Similar to a smoky, peated Scotch whisky, rye whiskeys aren’t for everyone. If you prefer your whiskey velvety smooth and full of corn sweetness than you should just stick to your tried and true bourbon expressions (we won’t hold it against you). But if you like a whiskey that balances smoothness with a peppery bite, look no further than rye whiskey.
This style of whiskey — made with at least 51% rye grains — has seen a bit of a resurgence in the last decade, with myriad expressions hitting shelves from some of the largest whiskey producers, as well as craft distilleries throughout the country (and the world). Since the market is now flooded with rye, we figured that the best course of action was to once again ask the experts. So we hit up our favorite bartenders and asked them to tell us the rye whiskeys they wish more people knew about.
E.H. Taylor Straight Rye
Ellen Talbot, lead bartender at Fable Lounge in Nashville
I’m going to go a little higher priced with this one. EH Taylor Rye. It brought out all of the things I love about rye whiskey. It’s spicy, peppery, and well-balanced. It tastes straight-up otherworldly.
Whistle Pig Boss Hog V
Matt Shields, bartender at The Bay Restaurant in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida
This one hits a little in the heart for me. Whistle Pig Boss Hog V. I had the pleasure of meeting Dave Pickerell a few years back. It was a random encounter that turned into a fun and personal whiskey education night. He truly was a rock star in the whiskey world. Still, one of the best ryes I’ve ever had.
Wild Turkey 101 Rye
Jessi Lorraine, bartender at Elda in San Francisco
I really love Wild Turkey 101 Rye because it has a great mixture of spicy pepper and velvety smoothness. It starts with a kick of spice upfront but ends with the proper amount of sweetness at the back end.
Standard Proof Golden Rye
Kelly Gable, bar manager at Josephine in Nashville
That’s an easy one. I’m a huge fan of Standard Proof Whiskey Company. They started off initially infusing coffee in rye whiskey (Red Eye Rye), which is so versatile as an aperitif, digestif, for brunch–you name it. I was intrigued by them at first because they’re local to Nashville, and I’m a big fan of lowering carbon footprints. Then they blew me away with their new full line of infused ryes. My favorite is probably their Golden Rye which is infused with pineapple. In the age of the tiki comeback, this rye is the perfect base to get creative and fun. I think their whiskey is amazing for people at home, too. Don’t have fresh mint or ginger? Don’t have an in-depth range of syrups like the bar does? No problem: easy at-home juleps and mules. Boom.
Blake Jones, bartender and director of beverage at The Kennedy in Pensacola, Florida
I have to go with Rittenhouse Rye here. It’s just a great whiskey, that’s all there is to it. It makes for a mean cocktail and just has that punch you want in a rye at a great price.
Dad’s Hat Rye
Danielle Becker, bartender at the Aspen Meadows Resort in Aspen, Colorado
Dad’s Hat Rye out of Bristol Pennsylvania, one of the largest rye producers in the country. This rye is absolutely divine; using both malted and un-malted rye really creates a phenomenal sweet citrus to complement that rye spice. I love this whiskey and the small local name behind it.
Basil Hayden’s Caribbean Reserve Rye
Freddy Concepcion Ucan Tuz, bartender at JW Marriott in Cancun, Mexico
Basil Hayden’s Caribbean Reserve Rye. It’s a perfect rye whiskey for the summertime, a spirit that is compatible with rum. A blend of Basil Hayden’s Kentucky straight rye whiskey with a 4-year-old Canadian rye whisky. The blend is then finished with the addition of blackstrap rum. So it’s a rye with gentle spice, toasted oak, and vanilla with some sweet notes of brown sugar and molasses. Perfect to drink straight or mix it into a mai tai cocktail.
Lot No. 40 Rye
Wesley MacDonald, owner of Caña Bar and Kitchen in Curaçao
Lot No. 40 from Hiram Walker Distillery in Windsor, Ontario. Simple, but well-executed rye whiskey, great for cocktails such as a Manhattan and old fashioneds or as a tasty sipper. Also, the master blender, Dr. Don Livermore knows his craft and you can tell by tasting his whiskeys.
Copper Fox Rye
Melissa Mickles, manager of King of Clubs Brewing Company in Williamsburg, Virginia
My favorite rye whiskey is from Copper Fox Distillery. It’s spicy, sweet, and perfect for sipping or in cocktails. We use it in our Clara Bow cocktail. We add a shot of our espresso and oat milk, the milk helps the coffee and whiskey flavors blend.
Hillrock Double Cask Rye
David Powell, brand ambassador for Hudson Whiskey
Outside of Hudson (which I’m working on making more and more people aware of every day!), I’d probably say Whistlepig and Hillrock, because those two whiskeys say so much about Dave Pickrell as a distiller, and I consider him to have been (and he continues to be) an absolute titan in our industry. I only wish that he was still with us to keep pushing the envelope.
K-O Distilling Bare Knuckle Rye
Amber Davis-Sato, manager of Dog Street Pub in Williamsburg, Virginia
K-O Distilling Bare Knuckle Straight Rye Whiskey. I can and do drink this year-round, but the extra spice from the rye helps keep you warm as cooler spring weather fades to summer.