If you read my whiskey coverage here at UPROXX, you know that American rye whiskey is what excites me most about whiskey these days. The style of whiskey — hewn from a majority of rye grains, or at least 51% rye in the recipe if you want to get all legal-eagle about it — is where some of the most fun and innovative stuff is happening. That means that there’s a lot of great rye whiskey on the shelf right now, often right next to a lot of junk. It’s time to list some seriously good rye whiskeys, and help you avoid the trash.
For this exercise, I’m listing 20 rye whiskeys, (all from the U.S. in this case) worth adding to your bar cart, all in the $50 to $100 range. Yes, that’s on the pricier end of the standard stuff. But I’d argue that these bottles are worth the price of entry. They’re all unique, tasty, and have that little something extra that makes them worth seeking out.
As for the ranking, I’m going on taste alone. Think of it this way, the bottom half is a little less complex but still fully engaging while the top half is full of stone-cold killers. Sounds good? Let’s dive in!
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20. Old Elk Rum Cask Finish Rye
Average Price: $89
This is a five-year-old 95/5 (rye/malted barley) rye whiskey. The nuance there is in the finish. That 95/5 rye is re-barreled in 14-year-old Barbados rum barrels for a final two to five-month-long finishing touch. Those barrels are then touched with water before bottling.
Nose: There’s a clear sense of grilled pineapple and clove on the nose that leads to woody tropical spices and an overall feel of rummy tropical cocktails with plenty of spicy booze in them.
Palate: The palate leans into the woody spice bark with bitter orange, bright lemon, and a hint of lime leaves before delving into vanilla pods and a touch of warm tobacco.
Finish: The tobacco drives the finish toward a whisper of mango and pineapple with a dried and almost salted vibe before ending up in a nice and rummy-spiced note.
This is pretty nice and really highlights the rum well. Overall, I’d say this is a good rye whiskey for any dark rum fan out there as it balances both nicely. In the end, I’d also argue that this makes a nice Sazerac base too.
19. Journeyman Distillery Last Feather Rye Whiskey
Average Price: $52
This Michigan whiskey is a bit of a rye outlier thanks to a unique recipe. The mash is made from 60% rye and 40% wheat, making this one of the only high-wheat ryes on the market.
Nose: There’s a rich caramelized sense of grains and toffee on the nose next to vanilla cake with orange frosting and dusted with nutmeg and cinnamon.
Palate: The palate is lush, with a sense of marzipan dipped in dark chocolate with touches of vanilla, orange, and rose oils next to woody cinnamon bark and apple cores.
Finish: The end has a hint of vanilla tobacco next to toffee covered in almonds with a dash more cinnamon leading to cloves and sweetgrass.
This is lush and overflowing with vanilla vibes tempered by sharp spice. It makes a really good Manhattan base or an on-the-rocks sipper.
18. Catoctin Creek Rabble Rouser Rye Whiskey Bottled In Bond
Average Price: $96
This modern classic from Catoctin Creek is made from a 100% rye mash. The juice is distilled at a lower proof, which lets the graininess shine through in the end product, which is aged for four years before blending, proofing, and bottling.
Nose: The nose opens with a deep and sweet red fruitiness that gives way to a light winter spice mix, some caramel, and maybe a hint of Cream of Wheat cut with brown sugar.
Palate: There’s a light but dark orange citrus vibe on the palate that leads to lemon pepper, vanilla pudding cups, and more of that winter spice with a dash of bitter espresso bean.
Finish: The espresso note drives the finish toward clove buds and cinnamon bark with a creamy porridge crafty sweetness counterpoint.
This is just really well-made. It’s complex while still being 100% approachable. It’s pretty solid neat but really blooms with a little ice or water, opening up a creamier vibe throughout.
17. Redemption Sur Lee Straight Rye Whiskey
Average Price: $59
This new whiskey from Redemption is going deep on the “wine lees” method to draw out flavors from the spirit and wood. Very basically, when MGP is contract distilling Redemption’s 95% rye, they take the backset or “whiskey lees” that usually would be redistilled and instead put that into the barrel to activate the wood before the “heart cut” of rye distillate goes into the barrel for its aging period. The barrels are then rolled and rotated throughout that aging spell before vatting, non-chill filtering, proofing, and bottling.
