Containing at least 51 percent rye and aged in newly charred oak barrels, rye is a favorite among whiskey aficionados. To be called rye whiskey, the liquor has to be produced exclusively in the U.S, and the best rye whiskeys often have a lighter body finish, but never lack their iconic spice and boldness.
“Lovers of whiskey variety rejoice—again, owing to the distinct, assertive flavor of rye, which even after mellowing in charred oak can kick around in your palate with a lively spiciness. Rye will also have notes of caramel and vanilla from the barrels, and, depending on how it’s aged or blended, might showcase a variety of other flavors. Rye doesn’t have specific aging minimums, but as with any whiskey, it benefits from some carefully regulated aging,” VinePair explains.
If you are in good health and choose to drink responsibly, rye whiskey is a pretty decent choice. Ringing in at just 140 calories per two-ounce pour and low in sugar and gluten, rye is a great option for even those who are trying to maintain a healthier lifestyle (in moderation, of course). And why not grab a snack while you’re at it? Research suggests that drinkers who opt for high-protein, lean foods consume fewer calories overall than people who abstain from drinking entirely. Such snacks include olives, popcorn, cocktail onions, deli meats, cheeses, raw veggies, dips and dried or fresh fruit.
Many of us turn to celebratory beverages in times of social occasions. A recent study even found that 1 in 6 adults “feel the best version of themselves” after enjoying a drink. These situations include family gatherings (43%), the first social outing with new colleagues (25%), and catching a flight (23%). Among the top situations in which people drink to feel their best are on nights out (55%), a holiday (48%), and someone else’s wedding day (43%). Now this is not to say that anyone should be drinking on a routine basis, but if the occasion calls for it, a glass of rye is a top-notch way to go.
Whether you’re looking for a nightcap on the rocks with an old friend, or a Sazerac to get the night started, with crowded shelves full of options, it can be hard to know where to start. StudyFinds visited 10 of the leading expert websites to find the best rye whiskeys out there. Our list is ranked based on the most-recommended rye whiskeys across these sites.
The List: Best Rye Whiskey, According To Experts
1. High West Whiskey Double Rye!
Bold, spicy and with bright botanical notes, High West’s Whiskey Double Rye is well-loved by many rye drinkers and considered among the best rye whiskeys available.
“From High West, Utah’s ski-in distillery, the Double Rye bottling is heavy on the spice, making it a great option for diehard rye fanatics who are heat-seekers at heart. It’s a blend of two different rye whiskeys (a younger spirit and an older spirit, both aged two years at minimum), and it’s designed to be twice as spicy as your average rye,” Liquor.com writes.
Due to its versatile flavor profile, reviewers love this rye in both top-shelf cocktails and neat.
“David Perkins is a creative distiller, and Double Rye! was among his first to push the envelope. He blends ryes from two to seven years old, including MGP’s famed 95/5 rye and its own 80 percent rye, 20 percent barley rye — spicey-meets-sweet, basically. The result is a whiskey that feels green and springy, with a strong, mellow finish,” Gear Patrol writes.
2. Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye
If you’re looking for luxury rye, or a really over-the-top wedding gift for your rye-loving friend, Thomas H. Handy’s Sazerac Rye is sure to impress.
“Rye novices need not apply. One of five bottles in Buffalo Trace’s mighty Antique Collection, Handy Saz is an uncut, unfiltered, max proof rye made from the same juice as the standard Sazerac bottling (known as ‘Baby Saz’). Each year’s release is a little different, but you can generally expect a five-finger rye (and alcohol) punch to the tastebuds. If you find a bottle at its $99 retail price, and you won’t, you should buy it immediately — bottles from the Antique Collection are typically sold for three- and four-times their SRPs, at minimum,” Gear Patrol writes.
The rye is named after the New Orleans bartender who reportedly first used rye whiskey in the Sazerac Cocktail. Notably, the Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye Whiskey won the 2022 Bronze Singapore World Spirits Competition, 2022 Silver Luxury Masters Asia, 2022 Gold New York World Wine & Spirits Competition and 2022 Best in Class/Gold Whiskies of the World.
3. Woodford Reserve Straight Rye Whiskey
Finding a rye whiskey worthy of some of the most delicious classic cocktails is not easy, but experts agree that Woodford Reserve’s Straight Rye Whiskey is the perfect star to your Old Fashioned or Manhattan.
“This rye uses a pre-prohibition style ratio of 53% rye in its mash bill to pay homage to history’s original rye whiskeys, making spice and tobacco the dominant note among a sea of fruit, floral and sweet aromatics, which yields a nice sweetness and overall balance,” Whiskey Raiders writes.
Notes of apple, mint, and honey make it a dream to drink neat, but even better in your drink of choice.
“It would seem that most bar menus these days feature a Bourbon Old Fashioned, but one made with rye gives the classic cocktail a spicier edge. If you haven’t had it yet, try Woodford Reserve’s Rye Whiskey, which earned a gold medal at the 2020 San Francisco World Spirits Competition,” The Spruce Eats writes. “The grain’s spice adds balance against the sweetness of the sugar and cherry, while the bitters play into the richness of the tobacco.”
4. Pikesville Straight Rye
Fruity, spicy and with a vanilla cinnamon finish, Pikesville’s 110 Proof Straight Rye is a fan-favorite among drinkers and whiskey competition judges.
“A ‘liquid gold’ whiskey. Pikesville was the last standing rye in Maryland when prohibition was repealed and we’re over the moon they made it. This classic rye comes with a bit of extra oomph – it takes a typical rye character of spice and caramel and bombards it with buttery and tropical flavors. A must try,” BBC Good Food writes.
The 110 proof liquor goes through six years of aging before being bottled. Though the name of the whiskey has stuck, it’s actually no longer made in the cozy Baltimore County town.
“Not long ago, Pikesville Rye was a bottom-shelf rye from the Potomac region. First distilled in 1895, the name was acquired by Heaven Hill in 1982, who began distilling it on-site in Kentucky. Then, in 2015, Heaven Hill launched an older, higher proof and much better version nationwide. The bottle was named runner-up for Jim Murray’s 2016 World Whisky of the Year, even though its price tag stays in the $50 range,” Gear Patrol writes.
5. Willet Family Estate Small Batch Rye
A well-balanced and herbal spirit, the Willet Family Estate Small Batch Rye makes for a solid and distinct choice in whiskey rye.
“The Four-Year Rye is a single barrel offering, so each batch is different from flavors to ABV (usually from 55 to 56 percent). But it’s always fruity with a heavy dose of peppery spice that will tickle any rye lover’s fancy. Bottles aren’t always available, so if you see one, grab it off the shelf and run to the register,” The Spruce Eats writes.
The family-owned distillery has been up and running for 120 years.
“Willet has quickly become one of the premier brands in the whiskey game, and their 4-year rye is considered one of the best on the market. It’s not always easy to find, but the fruit-forward mixture of flavors creates a super unique experience that you should try at least once,” Bourbon Inspector writes.
You may also be interested in these expert-recommended lists:
- Gear Patrol
- Vine Pair
- The Spruce Eats
- Bourbon Inspector
- Whiskey Raiders
- BBC Good Food
Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations.