stacked rye whiskey barrels

Best Rye Whiskey: Your Guide to a Bold Classic

There’s whiskey, and then there’s rye whiskey. Unlike traditional whiskey blends, rye whiskey is made from a mash bill that contains 51% rye and it presents you with a spicy and bold flavor that’s hard to ignore.

Rye whiskey is known for having an earthy or grassy taste, likely from the high rye content, which makes it a favorite for people who want a unique flavor profile compared to your average whiskey blend. It also contains other ingredients in the malt that can enhance or change the flavor profile, so keep this in mind when shopping for the whiskey you need.

Whether you want to dabble in rye whiskey or find your new rye whiskey of choice, you’re in the right place. Discover what rye whiskey is, what to look for in a specific blend, and the best rye whiskey options on the market.

Read on to learn everything you need to know about rye whiskey and how to find the best brands, flavors, and blends.

What You Need to Know About Rye Whiskey

Rye whiskey is making a comeback but because of its lack of popularity in recent years, it’s hard to know what to look for or what makes a good rye whiskey. To start, it’s paramount that you consider the flavor profile, which should be bold and spicy. If you prefer sweeter whiskeys, it’s better to consider a different blend or a combination of rye whiskey with another malt.

You’ll also want to consider how old the whiskey is and how much it costs, as well as whether or not it should be sipped or shot. If you’re looking for shots, well, any old rye whiskey will do. On the other hand, sipping rye whiskey needs to be smoother.

Rye Whiskey: An Overview

Rye whiskey has been around for decades and used to be one of the most popular types of whiskey in the 1940s and 1950s. However, it dwindled in popularity until its revival during the last decade. What propelled its comeback? Likely a craving for bold, spicy flavors that you can’t quite find in your average bottle of bourbon or scotch.

To be known as a rye whiskey, the liquor must have a mash bill that’s more than 51% rye, which is enough for your average shot-worthy rye whiskey. That said, some types of rye whiskey can be more like 90% rye, which is better for sipping on a relaxing evening.

How to Choose the Best Rye Whiskey?

If you run off to your local liquor store and pick up any old bottle of rye whiskey, you might have a bad time, so it’s important to consider a handful of factors first.

First and foremost, check the mash bill and the age of the whiskey. It’s typically made with 51% rye but the other 49% may contain corn, barley, and wheat. If you’re going to slam it back in a shot glass, this isn’t a huge deal, but if you want to sip your rye whiskey, we recommend having a high rye content to get that spicy flavor.

It’s also important to consider the age of the whiskey. Straight rye must be aged for at least two years but if you want a good bottle, look for something that’s been aged for at least four years. Anything less than four years will require an age statement, so check for that as well. Age and cask finish impact the flavor of the whiskey, so it’s a good idea to read the bottle or ask your bartender for more information.

The alcohol content and proof are also worth considering, especially if you’re aiming for a buzz. If you’re looking for a light buzz after a glass of whiskey, opt for a blend that has a lower alcohol content. However, if you’re trying to get sloppy, knock back shots or go for a stronger sipping whiskey.

Lastly, cost plays a big role in the quality of a whiskey. The cheap stuff is going to taste like cheap stuff, so it’s worth spending the extra money to get a nice bottle of rye whiskey. While some of the cheap stuff can taste good, you have to choose the best whiskeys under $100 if you want any chance of it being smooth.

What Does Rye Whiskey Cost?

Rye whiskey varies in price based on how long it’s been aged, the flavor, and if it’s a unique blend. Furthermore, imports can cost more and there might be one-off releases that are rarer and expensive.

On the low end, without getting a bad bottle of liquor, expect to pay about $40 for an entry-level rye whiskey. You can use this whiskey for taking shots or using mixed drinks. Plus, lower-cost rye whiskey makes for a great on-the-rocks drink with some garnish.

On the high end, expect to pay around $60-$80 for a good bottle of rye whiskey. This is the rye whiskey that you can drink straight without evening flinching unless it’s your first time, but you’ll get used to it.

You may also find some rye whiskeys that cost well over $100 but the quality and flavor only increase slightly as you reach those higher tiers.

Where Can You Buy Rye Whiskey?

Rye whiskey is growing in popularity but it’s still lagging behind some of the other big names like bourbon or scotch. Therefore, you might not always find it in your local dive or sports bar. If you plan on going to a more up-scale establishment, like a steakhouse, you have a much better chance of finding a palatable rye whiskey.

It’s also important to note that your local liquor store might have a limited assortment of rye whiskey depending on how well it sells.  While it can be a challenge to find an assortment of good rye whiskey options at your local liquor store, Speakeasy carries a wide range of the best rye whiskeys. Learn more about them below.

The Best Rye Whiskeys

The best rye whiskeys come down to flavor profile, age, and overall quality. Learn about some of our top picks for the best rye whiskey you can find.

Frey Ranch Bottled-In-Bond Straight Rye Whiskey

MSRP: $62.99

Proof: 100

Tasting Notes: Smooth and Spicy With Hints of Caramel Corn, Vanilla, Custard, and a Slightly Nutty Aftertaste.

Our Rating: 5 Stars

Frey Ranch Bottled-In-Bond Straight Rye Whiskey is an exceptional rye whiskey for an affordable price. It’s rare to find 5-year-old rye whiskey for less than $100, especially when it has a smooth and spicy flavor that you can sip all night without getting tired of it. In fact, you can drink it without ice, garnishes, or without mixers. That said, you can still drink it in a cocktail and enjoy the extra spice that it adds!

Frey Ranch Bottled-In-Bond Straight Rye Whiskey is also an award-winning whiskey. It won Double Gold at the San Francisco World Spirit Competition. Not every brand can win that award, so you know you’re getting a quality rye whiskey. The only drawback of this whiskey is that it’s not as strong as some of the other rye whiskeys you can find.

Pros:

  • Won Double Gold at the San Francisco World Spirit Competition
  • Excellent price
  • Packed with flavors
  • Good straight or in cocktails

Cons:

  • Not as strong as some other rye whiskey

Big Nose Kate Western Whiskey

MSRP: $41.99

Proof: 90

Tasting Notes: Dry Sherry and Cherry Fruit, Cereal Grain, Green Apple, Baking Spices, and Cocoa.

Our Rating: 4 Stars

Inspired by the Western Frontier of old, Big Nose Kate Western Whiskey is named after Big Nose Kate, who was the Hungarian-American wife of Doc Holliday, the famous gambler and gunfighter.

The stories of the time and Big Nose Kate’s contribution to the era inspired this whiskey and the mix of cultures that went into distilling it. In fact, the Wild West was more culturally diverse than most people know, and this went into making unique rye whiskey, which is what you get with a bottle of Big Nose Kate Western Whiskey.

Aside from the story of Big Nose Kate and the bottle’s heritage, it’s also a great-tasting whiskey for the price. While it’s more affordable than some other brands, it maintains a potent and pleasant fruity flavor. The fruity flavor is also complemented by baking spices and cocoa, which further enhances the flavor. While it’s not for everyone, the taste will take you back to the frontier.

It’s also important to note that this whiskey is made by Master Blender, Mellisa Hiem. She’s one of the few female distillers in the United States and resides in Portland, Oregon, where she brews some of the finest whiskey you can taste.

Pros:

  • Taste that resembles Old Western rye whiskey
  • Named after the famous Big Nose Kate, which gives you a story to tell
  • Wide range of flavors from start to finish

Cons:

  • People who dislike fruity whiskey may not like this product

Middle West Spirits White Rye Whiskey

MSRP: $46.99

Proof: 110

Tasting Notes: Sweet and Spicy With a Hint of Butterscotch and a Pepper-Spice Finish.