Nose: The nose has a sense of bitter orange next to pecan and walnut shells with hints of dried apricot, dried apple chip, and floral honey.
Palate: The palate leans into the nuttiness with a sense of pecan waffle cooked in butter next to eggnog lattes and singed marshmallows with a hint of caraway rye bread crusts and a hint of fennel.
Finish: The end is lush with a hint of apple pie in a lard crust next to salted popcorn with a dash of brown butter before a woody sense of dried figs and old cedar leads to a whisper of cinnamon-orange on the finish.
This is another whiskey that really shines either as a cocktail base or sipper over some rocks. You really can’t lose with this one.
16. Old Ezra Straight Rye Whiskey Aged 7 Years
Average Price: $83
This new rye whiskey from Old Ezra, which usually focuses on bourbons, is a seven-year-old rye blend. The whiskey is a batch of barrels from a 51% rye whiskey and a classic 95% rye that aged for seven long years before bottling at full proof with charcoal filtration.
Nose: Hints of old leather and burnt citrus drive the nose toward fresh honey and vanilla cake with a hint of old oak and cellar funk.
Palate: The palate leans into the soft vanilla with a dash of burnt orange and leathery spice before some ABVs start buzzing on the tongue.
Finish: The end has a nice layer of orange and clove tobacco with a hint of old oak and vanilla honey cookies.
This is clean and tasty rye. It hits classic notes while leaning into Kentucky sweetness. Overall, I’d say use it for your cocktails or on the rocks pours.
15. Rabbit Hole Boxergrail Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey
Average Price: $52
This crafty distillery makes its rye with 95% rye and malted barley right in Louisville (and via contract distilling). The 95/5 rye hot juice is aged for three years in heavily toasted and charred barrels before batching, proofing, and bottling.
Nose: This has an interesting nose that’s part spicy pork stew (chili, umami, fat) with bright peaches, vanilla, and summer wildflowers as a counterpoint.
Palate: The palate has a hint of old cedar next to cream soda, white pepper, and crusty rye bread with a hint of caraway seed and maybe some dry fennel.
Finish: The finish brings in heavily spiced chewy tobacco packed into an old cedar box with creamy vanilla and a dash more of that powdery white pepper.
This is a nice and funky rye. It’s a great pairing whiskey for taco night or a big and messy Reuben sando.
14. Pikesville 110 Proof Straight Rye Whiskey
Average Price: $49
This is a real throwback rye whiskey. Pikesville Rye was at the center of the Maryland rye whiskey scene until Prohibition put it in the grave. Heaven Hill saved the brand and moved the production to Kentucky while holding onto the whiskey’s traditions of longer aging and higher proofing.
Nose: The nose pulls you in with a mix of dark cocoa powder packed into a cedar box with a touch of rye bread, caraway seed, and salted butter with this thin line of spiced honey.
Palate: The taste leans into clove and salted black licorice with that spiced honey leaning a little floral next to a touch of dry singed cedar bark.
Finish: The end mellows significantly towards a vanilla pudding spiked with eggnog spices and a touch more of that dark chocolate shaved overtop with a hint of spiced caramel sauce.
This is a good mid-range rye that offers big flavor notes and real depth. While I’d tend to mix this into whiskey-forward cocktails, it works perfectly well on the rocks.
13. FEW Straight Rye Whiskey Bottled In Bond
Average Price: $55
This brand-new rye from Illinois’ FEW Spirits is a follow-up to last year’s Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon from the brand. The whiskey is made from a mash of 70% rye, 20% corn, and 10% malted barley. That hot juice is then mellowed in both standard 53-gallon barrels and smaller 30-gallon barrels for about four years before batching, proofing, and bottling.
Nose: The nose opens with a mix of salted black licorice, cherry root beer, and mint chocolate chip next to old porch wicker and boot leather.
Palate: The palate has a nice balance of cinnamon candy with dark milk chocolate just kissed with dried chili flakes and woody allspice before a hint of black cherry tobacco kicks in.
Finish: That tobacco vibe continues on the finish as the allspice, sweet cinnamon, and cherry counter a slight sense of whole black peppercorns.
