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We Asked Bartenders To Tell Us The One Rye Whiskey They’d Take To A Desert Island

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If the answers are well thought out, the desert island game can be a ton of fun. Obviously, you can’t have everything you crave on a desert island (where would you put it all?), so you have to focus on the essentials. A single movie. A lone book. A solitary bottle of rye whiskey.

We asked our favorite bartenders to grapple with the latter question by telling us the bottles of rye they’d happily drink as they lived out their days Robinson Crusoe-style. Which hypothetically bottomless bottles would they sip on from now until a wayward cruiseliner passed by? Check their answers — featuring a few surprises and a handful of usual suspects — below!

Rittenhouse Rye

Jack Galobich bartender of The Gage in Chicago

Rittenhouse Rye Bottled in Bond; it’s simple and, to the point, tasty. This is a 100-proof rye-forward whiskey that’s great for shooting, sipping, and making my go-to Manhattans. It puts hair on your chest and feels like the stuff your grandfather sipped while smoking Lucky Strikes.

High West Double Rye

Yuki Minakawa, beverage director at Sushi Ginza Onodera in New York City

It’s not easy to pick one rye whiskey to drink for the rest of my life. If I have to pick one, it would be High West Double Rye. It’s complex, floral, and spicy.

Thomas Handy Sazerac Rye

Alex Gregg, lead bartender at Curadero in San Diego

Thomas Handy Sazerac Rye. In my opinion, this is the rye which all others are (or should be) measured against. It is uncut, unfiltered, and bottled at barrel proof. It’s the closest thing to taking barrel samples in a dark and dank rickhouse in Kentucky. Be warned: This is a powerful, hot and peppery, full on punch you in the teeth whiskey, with a long and nuanced finish sporting notes of cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and even coconut.

For better or worse, Thomas Handy is now becoming increasingly hard to find as the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection becomes more tightly allocated each year, which means it’s becoming more expensive too. But if and when you do see it, do yourself a favor and have your bartender stir you the best Sazerac you’re ever going to taste.

Laws Secale Straight Rye

Daniel King, beverage director at Liberty Common in Nashville

Laws Secale Straight Rye came into my life recently and I love it. Its Colorado-based heirloom grains and open fermentation make it beautifully barnyard-like. It instantly takes you somewhere without having to try too hard. I’d rather sip it than put it in a cocktail, but I guarantee it won’t hurt any cocktail you mix it in.

Pikesville Rye

Sam Padilla, bartender at The Holding Company in San Diego

I would have to pick Pikesville Rye. It’s a great rye to sip or shoot and its high heat mixes well with cocktails. It’s my go-to for an Old Fashioned.

Whistlepig 15-year Rye

Torrence R. O’Haire, beverage director at Gage Hospitality Group in Chicago

Whistlepig 15-year Rye is absolutely delicious, but if we’re talking for-the-rest-of-my-life, I’d drown myself in a bathtub of Whistlepig’s limited edition Sauternes-cask finish.

Templeton Rye

Joey Biñas, bartender at Bootlegger in San Diego

I really enjoy Templeton Rye. Rye-based whiskeys tend to have a spicier profile than traditional bourbons, and normally I stay away from those. Templeton is one of the few distilleries that offer a pretty great balance between spicy and sweet on the palate.

Bulleit Rye

Justin Monell, general manager at BLVD & MAIN in Las Vegas

I’m not much of a rye drinker, but I would go with Bulleit Rye. The smoke and spice make it seem very rich and earthy.

Russell’s Reserve’s 6 Year Rye

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

Russell’s Reserve’s 6 Year Rye. It is the best premium Kentucky rate on the market. It’s small-batch, balanced, great neat or on the rocks, and is made with absolute integrity. For me, integrity is the most important ingredient in whiskey.

James E. Pepper 1776 Rye

Ilan Chartor, spiritual advisor at KYU in Miami

My favorite rye whiskey is James E. Pepper 1776 Rye. It’s not only a phenomenal product but also very fairly priced.

Highwest Bourye

Gabrielle Ricord, lead bartender at Outpost in Goleta, California

The one rye whiskey I would choose to drink for the rest of my life is the Highwest Bourye (although I guess that’s kind of cheating because it is a bourbon and a rye all wrapped up into one). Highwest is a great distillery, in general, because it contributes to a good cause. A portion of proceeds are donated to the American Prairie Reserve, and as we all are seeing, Mother Earth needs as much help as she can get!

The earthy maple spice that is experienced while sipping reminds me of sitting around a campfire in the woods at home.

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