjoy rye. If you prefer cocktails, there are plenty of options and it goes well with other ingredients—the Manhattan is a classic rye whiskey cocktail, for example. But consider trying rye on its own as well to explore the flavors. A Glencairn glass is a good way to nose and taste it neat, and some people like to add a splash of water. A tumbler works just fine if you’d like to add some ice. Just remember to drink it in the way that you like best.
How did we choose the rye whiskeys on this list?
We considered different factors when picking these rye whiskeys, with the emphasis being on taste. Because after all, despite a bottle’s availability or the hype surrounding it, that is the most important thing. Tasting rye involves a combination of sensations, including the nose, palate, mouthfeel and finish. And each category has different characteristics, so part of the process is to consider how an individual pick fits into its style overall. The bottles on this list represent the best rye whiskeys based on all of these options, providing a good overview of selections you can easily purchase in person or online that are outstanding examples of each individual category.
Why should you trust us?
Jonah Flicker has been writing about whiskey and other spirits for nearly a decade, visiting distilleries around the world to meet the people behind the bottles and find out more about their stories. He is a judge for the John Barleycorn Awards, and his work has appeared in many national other lifestyle outlets besides Robb Report, including Esquire, Food & Wine, CNN, USA Today and more.