This is nice and punchy with a sharp and varied spiciness next to fun flavors. It’s a great cocktail rye that also nails it as a sipper on some ice.
12. Pursuit United Blended Straight Rye Whiskeys Finished in Sherry French Reserve Oak
Average Price: $75
This brand-new rye from the team over at Bourbon Pursuit is a masterful blend. The juice is hewn from Bardstown Bourbon Company’s 95/5 Kentucky rye batched with two Sagamore Spirit ryes — one a 95/5 and one 52/43/5 rye/corn/malted barley. Those whiskeys are batched and re-barreled into a French sherry reserve cask for a final rest before batching, proofing, and bottling.
Nose: There’s a sense of dark fruits — black cherry, dates, rum raisin — on the nose that leads to soft and sweet oak next to worn leather, mulled wine, and brandy-soaked fig cut with nutmeg and clove.
Palate: The taste is more on the woody side of the spice with a clear sense of old-school mulled wine with sweet vanilla and star anise over orange rinds and raisins with a slight chili warmth underneath.
Finish: The chili warmth drives the finish toward a soft red-wine-soaked oak that’s spiced with orchard barks and fruits next to vanilla/cherry tobacco just kissed with dark chocolate.
This has really grown on me this year. It’s nuanced and delicate while offering depth and boldness. I like it over a big piece of ice or in a Manhattan.
11. Bardstown Bourbon Company Origin Series Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey Finished in Toasted Cherry Wood and Oak Barrels
Average Price: $69
This whiskey — from Bardstown Bourbon Company’s own Origin Series — is their classic 95/5 rye that’s aged for almost five years. Then the whiskey is finished with alternating toasted American oak and toasted cherry wood staves in the barrel. Once the whiskey is just right, it’s batched, proofed, and bottled.
Nose: The nose is classic with fresh cherry layered with nasturtiums, cinnamon sticks, and soft cedar planks just kissed with clove, nutmeg, and anise before light red peppercorns and brandy-soaked cherries dipped in salted dark chocolate kick in.
Palate: The palate follows the nose’s lead with a lush mouthfeel that’s full of spicy stewed fruits and ciders mixing with creamy vanilla and nutty bases over subtle chili pepper spiciness far in the rear of the taste.
Finish: The end pushed the woody spices toward an apple cider/choco-cherry tobacco mix with a cedar box and old leather vibe tying the whole taste together.
I had this paired with lamb and black lentil curry the other day and it absolutely popped with the South Asian spices.
10. Knob Creek Single Barrel Select Rye
Average Price: $66
This is Knob Creek’s famed rye whiskey in a single-barrel format. Those barrels are usually barreled at cask strength or cut down to a consistent 115 proof. In this case, we’re looking at a barrel pick by The Ballard Cut for their bar.
Nose: The nose is full of green herbs like dill and mint next to a dollop of floral honey and plenty of barrel char.
Palate: A hint of rye bread crust sneaks in early on the palate before black pepper gives way to dried chili pods, a hint of vanilla pudding with cinnamon, and dark cherries.
Finish: The barrel builds with the spices on the finish before dark chocolate powder, candied pecans, and creamy vanilla smooth everything out for a soft finish.
I really love this rye. It’s deep, bold, and balanced. You feel the Kentucky sweetness sneaking into the sharp edges of spice, creating nuance from top to bottom. Overall, I’d sip this neat or on a rock or two or in a simple, whiskey-forward cocktail.
9. Jefferson’s Single Barrel Straight Rye Whiskey Finished in Cognac Casks
Average Price: $59
This release from Jefferson’s leans on masterfully selected barrel picks. The sourced whiskey is picked from single barrels of cognac-finished rye whiskey and bottled with a touch of proofing water at Jefferson’s Kentucky bottling facility.
Nose: Soft old leather and meaty raisins with a good dose of sharp cinnamon cut with floral and fresh honey with a mild creaminess.
Palate: The palate is plummy and full of lush vanilla with a plum pudding vibe next to a hint of orange studded with cloves while soft nutmeg smoothes everything out.
Finish: The end brings the fresh honey back and laces it with rich and almost burnt orange oils next to a mix of old cedar bark and dry cinnamon wrapped in dry tobacco.
