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A Whiskey Writer Shares His Favorite High-Rye Bourbons

Christopher Osburn has spent the past fifteen years in search of “the best” — or at least his very favorite — sips of whisk(e)y on earth. In the process, he’s enjoyed more whisk(e)y drams than his doctor would dare feel comfortable with, traveled to over 20 countries testing local spirits, and visited more than fifty distilleries.

If you only know one fact about bourbon, it’s probably that it’s corn-based. To be considered a bourbon, the mash bill must contain at least 51 percent corn. But the rest of the mash bill can be made up of other grains, including barley and rye. There are many bourbons with much higher than 51 percent corn, but there are also plenty that utilize a large portion of rye in the remainder of their mash bill. This adds a subtly spicy, peppery flavor to the caramel, vanilla, and sweet corn notes bourbon fans are used to.

We love high-rye bourbons because we believe the liberal use of the spicy grain gives the whiskey a more complex, well-rounded flavor profile. It adds some sharp edges to the whiskey’s famed smoothness. Instead of the usual corn sweetness associated with bourbon, high-rye versions are warmer and spicier — perfect as Bourbon Heritage Month leads into fall.

My personal favorite high-rye bourbons are listed below.

Goerge Remus

ABV: 47%

Distillery: MGP

Price: $38.99

The Story:

If you know anything about Indiana’s MGP, it’s that the distillery makes a lot of whiskey for other brands. But you might not know that it actually makes a few of its own products. This includes George Remus Bourbon. MGP’s flagship brand is made by blending high-rye bourbons. The result is well-rounded whiskey with hints of rye spice and corn sweetness.

Tasting Notes:

From the first whiff, you can tell that this bourbon has a good deal of peppery spice (although the brand doesn’t disclose the percentage of rye). That’s followed by sweet cream and toasted caramel. The first sip yields hints of charred oak, creamy vanilla, and dried orange peel. The finish is long, warming, and ends in a pleasing peppery, spicy flourish.

Bottom Line:

Fans of rye whiskey will love this subtly spicy bourbon. It deserves to be sipped slowly in a rocks glass with a single ice cube.

Old Forester 100

ABV: 50%

Distillery: Old Forester

Price: $33.99

The Story:

This award-winning bourbon gets its kick from 18% rye in its mash bill. A popular choice among bartenders and drinkers alike, it’s made up of hand-selected barrels and bottled at 100 proof. Even with that ABV, it remains smooth, rich, and highly sippable.

Tasting Notes:

A whiskey of this caliber deserves to be nosed before taking your initial sip. When you do, you’ll embrace aromas of brown sugar, rich vanilla, and toasted oak. The first sip brings forth hints of dried fruits, cinnamon, caramelized sugar, and butterscotch. The finish is medium in lengths, effortlessly warming with a final exclamation of charred oak and sweet cream.

Bottom Line:

This high proof bourbon is perfectly suited for slow sipping. But we love to mix it into an Old Fashioned and let it meld with other complementary flavors.

Old Grand-Dad 114

ABV: 57%

Distillery: Jim Beam

Price: $29.99

The Story:

There’s a reason Old Grand-Dad has become a cult favorite bourbon. It’s cheap, it’s well-made, and it’s high proof. The latter is especially true with the 114 proof version. This expression is a mix of sweet and heat — with 27% rye in its mash bill. The “old grand-dad” on the bottle is none other than Basil Hayden. His grandson started the brand (now produced by Jim Beam) back in 1882.

Tasting Notes:

You probably won’t be surprised that when you nose this whiskey, you’re going to be punched in the nose with a slew of flavors right away. Aromas of spicy rye, cinnamon, and charred oak immediately fill your nostrils. The first sip yields a fairly strong, warming alcohol flavor with hints of spice, juicy corn, and vanilla sweetness. The finish is long, hot, and contains more vanilla and a final kick of peppery spice.

Bottom Line:

While we absolutely love this bourbon, it’s pretty high in the spice/ heat department. It’s most well-suited for mixing into mint juleps and whiskey sours.

1792 High Rye

ABV: 47.1%

Distillery: Barton 1792

Price: $42.99

The Story:

1792 Bourbon has something for everyone. Its varieties include Sweet Wheat, Full Proof, Port Finish, Single Barrel, and High Rye. The latter is the offering we’re going to be talking about today. While the brand doesn’t release its grain percentages, it’s obvious this bourbon is full of rye. Aged for 8 years, this whiskey is only produced in limited quantities and is a much sought-after bottle.

Tasting Notes:

The first nosing yields a huge aroma of peppery spice before anything else. This is followed by brown sugar, toasted oak, and dried cherries. Surprisingly, while the nose is full of pepper, the first sip is mellow, delicate, and full of candied orange peel, sweet cream, and rich caramel. The finish is long, pleasing, and filled with sweet corn and just a subtle hint of pepper at the very end.

Bottom Line:

While this is listed as a high-rye bourbon, it’s light and sweet and perfect for sipping on the back porch on a cold, fall evening.

Redemption High Rye Bourbon

ABV: 46%

Distillery: MGP

Price: $28.99

The Story:

Redemption is known for its rye whiskey so it’s no surprise that its bourbon is really pushing the limits between the two styles of whiskey. While it fits the criteria since its made up of 60% corn, most of the rest of the recipe is rye (36%!).

The brand truly believes that rye makes everything better and this bottle proves that.

Tasting Notes:

This whiskey deserves to be nosed before tasting. You’ll be met with aromas of peppery rye, sweet corn, and burnt sugar. The first sip brings forth brown sugar, cinnamon, and toasted oak. The finish is long, warming, and filled with long-lasting peppery spice.

Bottom Line:

This very spicy bourbon is well-suited for rye whiskey drinkers and deserves to be sipped neat while you sit around a warming fire on a chilly fall eve.

Basil Hayden’s 10 Year

ABV: 40%

Distillery: Jim Beam

Price: $54.99

The Story:

Regardless of which Basil Hayden’s Bourbon you buy, you’re guaranteed to sip on a high-rye whiskey. The brand is known for its use of rye to make its bourbons more well-rounded and complex. This 10-year-old offering is made up of 63% corn, 27% rye, and 10% malted barley.

Tasting Notes:

From the first nosing, you know you’re in for something special with this bourbon. First, you’re met with scents of cinnamon, charred oak, and subtle white pepper. The first sip brings up sweet cream, brown sugar, and sticky toffee pudding, which ends with just a pinch of cooking spice. The finish is medium, subtly warming, and a perfect combination of sweet and spicy.

Bottom Line:

This well-aged bourbon is perfectly balanced and should be treated as thus. Simply pour it over a few ice cubes and sip it slowly while you binge-watch your favorite streaming show or listen to your favorite album.

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