American rye whiskey is the close sibling of bourbon whiskey. Both whiskeys have pretty much identical requirements legally, with one requiring at least 51% rye as the base grain and the other requiring at least 51% corn (bourbon, naturally). Beyond the variance in the base grain, proof points, new oak, and a minimum of two years in the barrel to be labeled “straight” is all the same. And since we’re dealing with an American whiskey in new oak, there are a lot of similarities in the flavor profiles of American rye and bourbon. But there are also enough differences to make them both feel wholly unique.
Since American rye and bourbon are so closely related, I’d be remiss not to talk about rye whiskey during Bourbon Heritage Month. It feels right because pretty much every single distillery making bourbon is also making a rye whiskey to sit in the bottle gift shop right next to their bourbons. Well, except for Four Roses. They don’t make rye but that’s the exception that proves the rule.
So for this brand-new blind taste test, I’m pulling in 12 brand-new rye whiskeys from distilleries that make damn good rye whiskey. Each of these bottles is either brand-new to this month or a new batch for 2023.
That makes our lineup today the following bottles of new rye whiskeys:
- Parker’s Heritage Collection 17th Edition Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey Cask Strength Aged 10 Years
- J. Rieger’s Straight Rye Whiskey Bottled In Bond Spring 2023
- Michter’s US*1 Barrel Strength Toasted Barrel Finish Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey 2023
- WhistlePig Farmstock Rye Beyond Bonded Straight Rye Whiskey Single Barrel Bottled In Bond
- Jack Daniel’s Bonded Rye Tennessee Rye Whiskey
- Sagamore Spirit Rye American Whiskey A Blend of Straight Rye Whiskeys
- Rossville Union Bottled In Bond Straight Rye Whiskey 6 Years Old
- Widow Jane Paradigm Rye A Blend of Straight Rye Whiskeys Aged in New American Oak Barrels 2023
- Still Austin Cask Strength Rye Whiskey
- Wheel Horse Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey Small Batch
- Thirteenth Colony Distilleries Southern Rye Whiskey Small Batch French Oak Finish 2023 Batch
- Starlight Distillery Old Rickhouse Huber’s Bottled-In-Bond Indiana Straight Rye Whiskey Batch No. B2306
After my patient wife lined these up for me and cataloged them, I tasted through and ranked them based on taste alone. I was looking for deep flavor notes, clear profiles, and balance. Sound good? Let’s get to it!
Part 1 — The Rye Whiskey Blind Tasting
Nose: Dark stewed and dried fruits lead on the nose with a deep leatheriness that makes for chewy dried chili peppers, old tobacco leaves, and musty spice racks full of cumin, cinnamon, and clove.
Palate: Stewed black cherries dipped in dark chocolate open the palate toward deep creamed honey, cinnamon-infused mulled wine, and clove-studded blood oranges with a hint of old wicker porch furniture and piles of fall leaves just moistened by the rain.
Finish: Dry winter spice barks and berries mingle with dark black cherry compote on the finish before the wicker reeds take on a moment of dank and more tobacco drives the finish to a warm yet eggnog-creamy end.
Well, this is a great place to start because this is stellar whiskey. It’s so deep and delicious and hits a hardcore nostalgia for me.
Nose: There’s a light nose that eventually opens up toward candied orange, old book leather, and sourdough apple fritters next to a hint of green grass in the summer and nasturtiums.
Palate: Hints of old oak pop on the palate as those apple fritters take on a lot of cinnamon before cherries dipped in chocolate lead toward a creamy sense of butter and maybe some marmalade.
Finish: Smudging sage warms the end with a hint of Almond Joy and sesame honey crackers over cedar tobacco.
Yeah, this is good. It’s a nice rye.
Nose: This has a spicy and sweet nose that’s just like a buttery, candied and dried fruit, and nut-filled holiday cake that’s been drenched in good whiskey and left to sit for a month to really amp up those flavors while a flutter of dry cedar kindling dipped in dark chocolate sneaks in.
