Rye whiskey is an American staple, although they aren’t the only ones whipping up the spicy tipple.
The history of rye whiskey in North America dates back to the 18th century – by 1808, farmers in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania were distilling so much rye that they were selling half a barrel for each head in the country.
So, what makes a whiskey a rye whiskey? Quite simply, it has to be mostly made of rye – the mashbill (the recipe) must contain no less than 51 per cent rye grain – making it a close cousin of bourbon which must contain no less than 51 per cent corn.
Although they are close cousins, rye is a much spicier style of whiskey than bourbon. This is not to say that rye whiskey is a fireball in your mouth, it is better described as a beautiful ball of peppery fruit that melts away into a puddle of oaky caramel. If you fancy a tipple with a bit more of a kick, this is the style of whiskey for you.
The best rye whiskey taste tested
Pikesville 6-year-old 110 proof straight rye (55% ABV)
A ‘liquid gold’ whiskey. Pikesville were the last standing rye in Maryland when prohibition was repealed and we’re over the moon they made it.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 flavours. A must try.
Master of Malt (£71.95)
Colonel E.H. Taylor straight rye (50% ABV)
Jim Murray’s liquid gold award says it all, twice. This much venerated whiskey from Colonel E.H. Taylor is a benchmark of the rye style. Tantalisingly slick and syrupy rye is stretched out and wrapped around a goodie bag of fruits and fairground treats, with popcorn and butterscotch at the fore.
Distillers Direct (£96.99)
Bulleit rye (45% ABV)
A much revered and decorated rye whiskey from one of America’s most loved distilleries. Vanilla and tobacco oppose each other with deep red berries, white pepper and orchard fruits providing the glue in the middle of the pair. A complex but well balanced whiskey that’s impossible to put down.
Sazerac straight rye (45% ABV)
A whiskey with a well-earned place in history. This legendary rye was the base for America’s first ever branded cocktail. Hailing from the swinging streets of New Orleans, Sazerac is a decadent, syrupy and spicy whiskey that calls on you to indulge and waste a few hours.
Knob Creek rye (50% ABV)
Knob Creek know their way around a whiskey. The brand is part of the Jim Beam family and are well-famed for their bourbon. Knob Creek’s rye expression has proved a resounding success since its launch in 2012. This whiskey does the basics beautifully, marrying caramel and pepper with precision for an encompassing, smooth mouthful.
Michter’s US*1 straight rye (42.4% ABV)
Michter’s traces its ancestry all the way back to the first ever whiskey company in the United States. Famed for their unique small batch offerings, this straight rye expression brings freshly squeezed citrus together with burnt oak and cracked black pepper. Well balanced and undemanding, this is easy to sip all night long.
Kyrö No.8 single malt rye whiskey (47.2% ABV)
Kyrö are one of the funnest distilleries around. This select group of Finish folk produce spirits with the motto ‘in rye we trust’. Their commitment to the grain has produced some spectacular spirits, their whiskey is no exception. This bottle is slick with honey and vanilla with the right amount of dry pepper to keep you honest.
The Whisky Exchange (£61.95)
Master of Malt (£67.95)
Rittenhouse straight rye 100 Proof (50% ABV)
A ‘bottled-in-bond’ whisky from the much respected Heaven Hill Distillery, this distinctively Pensylvannian bottle is thick with chocolate orange and baking spices dominating. One to sip and savour as an after dinner treat.
WhistlePig 10-year-old (50% ABV)
A much respected rye whiskey from one of North America’s youngest top distilleries. This tipple is complex, drawing on every inch of your tastebuds, dragging you from buttery marzipan to black pepper and cloves and everywhere in between. Spicy, sweet and eminently sippable.
Jack Daniel’s single barrel rye (45% ABV)
You know the name but not like this. This single barrel rye is Jack Daniel’s’ first new grain whiskey in 150 years. This special edition offering is dry, sweet, spicy and fruity, with each polarising flavour profile married in perfect harmony. A straightforward easy sipper.
Rye whiskey cocktails
Put your bottle of rye whiskey to good use in one of our classic cocktail recipes.
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This review was last updated in June 2020. If you have any questions, suggestions for future reviews or spot anything that has changed in price or availability please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.