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The Best Low-Rye Bourbons To Warm You Up This Fall

Rye is a key building block of many a good bourbon. And while we dig wheated bourbons around these parts, today we’re focusing on their rye-forward counterparts. But we’re not talking about any old bourbon with rye in the mash bill. No high-rye bottles today. This time around, we’re looking at the bourbons that add just a pinch of rye to the mash. Not enough to dominate the taste but more than enough to be noticed.

The result? A moderate amount of rye in a bourbon mash brings about a warmth that leans more into peppery spice than alcohol heat. Rye also tends to be a little more fruit-centric, with hints of orange peel — though that’s highly dependent on the yeasts in play. The idea is to take the sweeter edges off the sweet corn in the bourbon and create a more balanced sip of whiskey.

The eight bottles of bourbon below were picked because they have a rye content of less than 20 percent in their mash bills. In this case, we only picked low-rye bourbons in the 10-17 percent range. This, of course, is not a comprehensive list. Brands like Four Roses often blend low-rye (20 percent) and high-rye (35 percent) mash bills to make most of their line (except for single barrels obviously), so they didn’t make the cut.

Overall, the low-rye bourbons below represent that nice dollop of spice and fruit that rye can bring to the table, without overpowering the corn. We’ve also kept these bottles in the affordable price range — so you can actually find them and taste for yourself.

Old Bardstown 90 Proof — 13% Rye

Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey

ABV: 45%
Distillery: Willett Distillery, Bardstown, KY
Average Price: $25

The Whiskey:

This juice hails from the much-beloved and family-run Willett Distillery. This is the distillery’s own juice, as they’ve moved away from sourcing for this label. The 13 percent rye is fairly standard for most bourbons (as you’ll see from most entries on this list).

Still, this bourbon really shines for being a very affordable bottle from a big-name distillery.

Tasting Notes:

This leans more into classic bourbon territory than anything else, with a nose of vanilla, caramel, oak, and a hint of orange. Florals arrive on the palate but take the backseat to the warmth, lightness, and sweetness of caramel corn. A hint of fruitiness arrives late, with a spicy warmth leading towards more oak as it fades quickly away.

Bottom Line:

Again, at this price point, you could do a lot worse. This is a solid cocktail mixer that also works as a beer back shot.

Russell’s Reserve 10 Year — 13% Rye

Wild Turkey

ABV: 45%
Distillery: Wild Turkey, Lawrenceburg, KY (Campari)
Average Price: $36

The Whiskey:

Wild Turkey’s bourbons sit at 13 percent when it comes to their rye content. And one thing Wild Turkey is known for is well-crafted consistency, so why not pick a higher-end bottle?

In this case, we’re going with Russell’s Reserve 10-year-old. The juice is hand-selected from the Turkey warehouses by Jim and Eddie Russell — one of whiskey’s most iconic father/son teams — for its drinkability.

Tasting Notes:

Little touches of Christmas spice meet vanilla, caramel, and oaky depth on the nose. The sip leans into the spices as an orange zest counterpoint drives toward a hint of old leather and more musty oak. The end is full of warming spice that hugs you as it fades.

Bottom Line:

At ten-years-old, this bottle could easily cost double what it does now. There’s a refined nature that really helps this one shine in a simple cocktail (think Manhattan) or on the rocks.

Jim Beam Single Barrel — 13% Rye

Jim Beam

ABV: 47.5%
Distillery: Jim Beam, Clermont, KY (Beam Suntory)
Average Price: $39

The Whiskey:

Jim Beam’s low-rye mash bill is pretty much the standard across the industry (though their high-rye mash bill also shines). To get the full picture of Jim Beam’s prowess as one of the world’s biggest brands, you really need to give their single barrel expression a try. The juice is hand-selected from less than one percent of the barrels in Jim Beam’s warehouses, making this a solid bottle of booze to have around.

Tasting Notes:

Naturally, this being a single barrel, the taste is going to be slightly different with each batch. The last one I tried was a classic bourbon with notes of vanilla, caramel, oak, and a wisp of smoke up top. The caramel and vanilla are cut off by a bright orange oil zestiness next to a bolder sense of the oak. The sip has flourishes of florals and orchard fruit as it fades away.

The addition of a few drops of water brought about a dark cacao note and bitterness.

Bottom Line:

At just under $40 per bottle, this makes for a good sipper, cocktail base, or highball mixer. Though, I dig it in a highball mostly.