This is another whiskey that’s just good. I love pairing this with fresh oysters, and seafood in general.
8. Russell’s Reserve Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey Single Barrel
Average Price: $69
This hand-selected single-barrel expression hits on some pretty big classic rye notes with Kentucky bourbon vibes underneath it all. The whiskey is selected from the center cuts of the third through fifth floors of the Wild Turkey rickhouses. There’s no chill filtering and the expression is only slightly touched by water before bottling.
Nose: The nose is full of dark orchard fruits, soft vanilla pods, old oak staves with a hint of old barrel house funk, and a mix of spicy orange rind next to freshly cracked black pepper and sharp cinnamon powder.
Palate: The palate leans into the cinnamon and layers it into chewy and buzzy tobacco with hints of vanilla sweetness, cherry bark woodiness, and sharp fancy root beer vibes.
Finish: The end pings on that old musty rickhouse one more time as a humidor full of vanilla, cherry, and cinnamon-spiced tobacco fades towards a rich and buttery toffee with a hint of rye fennel on the very backend.
If you’re looking for that quintessential Kentucky rye for the bourbon lover in your life, this is it.
7. Redwood Empire Emerald Giant Rye Whiskey Cask Strength
Average Price: $70
This brand-new whiskey from cult-favorite Redwood Empire out in Sonoma, California, takes their tried-and-true method of blending California, Indiana, and Kentucky whiskeys to the next level. The blend ended up being a lightly wheated rye with a mash bill of 94% rye, 5% malted barley, and a mere 1% wheat. The barrels were all a minimum of four years old (with some reaching past six years) when batched and bottled as-is.
Nose: This opens with a soft leatheriness that’s embued with dry chamomile tea, burnt orange, dark cherry bark, and old cinnamon sticks that spent too much time in mulled wine with a hint of sour cherry and tart apple.
Palate: The palate amps up the tea leaf vibe with lush Earl Grey next to dark chocolate-covered espresso beans flaked with salt and maybe some dried nasturtiums that build out the spices toward a spiced winter cake.
Finish: Those baked winter spices lead back to a soft creamy espresso dusted with nutmeg and dark chocolate powder and layered into a spiced tobacco leaf rolled with cedar bark.
Redwood Empire really hit it out of the park with this release. It’s deep and fun with its own unique tone. It’s nice neat, over some ice, or in a cocktail.
6. BLACKENED Rye The Lightning Kentucky Straight Rye Double Cask Finished in Madeira and Rum Casks
Average Price: $95
This whiskey from Metallica and master distiller and blender Rob Dietrich is made from barrels Dietrich picked himself. Those barrels were between five and eight years old when they were batched and then re-filled into rum and Madeira barrels and blasted with music for a final maturation. The final result is made from a blending of those barrels with a touch of water to bring it down to proof.
Nose: The nose opens with a soft layer of prunes and dates with a hint of tart berry next to suede, pine resin, and an echo of dry straw.
Palate: The palate is part black pepper and part leathery prunes with a creamy vanilla underbelly and more of those dark berries.
Finish: The end comes with more layers of ground almonds, old cinnamon sticks, minty honey, and a touch of raw sugar sweetness with a lush finish.
This is another that’s just damn fine whiskey. Drink it however you like to drink whiskey while listening to Metallica, of course.
5. Starlight Distillery Single Barrel Huber’s Cigar Batch Rye Whiskey Finished in Amburana Barrels
Average Price: $79
This rye from craft distiller Starlight Distillery — part of the Huber Farm and Winery in Southern Indiana — is all about that finish. The four and five-year-old rye whiskey is re-loaded into Brazilian Amburana barrels and left to rest until just right. Finally, the best barrels are batched and then bottled completely as-is.
Nose: There’s a clear nuttiness on the nose that mixes Brazil nuts with creamy almond and pecan waffles next to soft leather and a mild sense of white pepper and chili powder.
Palate: The palate has a creaminess that’s kind of like mochi or chai mocha latte with a tobacco spiciness, cedar bark, and more of that creamy nuttiness with a hint of pear and maybe some more white pepper.
