Rye whiskey is the spicy cousin of bourbon whiskey. Where bourbon needs at least 51 percent corn or maize in its mash bill, rye needs at least 51 percent of rye in its mash bill. Bourbon often has a lot of rye making up that other 49 percent of its recipe. Rye, on the other hand, often leans more purely into rye grains (you don’t get a lot of corn-heavy ryes, though they exist).
Many of the U.S.’s rye expressions come from MGP in Indiana which uses a 95 percent rye and 5 percent malted barley mash bill. Most of the rest of the U.S.’s rye comes from Alberta Distillers in Calgary, which produces a massive range of mash bills but most commonly a 100 percent rye. Of course, there are small-time distillers mixing up the game with every iteration of rye mash bill you can image. And sometimes, you’ll have bottlers like WhistlePig mixing and matching from both Alberta and MGP on some expressions. And, just to be clear, a lot of the ryes in this price range (and even extending much higher) are distilled and aged in Indiana or Alberta and then blended, finished, and bottled in Kentucky or Vermont or wherever. As with all of the whiskey world, there’s a lot of variation is what we’re saying.
The ten bottles below are all ryes that clock in at under $30 per bottle. Each of these bottles has that rye-spice kick, is very accessible, and can be delivered straight to your door during the quarantine.
Ezra Brooks Straight Rye Whiskey
Distillery: MGP Indiana, Lawrenceburg, IN (Luxco)
Average Price: $16.99
Where Ezra Brook’s bourbon is distilled by Luxco at the Heaven Hill Distillery in Kentucky, their rye is sourced from the rickhouses of MGP. Don’t let that hold you back, MGP knows what it’s doing. The juice is aged for 24 months in charred new American oak and charcoal filtered.
Big whiffs of caramel and vanilla are cut by a lemon zest brightness. That caramel and vanilla create a foundation that lets the rye pepperiness build on the palate with a hint of grassiness. The warm spice builds to a peak as the sweetness from the caramel fades out entirely on the end.
Old Overholt Straight Rye Whiskey
Distillery: Jim Beam Distillery, Clermont, KY
Average Price: $18.41
Old Overholt is an interesting rye whiskey. It takes the high-rye idea of bourbon and flips it on its head by adding a high-corn edge to its mash bill. Hailing from Jim Beam’s “The Olds” line, this whiskey is a three-year-old expression that works wonders in a Manhattan or old fashioned.
Mild notes of apples stewed in cinnamon mingle with a hint of corn-fueled caramel. Vanilla kicks in with a rush of sharp and almost dusty brown spices as the apple starts to feel more like a spring orchard in full bloom. But in the end, it’s the sharp rye spice that carries through to the warming finish.
Jim Beam Rye Pre-Prohibition Style
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Distillery: Jim Beam Distillery, Clermont, KY
Average Price: $21.99
Whisky Bible author Jim Murray named this his favorite rye aged under ten years back in 2010. The juice is a throwback to a “Pre-Prohibition” recipe that’s very rye forward with little muss nor fuss. That makes this expression a bit like a time machine.
Red berries mix with big notes of black and red pepper rye spice with a clear sense of candied cherries. Nutmeg, cloves, and allspice join the pepper as subtle caramel and vanilla help deliver those sweet red berries to the palate. There’s a light sense of dried flowers, fresh mint, and a hint of licorice as the spice climaxes on the hot finish of this sip.
Canadian Club 100% Rye Whisky
Distillery: Alberta Distillers, Calgary, AB (Bottled in Walkerville, ON by Beam Suntory)
Average Price: $21.99
This Alberta Distillers juice is worth tracking down. The 100 percent rye mash bill offers a chance to taste what a pure rye whiskey really is. That makes this a great whiskey to use as a baseline by which all other ryes at this price point can be measured against.
Clear notes of rye spice mingle with wisps of wildflowers, fruit orchards, chocolate, and vanilla. That vanilla mingles with sweet grain bread, rich caramel, a slight fruit tartness, and a clear sense of Christmas spices cut with orange zest. The oak makes a late appearance as the spices, fruit, and florals drive this one home to a warm embrace of a finish.
Wild Turkey Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey
Distillery: Wild Turkey Distillery, Lawrenceburg, KY (Campari)
Average Price: $24.99
This rye from Wild Turkey’s rickhouses is a blending of four and five-year-old barrels. The mash bill leans heavily into the rye and lets that aspect shine, similarly to their high-rye bourbons. Overall, this is another great gateway rye that’s very affordable for the quality.