Palate: The taste has a clear sense of black-tea-soaked dates, creamed vanilla honey, black walnuts, wet brown sugar, and a touch of salted dark chocolate with a whisper of bitterness that feels like vanilla pods still on the branch and old smoking hickory just kissed with brisket fat.
Finish: The mid-palate dries out towards that pitchy yet dry woodpile with an echo of dirt from the bottom of that woodpile on the finish before the roasting herbs and soft dark berries arrive with a whisper of dark chocolate tobacco and leather.
This is another delicious whiskey. It’s so complex but not in a “homework” way. It’s more like a gentle ride down a river through a fresh forest of rye whiskey.
Nose: Grains, grains, grains! The nose is a grain bomb that feels like wheat porridge with a cut of cinnamon butter and vanilla buttercream next to grassiness.
Palate: The graininess stays centered as the whiskey profile edges into cinnamon bark and orange zest with dark walnuts, deeply spiced florals, and crème brûlée without the sugar.
Finish: More spice peaks on the finish with a sense of hot grains and hot whiskey.
This is so grainy that it tips toward unbalanced pretty dramatically.
Nose: Ripe peaches, bananas, and Granny Smith apples lead on the nose with a light sense of molasses winter ginger cakes, a touch of cinnamon bark, and light hints of dry sweetgrass that’s just smoldering.
Palate: The taste really leans into the toffee with a good dose of banana creaminess before veering toward roasting herbs and more sweetgrass braided with cedar bark, pipe tobacco, and smudging sage.
Finish: The end warms up just enough with banana bread cut with dried ancho chili layered into light dark chocolate tobacco leaves and more of that sweetgrass.
This is decent but very fruity rye.
Nose: The nose is a dill bomb with hints of cinnamon and orange trying to break through.
Palate: The palate holds onto the dill and gets almost pickle brine-forward before the orange peel, caramel, and clove break up all the dill and caraway.
Finish: The end is briny and fruity with a light sense of winter spice barks, cedar, and freshly cut grass.
This is very dill heavy. It’s rye, sure, so it’s somewhat expected. But… wow.
Nose: The nose opens with a sense of wet parsley next to sweet malted chocolate shakes, rum raisin, and soft worn leather.
Palate: Salted caramel and light vanilla cream before dark leathery plum and date lead to woody spice and a hint of floral potpourri.
Finish: That floral vibe edges toward apple blossom and more dark chocolate with a hint of cinnamon sticks floating in hot apple cider with a hint of roasting herbs in the background.
This is a nice rye overall. It’s deep and takes you on a journey.
Nose: The nose is light but touches on lemon cream and freshly cut lawn with a touch of savory fruit that’s part lychee and part yellow melon.
Palate: Orange marmalade leads on the palate with does of white pepper, old cedar bark, smudging sage, and rye bread crusts with cinnamon butter.
Finish: The end takes on a savory herbal feel with a hint of peach iced tea.
This was perfectly fine but very light.
Nose: The nose opens with pure nostalgia — summertime back porch livin’ — with soft cherry pie, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, ginger rock candy, and a note of apricot jam over buttermilk biscuits.
Palate: A note of coffee cake opens the palate toward marzipan cut with pear brandy and a light sense of lemon cake drizzled with mint frosting.
Finish: The mint gets spice on the finish with a sense of candied ginger and brown winter spices before soft salted buttercream and cherries soaked in brandy round things out.
This is really tasty rye whiskey. It’s complex and makes sense without feeling like homework.
Nose: The nose opens light but eventually blooms toward spicy black peppercorns, Tajín Clásico Seasoning (chili powder), and a whole box of Hot Tamales with a whisper of herbs de Provence.
Palate: Peach pie drives the palate with a good dose of winter spices — cinnamon bark, allspice berries, clove buds — before a light sense of absinthe creeps in with a pinch of dark chocolate.
Finish: The Hot Tamales really amp up at the end with more herbs, more absinthe, and more dark chocolate.
This is really good too. The Absinthe/anise/black licorice vibe gets a little hot, but that’s a nitpick.