Booker’s — 13% Rye

Drizly

ABV: Varies
Distillery: Jim Beam, Clermont, KY (Beam Suntory)
Average Price: $85

The Whiskey:

Sticking with Beam’s 13 percent rye mash bill, Booker’s is a prime example of how the exact same juice can get lucky in the barrel. This expression is a small-batched version of Jim Beam from barrels that hit just the right notes of refinement. Generally speaking, those barrels are six to eight years old when they’re selected, small-batched, and sent out into the world uncut and unfiltered.

Tasting Notes:

This is a big sip of whiskey. There are bold notes of dark spice next to hits of worn leather, vanilla, caramel, and charred oak. A whisper of cherry lurks in the background as the dram really leans into the oak and spice. The end is long and warm with touches of that cherry and oak supporting a final billow of smoke.

Bottom Line:

This is a solid sipper to have on hand. Just make sure to open it up with a little water or a rock. It’s also a good gift bottle for the bourbon enthusiast in your life.

Michter’s Small Batch Bourbon — 11% Rye

Michter

ABV: 45.7%
Distillery: Michter’s Distillery, Louisville, KY
Average Price: $46

The Whiskey:

Finally getting out of the 13 percent territory, Michter’s matched up with Brown Forman’s juice for a very low eleven percent rye addition their whiskey. While the rye is very low, there’s still some serious depth to this well-crafted and aged sip. Each bottling is small-batched from no more than 20 barrels.

Tasting Notes:

We were lucky enough to try this during an Expression Session recently. This is a classic bourbon, with notes of vanilla, oak, and caramel greeting you. From there, the sip leans into stone fruits with plenty of oak support. There’s a mild spicy warmth and a hint of smoke on the end, especially when you add water.

Bottom Line:

This is a classic bourbon cocktail base. Use it in your next old fashioned.

Evan Williams Single Barrel — 10% Rye

Evan Williams

ABV: 43.3%
Distillery: Heaven Hill Distillery, Bardstown, KY
Average Price: $30

The Whiskey:

Over at Heaven Hill, the standard bourbon mash bill includes more malted barley than rye — 12 percent compared to ten percent. When it comes to Evan Williams, the stuff is so affordable, there’s really no reason not to go all the way and just buy their single barrel expression.

It’s an award-winning whiskey that hits as a classic bourbon all around.

Tasting Notes:

Most recently, this release opened with sweet woods, almost burnt caramel, and a bump of vanilla. That caramel becomes a fairground caramel apple with a slightly tart bite next to more of that oak with a hint of spicy orange. A little bit of water brings about an almost salted caramel edge as the warm sip fades away.

Bottom Line:

At this price point, you can buy two. One for highballs and one for cocktails.

Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon — 10% Rye

Reservebar

ABV: 47%
Distillery: Heaven Hill Distillery, Bardstown, KY
Average Price: $32

The Whiskey:

Sticking with Heaven Hill, Elijah Craig Small Batch is another solid bourbon at a very accessible price. This NAS (no age statement) juice replaced the much-beloved 12-year-old expression a few years back. The juice is a small-batched blend of eight to 12-year-old barrels and continually wins the top awards.

Tasting Notes:

Vanilla meets ripe fruits on the nose with a nice hint of corn, oak, and even fresh mint. The spice is refined to an eggnog nutmeg dusting while the oak supports a svelte texture. The sip embraces the sweetness of the fruit as it slowly fades away towards a final wisp of smoke.

Bottom Line:

This is an easy sipper that tastes like it costs $60, easily. I dig it on the rocks or in a cocktail.

Buffalo Trace — <10% Rye

Buffalo Trace

ABV: 45%
Distillery: Buffalo Trace Distillery, Frankfort, KY (Sazerac)
Average Price: $30

The Whiskey:

Buffalo Trace’s mash bill #1 is a low-rye bill but a bit of a cypher. Buffalo Trace doesn’t publicize their bills. The word on the street that’s fairly accepted is that this mash bill is less than ten percent rye. Their mash bill #1 produces some of their most iconic labels from Eagle Rare to George T. Stagg to Colonel E.H. Taylor and, of course, their signature Buffalo Trace Bourbon.

Tasting Notes:

Vanilla mingles with molasses on the nose alongside a very distant echo of mint. That sweet molasses gives way to a buttery toffee with oak depth and mild spiciness. A dark fruitiness comes into play late as the sip fades away while highlighting the oak and spice.

Bottom Line:

This is a great all-around bourbon. It’s works wonders in a cocktail and is refined enough to pour over a glass of rocks.

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