If you're already a bourbon drinker but want to branch out a little or you'd like a spirit that's a little spicier and less sweet, rye whiskey is what you're looking for. Distilled in America since 1607, rye whiskey was once the most popular spirit in the country but was later replaced by the slightly sweeter bourbon whiskey. For lovers of a proper Manhattan, the spiciness of rye whiskey is no surprise, but for those new to the expression, it may be a bit of a shock.
For an American rye whiskey, by law, the mash bill must contain at least 51% rye with the remainder usually consisting of a mix of corn and malted barley. Said whiskey must also be aged in charred, new American oak barrels that impart the quintessential vanilla and caramel notes inherent to American-style whiskeys. Whether you're enjoying rye whiskey neat, on the rocks, or in a cocktail, we're just happy that you're enjoying it.
We're big fans of rye here at The Manual, so we’ve pulled together a healthy stable of some of the best rye whiskeys under $90. You may not be able to get all of these everywhere in the country, but you’re more than likely to find some of them. (Note: The prices that we’ve listed are an average, so they may vary slightly depending on where you are.)
This is one of the rye whiskeys that has been around the longest. Dating back to the early 1800s, Old Overholt has produced quality rye for a very long time. Solid price point and a taste that won’t turn your stomach, you can’t go wrong, especially if you’re on a budget.
A go-to for many a bartender, Rittenhouse Rye is a great buy for the price, thanks to its higher alcohol content (100 proof). This allows the flavors of the whiskey to shine through in any number of cocktails. Whether you’re looking for a spirit-forward Manhattan or something with a few more ingredients, you’re going to know you’ve got a solid backbone in Rittenhouse.
Old Forester goes with about 65% rye in its mash bill, putting the grain very much in the spotlight. The resulting whiskey is floral, malty, and a tad spicy, showing dried cinnamon and baked apple. The brand's founder, George Garvin Brown, is credited with bottling the first American bourbon in glass back in 1870.
Wild Turkey 101
One of the best values on the market, Wild Turkey 101 rye is full of everything we look for in a whiskey. Spicy and peppery with the right amount of sweet back notes of vanilla, this rye is our go-to for anything from a Manhattan and old fashioned to a weekday neat pour after a long day.
High West Double Rye!
High West’s Double Rye! may not be something that the brand itself has distilled, but you’ll realize that means little when you taste Double Rye! A blend of 2-year-old and 16-year-old rye whiskeys, Double Rye! is a sweet and spicy whiskey that somehow manages to have both the liveliness of youth and the complexity of age.
George Dickel Rye Whisky
What makes George Dickel Rye stand out from the rest is the Lincoln County Process — charcoal filtering that it does to make the Tennessee whiskey. When the rye is put through that filtration process, it produces a smooth texture that also manages to keep the spicy characteristics of the rye.
Made with 95% rye and 5% malted barley, Redemption Rye is a whiskey for those who especially love rye spices. This whiskey, which is sourced from Midwestern Grain Products, is a solid option when you want a good-looking bottle behind your bar that you’ll probably be using in a variety of cocktails.
Heard of the Sazerac cocktail? Well, this is the namesake rye whiskey that goes in it. Sazerac has grown in popularity over the years, especially in and around New Orleans, and for good reason. It’s great in cocktails, but it's also a fine sipping rye.
KO Distilling Bare Knuckle American Rye Whiskey
Winner of the Rye category for The Manual Spirit Awards 2019, KO Distilling Bare Knuckle American Rye Whiskey is made with 100% rye grains, which offer up spice notes immediately on the nose, followed by oak and vanilla. Cinnamon and nutmeg on the palate provide a nice backbone to this whiskey, with caramel and sweet orange notes rounding out the sharper flavors.
Catoctin Creek "Roundstone Rye"
This rye from outside Washington, D.C. stays true to history, as this rye whiskey has been distilled in the state of Virginia since the early 1600s. Distilled by Becky Harris in Purcellville, Virginia since 2009, the Catoctin Creek
Balcones Texas Rye
The product of one of the best Texas distilleries, this tasty rye is dark and robust, as you might expect from a spirit made entirely of rye. The nose reminds us of Earl Grey tea and candied cherries, while the flavors exhibit caramel, espresso, and roasted nut elements. Fans of heftier whiskeys will love what this one has to offer.
Dad’s Hat Pennsylvania Rye
Made in one of the more historical rye styles of the U.S. — Old Monongahela Rye — Dad’s Hat is, perhaps surprisingly to most, aged only six months. What helps this though, is that the aging occurs in 50-liter casks (much smaller than the standard 200-liter size). What comes out is a bright rye whiskey that is full of fruit and spice notes and a good look at what used to be consumed.
Rossville Union Rye
Distilled in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, this rye is the product of a town with a long history of making rye whiskey, even well before Prohibition. It's bold with cherry-centric flavors and a long-winded finish. It also represents a nod to American whiskey history, as it's made much the way it was back in the mid-19th century. And many booze writers claim it's as good as many ryes twice its price.
Pikesville Straight Rye
A throwback to earlier times, Pikesville Straight Rye is Maryland-style rye that before Prohibition, was a prominent player in the rye game. Like most distilleries, though, it was forced to shutter during that dark time. After Prohibition, the brand reopened, produced whiskey, and then shuttered in 1972. It survived on already-produced whiskey for a decade until Heaven Hill bought it and began producing the brand.
Russell’s Reserve Rye
While you may only know Russell’s Reserve’s bourbon, its rye is no slouch, either. How could it be, when Master Distillers Jimmy and Eddie Russell have over 100 years of distilling experience between them? Russell’s Reserve Rye is aged six years and the resulting whiskey is smooth and sweet with a great amount (not too much, not too little) of rye spice throughout.
Cutwater Black Skimmer Rye
Cutwater originally launched as a side spirits project by lauded southern California brewery Ballast Point. The brand has since become responsible for some great spirits, including surprisingly delicious canned cocktails. This rye riff is a well-rounded whiskey with flavors of honey, almond, and baking spices.
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