Nose: Dried and leathery apricots lead the way on the nose with a sense of old rye bread crusts, brown butter, and honeyed cinnamon.
Palate: Spicy honey and marmalade open the palate toward bold winter spices with a focus on creamy eggnog and smudging sage.
Finish: The end feels like a grassy rye with a nice creamy spiced winter cake base.
This is good stuff. It’s not a “wow” but it’s not bad by any stretch.
Nose: The whiskey opens with a nose full of white pepper countered by stewed apples with a twinge of sour cherry tossed in smoked sea salt before a hint of creamy espresso and summer herb gardens arrive.
Palate: The palate has a creaminess that leans toward mocha lattes with a tobacco spiciness, cedar bark, and more of that stewed orchard fruit with an underlying white pepper spiciness.
Finish: The end leans into that white pepper with plenty of warm apple cider spiked with clove and cinnamon over vanilla cake cut with salted toffee and creamy espresso just kissed with chocolate tobacco.
This is just excellent. It’s not mind-blowing like a couple of the other pours, but it’s goddamn good.
Part 2 — The Rye Whiskey Ranking
12. WhistlePig Farmstock Rye Beyond Bonded Straight Rye Whiskey Single Barrel Bottled In Bond — Taste 4
Average Price: $69
This 100% Vermont whiskey is made with 100% Remington Rye grown on the farm in the Green Mountain State. Once distilled, the single barrels for this release are aged anywhere from four to five years before selection and bottling (with a touch of local spring water).
If you’re into grain bombs, then this is going to be up your alley. It does go beyond bowls of grain porridge but it’s a hike to get in deep enough to get past those flavor notes.
This is definitely an “acquired taste” pour.
11. Sagamore Spirit Rye American Whiskey A Blend of Straight Rye Whiskeys — Taste 6
Average Price: $39
This is Sagamore Spirit’s standard bearer whiskey. The rye in the bottle is a blend of two straight ryes that are aged four to six years. Once batched, the whiskey is proofed with local Maryland water and bottled.
This is a very specific rye whiskey. It’s so dill heavy that it leans toward pickle-back territory. That one-note character holds this one back slightly — but, hey, that one note might be your jam so get after it.
10. Widow Jane Paradigm Rye A Blend of Straight Rye Whiskeys Aged in New American Oak Barrels 2023 — Taste 8
Average Price: $44
This rye from New York’s Widow Jane is a blend of whiskey made in Red Hook with Kentucky and Indiana ryes. Once batched, the whiskey is proofed with local New York water and bottled as-is.
This was perfectly fine, albeit kind of light. I can see it working well in cocktails as a base spirit to build upon.
9. J. Rieger’s Straight Rye Whiskey Bottled In Bond Spring 2023 — Taste 2
Average Price: $54
This Kansas City rye is made with a local mash bill of 96% rye and 4% malted barley (just a notch off the classic 95/5 rye/barley of the mainstream). The whiskey was left to mellow for six years in Kansas City before batching, proofing, and bottling.
This is another nice whiskey. There’s nothing to complain about here. I’d tend to use this for making nice whiskey-forward cocktails but I can see pouring this over ice mid-week when I want something I don’t have to think too hard about.
8. Jack Daniel’s Bonded Rye Tennessee Rye Whiskey — Taste 5
Average Price: $39
The base of this new Bonded whiskey is Jack’s signature rye whiskey with a mash bill of 70% rye, 18% corn, and 12% malted barley fermented with their own yeast and lactobacillus. The juice is then twice distilled via column stills and then slowly filtered through 10 feet of sugar maple charcoal. That filtered whiskey then rests in a barrel for four long years before batching, proofing, and bottling.
This is a well-made cocktail/mixing rye. That said, I had this over rocks a few times and it was nice and very unique (fruity-forward) for a rye. I dig that but it won’t be for everyone.