Our Rating: 4 Stars

Middle West Spirits White Rye Whiskey is a great-tasting cask-strength rye whiskey. While it’s potent, it maintains a smooth flavor profile that will sneak up on you if you decide to sip this whiskey. It’s also made with a unique mash bill that includes dark pumpernickel rye, which is where most of its flavor comes from.

Middle West Spirits White Rye Whiskey is also an award-winning whiskey. It achieved a bronze medal in the Berlin International Spirits Competition (2016) and a gold medal in the Beverage Testing Institute International Review of Spirits Best Buy (2014).

If you’re looking for a sweet rye whiskey, you can’t go wrong with a bottle of Middle West Spirits White Rye. However, if you dislike sweet rye whiskey this blend might not be for you.

Pros:

  • One of the few pumpernickel rye whiskeys available
  • Award-winning
  • Potent and smooth

Cons:

  • The sweet flavor isn’t for everyone

Flagship Rye

MSRP: $42.99

Proof: 99

Tasting Notes: Fresh Apple, Licorice Root, Pear, Walnut, and Honey

Our Rating: 4 Stars

Flagship Rye is made by Pinhook Whiskey, and this particular flagship whiskey was made by their Master Blender, Sean Josephs. The whiskey is aged for two years, which gives it a smooth flavor that goes great on the rocks or with a garnish. That said, it’s not as smooth as some whiskey that’s aged for three, five, or 10+ years. Still, you can’t complain about the low price point compared to some other rye whiskey products.

Another unique aspect of this whiskey is that it’s a combination of rye, corn, and barley. While it maintains the spicy flavor of rye whiskey, the corn and barley mash enhances the flavor and helps it reach a wider pallet. Overall, it’s one of our favorite rye whiskeys to start with if you’re unfamiliar with the taste.

Pros:

  • Great for people new to rye whiskey
  • Affordable price
  • Wide range of flavors

Cons:

  • Not as smooth as some other rye whiskey products

Romulan Ale Rye Whiskey

MSRP: $95.00

Proof: 100

Tasting Notes: Rye Graininess, Vanilla, Creaminess, Sweetness, and Spicy

Our Rating: 3 Stars

Big fan of Star Trek? If so, you’ll love the Romulan Ale Rye Whiskey. Featured in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, you can bring a staple beverage of the films into your liquor cabinet. Unlike other movie knock-offs, this rye whiskey was made with love and care. The whiskey is aged for more than two years and includes a 150-year-old yeast strain, which gives it a flavor that can help you taste history.

Another impressive aspect of this whiskey is that it’s double distilled, which gives it an even smoother flavor profile than most available rye whiskeys. Plus, the distillers brought in a food scientist to create a vacuum distillation process. This is unique and effective because it creates lower temperatures that enhance the flavor of the whiskey.

While it’s a great whiskey, that doesn’t mean it’s for everyone. If you’re not into this whiskey for the collectible nature of the bottle, the value might not be there for you.

Pros:

  • A staple of the Star Trek universe and collectible bottle
  • Made with a vacuum distillation process
  • Made with a 150-year-old yeast strain

Cons:

  • Expensive if you’re not a Star Trek fan

Get the Best Rye Whiskey Today!

glass of rye whiskey on barrel beside rye

When you’re sick of the dry, smoky, or fruity whiskeys, it’s time to dive into your wild side with a rye whiskey. Let the bold and spicy flavor blow you away, even if you’re only shooting it at your local dive bar it’s nice to try new things once in a while, and who knows; maybe rye whiskey can become a staple in your liquor cabinet.

Furthermore, rye whiskey is barreling its way back into the modern drinking scene. You’ll find it at bars, liquor stores, online, and just about anywhere you look, so it’s worth giving it a try to see if it matches your flavor palate.

Always drink responsibly and make sure you only select the best rye whiskey. Ultimately, you never want to introduce yourself to a new type of whiskey with a cheap brand that doesn’t cut it. Unfortunately, this could rub your taste buds the wrong way and ruin the experience. Thankfully, any of the rye whiskeys that we mentioned are a great place to get started.

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