Rye whiskey is the peppery, hot-blooded sibling of American whiskey and bourbon. It’s defined by the dominance of rye grains — featuring a mash bill (recipe) with at least 51 percent rye, along with grains like malted barley, cereals like corn, and sometimes even wheat. An easy rule of thumb is the more rye in the mash bill, the more spice in the sip.
Rye is a unique spirit in that the burn isn’t so much to be avoided as to be savored. Rather than “smoothness” being the dominant note, there’s an extra layer of complexity to rye that makes it great for sipping and even better for mixing up in a mean cocktail. The addition of rye grains to the mash bill doesn’t only mean heat or peppery spice. There’s also a rich, sweet buttery undertone that can lean either towards burnt cream or fresh spring honey flavor.
The below five bottles of rye below will take you on a journey through the style. They’re the perfect bottles to have on hand if you want to take your guests through the highs of rye whiskey and learn a little something along the way. Let’s dive in!
BULLEIT STRAIGHT RYE WHISKEY
What to talk about: Bulleit’s Rye is the perfect introductory glass of rye for both your party guests as they walk through the door and the style in general. The mash bill is a mix of 95 percent rye grains alongside five percent malted barley. There’s an ease to the sip that doesn’t ask too much of the drinker but still hits on the nuances of this particular whiskey style. It’s also fairly inexpensive and easily sourced from pretty much any liquor store across the United States.
Tasting Notes: The first hit from Bulleit Rye is a refreshingly bright rush of slightly sweet cherry tobacco. Think more pipe smoke or even hookahs than cigarette tobacco. That meaty fruitiness gives way to a rush of mild pepper spice and that’s just about the end of the dram. There isn’t a lot of sweetness here besides echoes of honey, which feel more like a bourbon. Still, this one goes down very easy and is a great starter for your party guests.