Sourdough rye toast dripping with honey meets sharp rye spice with a note of Granny Smith apples. That crack of tart apple provides a nice counterpoint to the peppery nature of the rye spice with a wisp of mint, more honey, and a touch of spring fruit. The end edges the spice into cinnamon territory as the oak helps bring about a big rye spice finish.
Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Straight Rye Whiskey
Distillery: Jack Daniel Distillery, Lynchburg, TN (Brown–Forman)
Average Price: $25.32
This was a big step for the classic Tennessee whiskey distillery. In 2017, Jack Daniel’s released their first new expression since Prohibition with this rye. The juice has a mash bill of 70 percent rye, 18 percent corn, and 12 percent malted barley. After distillation, the hot juice goes through the Lincoln County Process of sugar maple charcoal filtration, giving this rye an extra edge of smoothness compared to other ryes on the list.
Bananas Foster, dark chocolate with a note of cream, toasted rye grains, oak, vanilla, and a whisper of smoke greet you. Cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg arrive as more dark and creamy chocolate drives towards a splash of spicy stewed apples. Finally, the rye takes over with peppery sharpness that leads towards the warm embrace of charred oak.
George Dickel Rye Whisky
Distillery: MGP Indiana, Lawrenceburg, IN (Diageo)
Average Price: $26.99
This is another Tennessee whiskey version of rye. The juice is 95 percent rye and five percent malted barley and is aged for five years in Lawrenceburg before heading to Tennessee where George Dickel filters the juice through their sugar maple charcoal and bottles it, making it a Tennessee rye.
This is a spicy and herbal matrix with hints of clove sitting next to a hint of mint with a sense of wildflowers, hazelnuts, and plenty of rye spice. The herbal notes carry on as the rye spice peaks with a nice sense of sharp pepper before a slight savory herbal nature kicks in that will remind you of oily rosemary. The pepper, fruit, herbs, and oak all carry on towards a warming finish with a wisp of smoke.
Old Forester Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey
Distillery: Brown-Forman Distillery, Shively, KY
Average Price: $25.99
This expression is a bit of a throwback to the WWII era. The spirit’s mash bill is 65 percent rye, 20 percent malted barley, and 15 percent corn. The higher-than-usual malted barley adds an interesting ripple compared to other ryes and brings a nice edge to this dram.
This expression leans heavily into the dark spices with clove leading the way alongside hints of vanilla, oak, and caramel. There’s a sense of maple syrup next to fruitwoods like cherry and apple which lead to a tiny thought of smoke. A herbaceous flourish comes in late as the rye spiciness marries the oak on the warming end.
Rittenhouse Straight Rye Whisky Bottled-In-Bond
Distillery: Heaven Hill Distillery, Louisville, KY
Average Price: $27.99
This American rye relishes in a high-rye mash bill that honors the old-school whiskey distillers of Pennsylvania. The juice is aged for four years under strict bottled-in-bond guidelines and bottled at a higher proof, giving you more bang for your buck.
Sweet and crisp peppers mix with dried grapes, cherries, and apples with a nice hit of rich and buttery toffee. The spice leans into nutmeg and cinnamon as a clear dose of vanilla arrives with dark chocolate before a slash of citrus cuts through the whole sip. The velvet mouthfeel lends to a peppery finish with a sweetness akin to maple syrup.
Alberta Premium Canadian Rye Whisky
Distillery: Alberta Distillers, Calgary, AB (Beam Suntory)
Average Price: $21.91 ($33.36 for a 1.14l bottle)
This is the 100 percent rye whiskey from Canada that’s mostly shipped to the U.S. to places like WhistlePig. So, if you’ve had rye in the U.S., you’ve likely already tasted this classic rye. The bonus with this bottle is that you’re not paying for WhistlePig-levels of branding with every bottle (while getting the exact same thing). The actual whiskey in the bottle is a blend of two different ryes, one aged in new oak and one aged in used bourbon oak for at least four years that’s then aged together for another year.
Crisp and tart apples dance with a sense of dark chocolate, dark rye spices, and charred oak. Slight notes of fresh herbs sit next to vanilla, caramel, more fruit, and a note of bright florals. The dram carries the sharp spiciness with a hint of caramel sweetness towards a big and warm end with an echo of smoke in the background.