Bartenders Name The Best High Rye Bourbons For Fall 2019

Fall in much of the country is chilly, cool, damp, and downright depressing. It’s the kind of weather when we’d all rather find a cozy chair, tuck in with a warm blanket, and read a good book than venture out into the rainy, leaf blanketed world. But while autumn can get drab, it’s the perfect time of year to get reacquainted with bourbon. Specifically, high-rye bourbons — the spicier-but-still-sweet cousin of the original bourbon whiskey we all know and love.

Sure, if you enjoy the flavor of rye, you can literally just buy a bottle of rye whiskey. But for some whiskey drinkers the spice you’ll find in a bottle of Rittenhouse or Dad’s Hat is just too much to embrace. That’s where high-rye bourbons come in. Many aficionados consider it the perfect amount of corn sweetness and peppery rye. Extra points if the booze is barrel-aged.

“The extra concentration from the high alcohol level adds to the spicy hit from the rye,” says Alex Boyd, lead bartender at The Delta Hotels in Toronto, Canada. “It amplifies the overall flavor experience.”

Keeping this in mind and not wanting to send you blindly into the high-rye wilderness, we asked some of our favorite bartenders to tell us their go-to high rye bourbons to drink this fall.

Four Roses Single Barrel

Jenghis Manning-Pettit, lead bartender at B&O American Brasserie in Baltimore

My favorite high rye bourbon is Four Roses Single Barrel. Their unique method of making multiple whiskeys with different blends of yeast strains leads to some interesting combinations. For their single barrel, they use a high rye mash with a delicate and fruity yeast strain. This makes a subtle, sophisticated whiskey that is a perfect crossover of rye and bourbon and can be enjoyed by drinkers of both.

Wild Turkey

Marc Borel, beverage director of Rainbow Lodge in Houston

One of Rainbow Lodge’s signature cocktails is the seasonal Twelve Gauge, which features a high-rye bourbon from Wild Turkey and rhubarb amaro. Topped with a little bitter lemon soda and grapefruit bitters, it has become one of our most popular cocktails. The high-rye bourbon gives it an extra, spicy kick and works well in other bourbon-based drinks as well.


Diane Wade, bartender at the Hound’s Tale in Williamsburg, Virginia

When picking a high-rye bourbon, I have to go with Bulleit. Bulleit has a fruity and full body taste that is great for our Velvet Revolver cocktail which is a whiskey sour with a raspberry twist.

Basil Hayden’s

Matt Sharp, bar director/partner at Bosscat Kitchen & Libations in Houston

When it comes to high-rye bourbons, I really enjoy Basil Hayden’s. It’s extremely smooth and great for sipping neat or on the rocks, as it’s not too strong at 80 proof.

Middle West Straight Wheated

Emmanuel “Manny” Pressley, bartender at Brabo Brasserie inAlexandria, Virginia

I was lucky enough to experience the Middle West Distillery while they were developing the new Straight Wheated Bourbon. I was blown away by the flavor they were able to achieve in such a short amount of time. They recently released the Straight Wheated Bourbon to the public and it is aged to perfection. The flavor is sweet yet spicy and long-lasting. It has a great wooden amber color and stands out from the previous releases. If you ever find yourself in Columbus, Ohio, I encourage you to stop by and visit.

Four Roses White Label

Lauren Mathews, lead bartender at Urbana in Washington, DC

It’s hard for me to pick my favorite high-rye bourbon because I tend to gravitate towards a higher rye content. But, Four Roses White Label was one of the first bourbons I really fell in love with when I first started bartending. With the single barrel, each batch is slightly different — with a consistent spicy and rich flavor.

Redemption High Rye Straight Bourbon

Allie Klug, bar manager at Cleo in New York City

Redemption Whiskey’s real passion is rye which shows in the products they put out, from day one they have just wanted to bring recognition back to this grain with a long history. Their bourbon bottling has 36% rye grain in the mash bill which really comes through in the liquid. The rye gives the bourbon backbone with zesty pink peppercorn and rye bread then it builds out to lush sweet corn and caramel finish.

Four Roses Small Batch

Josh Cameron, head bartender at Boulton & Watt in New York City

Four Roses Small Batch. My buddy once gifted me a bottle of the Four Roses Small Batch, then went through the whole story of romance and roses and whiskey, and by the time he was done talking I had already finished a second pour. I forgot most of the story, maybe it’s all that drinkin,’ but I have never forgotten the bourbon. Freeze up some big rocks. Catch up with an old best friend. Cheers to Ol’ Benny Boy.

1792 Full Proof

Matt Tanner, concept beverage manager at Pappas Bros. Steakhouse in Houston

1792 Full Proof. The Barton Distillery is well known for producing the best high rye bourbons, and the Barrel Proof is a spiced high proof bourbon that drinks very easily and has a great depth of flavor and long finish.

Woodford Reserve

Stephen George, beverage director at 20|Twenty in Carlsbad, California

If that high-rye spice is what you’re craving, I’d go with Woodford Reserve Bourbon. You can find higher content of rye in other high-rye bourbons, but this still has enough spicy to stand up in a cocktail, as well as enough bourbon character to know that you’re sipping a bourbon.

Belle Meade Madeira Cask Finish

Hailey Coder, lead bartender at The Park Bistro & Bar in Lafayette, California

Belle Meade Bourbon Madeira Cask Finish. With the sweet honey flavor from the Madeira it allows spiciness of the high rye whiskey to balance out and leave a smooth finish. It blends America’s Native Spirit and the old world winemaking methods into a drink that is rich in flavor yet smooth on the palate.

Four Roses Small Batch Select

Sean Beck, beverage director of H Town Restaurant in Houston

Four Roses Small Batch Select, the newest in their core line-up, is downright fantastic. We got it earlier than most here in Texas, as it hit in the Spring. It’s bold on the nose, rich in color and awash with dried fruit, cloves, salted caramel and with great viscosity. They somehow managed to walk the line between being luscious and balanced, from start to finish. It does end like a well-planned meal, complete with a closing note that is more like dessert with touches of chocolate dusted, cherry and butterscotch brittle.

Kentucky Owl

Guy Goldstein Sommelier at Arba in New York City

Kentucky Owl Bourbon has a huge buzz and for good reason. It’s a great high-rye bourbon with deep amber color with Floral, Honey and Vanilla. Perfect for cocktails and sipping alike.

Writer’s Pick: Jim Beam Signature Craft High Rye

You might think of Jim Beam as a bargain bourbon and that’s because it is. It’s cheap and well-made and really hits the spot. But where the brand really shines is with its special releases. One of the best for high-rye fans is its Signature Craft High Rye. This 11 year-old bourbon has the corn sweetness and oak flavors bourbon drinkers expect, with a nice peppery rye finish that will appeal to rye whiskey fans.