7. Thirteenth Colony Distilleries Southern Rye Whiskey Small Batch French Oak Finish 2023 Batch — Taste 11
Average Price: $44
This Georgia whiskey is made with a classic rye mash bill of 95/5 (rye/malted barley). Once distilled, that whiskey was left to age in Georgia’s hot summers and murky winters for four years before batching, proofing, and bottling.
This is good stuff. I’ll keep it on my home bar for old fashioneds and Manhattans.
6. Wheel Horse Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey Small Batch — Taste 10
Average Price: $35
The latest batch from Latitude Beverage, which pulls its whiskey from the famed Green River Distilling Co. in Kentucky, is another classic rye. The contract distilled whiskey is the iconic 95/5 rye/barley mash. This one is aged for up to three years before it’s batched, proofed, and bottled.
I like this. It goes a tad deeper than your average 95/5 rye with that black licorice/absinthe vibe. That means that I’ll be using this for Sazeracs.
5. Rossville Union Bottled In Bond Straight Rye Whiskey 6 Years Old — Taste 7
Average Price: $49
This whiskey comes from MGP of Indiana’s Ross & Squibb Distillery. The mash is a very unique 51% rye and 49% malted barley mix. After at least four years of mellowing, the whiskey is small batched (only 3,000 bottles were filled), proofed, and bottled otherwise as-is.
This is getting into sippable rye. This will work well over a big rock if you’re looking for a classic rye slow sipper. It’ll also make a mean cocktail.
4. Still Austin Cask Strength Rye Whiskey — Taste 9
Average Price: $65
This new release from Still Austin uses 100% Texas rye in its mash bill. That whiskey is then proofed and filled into barrels and left to mellow with water getting added over the years (so that water evaporates before the whiskey does). Finally, a few barrels are selected and bottled 100% as-is at cask strength.
This is a very well-balanced sipping whiskey. It’ll be a little warm for novices, so don’t be afraid to pour it over a big ice cube or make a cocktail with it.
3. Starlight Distillery Old Rickhouse Huber’s Bottled-In-Bond Indiana Straight Rye Whiskey Batch No. B2306 — Taste 12
Average Price: $60
This rye from craft distiller Starlight Distillery — part of the Huber Farm and Winery in Southern Indiana — is all about that final blend. The small batch is made from a group of five-year-old barrels and just proofed to highlight the whiskey in those barrels.
This is excellent sipping rye. There’s some serious depth here that’ll reward you for taking your time. It also makes a mean whiskey-forward cocktail.
2. Parker’s Heritage Collection 17th Edition Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey Cask Strength Aged 10 Years — Taste 1
Average Price: $184
The latest edition to Heaven Hill’s Parker’s Heritage Collection is a brashy 10-year-old rye. The whiskey is made from 142 barrels from specific warehouses and floors, all made with Heaven Hill’s 51% rye mash bill (supported by 35% corn and 14% malted barley). Once batched, the whiskey went into the bottle 100% as-is at cask strength.
This is excellent whiskey (rye or not). It’s a slow sipper that’ll reveal more and more of itself the deeper you go.
1. Michter’s US*1 Barrel Strength Toasted Barrel Finish Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey 2023 — Taste 3
Average Price: $520
This whiskey is Michter’s standard rye that’s finished in a second, toasted barrel. In this case, those barrels are air-dried for 24 long months before being lightly toasted and loaded with the rye. The whiskey then goes into the bottle at barrel strength.
This had the most depth by far. There’s so much nuance here that plays well with quintessential rye notes. Take your time with this one, add water, aerate, and then go back again and again — you’ll be deeply rewarded for your effort.
Part 3 — Final Thoughts on the Rye Whiskey
Overall, the top five or six entries on the ranking are the ones you really want to focus on. To be clear, there wasn’t a bad or faulty whiskey on the list. The bottom half was more average than anything else. Nothing wrong with that, especially if you’re local to the distillery/bottler making those whiskeys.
But if you’re really looking for a great rye to sit next to a great bourbon this month, you have to go with the top two. They’re both stellar whiskeys. Each has a deeply unique profile that goes almost endlessly deep. And they taste really f*cking good.