Finish: The end leans into the white pepper and mochi with a rush of apple cider and clove tobacco packed into a cedar box with a hint of resin and macadamia nut dipped in dark chocolate sauce.
You’re going to be hearing a lot about Brazilian Amburana Barrels in the coming months and years. This is a great place to start on that funky journey. Add a little water or ice to really get the creamy nuttiness amped up in this one.
4. Sagamore Spirit Reserve Series Sherry Finish 2022
Average Price: $79
This is Sagamore Spirit’s signature rye whiskey (95/5 rye/malted barley) that’s aged for four long years. That whiskey is then re-barreled into 132-gallon Pedro Ximénez sherry casks for an additional 18-month-long rest. Finally, those barrels are batched, proofed a tad, and bottled.
Nose: The nose is a deep mix of old oak staves dipped in a mash of dates, figs, and prunes with cinnamon, black licorice, and clove next to soft leather pouches full of fresh pipe tobacco with a hint of apricot and blackberry in the mix.
Palate: The palate opens with soft marzipan laced with orange oils and dipped in salted dark chocolate with sticky toffee pudding, minced meat pieces, orange marmalade, and creamy honey.
Finish: The end leans into the dark and almost bitter dark chocolate with a hint of espresso bean before a mild sense of old oak leads to a nutty and dark orange-forward finish.
This is good whiskey. Buy it. Enjoy it.
3. Stellum Rye The Lone Cypress
Average Price: $99
Named for one of the world’s most famous trees, this whiskey is all about finding the funky forest in the flavor profile of a brand-new rye whiskey. The blend was created by the awesome team at Barrell Craft Spirits to accentuate woodier notes before it was bottled at cask strength.
Nose: There’s a light pine resin vibe on the nose with a bushel of dried savory green herbs — think sage, thyme, rosemary, tarragon — next to old leather and dried sour cherries tossed in kosher salt.
Palate: The palate has a note of that pine with a soft orange rind next to a spiced winter cake with dried fruit, walnuts, and wintry spices.
Finish: The end is slightly warm thanks to high ABVs with a sense of those salted cherries and pine resin leading to a dry finish.
Stellum never fails to impress. This whiskey is a killer rye that works however you want to use/drink it.
2. Rare Character Presents Single Barrel Series Straight Kentucky Rye Whiskey Cask Strength
Average Price: $79
This rare whiskey from Rare Character’s team is a Kentucky rye made from 95% rye and 5% malted barely. The hot juice went into the barrel back in May of 2016. In October of 2022, the Rare Character crew bottled this one barrel of great whiskey completely as-is.
Nose: The nose opens with a classic sense of winter spices — cinnamon barks, whole cloves, freshly ground nutmeg, star anise — next to creamy nog spiked with vanilla and salted toffee with an all-around leatheriness that’s countered by red pepper sharpness.
Palate: The red pepper sharpness gets woody on the palate with a balance of creamy and soft sweet notes tied to vanilla, stewed pear, and prunes countered by woody winter spices soaked in apple cider and baked into mince pies.
Finish: The woodiness of the spices kicks up near the end with a rich and chewy tobacco finish that’s layered with stewed pear, old cherry bark, and wild smudging sage.
This is where we get into the transcendent stuff. This is pure rye in its boldest form. Add a touch of water to let it bloom or use it to make one hell of a Manhattan.
1. Wild Turkey Rare Breed Barrel Proof Rye
Average Price: $71
This rye is a blend of the great rye barrels in the Wild Turkey rickhouses. The whiskey is built from four, six, and eight-year-old barrels, blended, then bottled without chill filtration or any proofing water.
Nose: This is a masterclass in what rye “spice” can be with subtle notes of black pepper next to Christmas spices counterpointed by pine resin dank and sweet cherry root beer.
Palate: The palate brings about a velvet texture with notes of vanilla and dark chocolate cake next to stewed cherries — a very Black Forest cake vibe — before the rye sourdough bread funk and herbal essence kick in with a light firewood pitchiness.
Finish: By the end, there’s a balance of all that spice, wood, resin, and subtle fruitiness that lasts on the long and sharp finish.
This is a perfect rye whiskey. It’s balanced, nuanced, and just tastes really, really good.