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The Best Tasting Rye Whiskeys For Under $50

Rye whiskey is a step to the side of bourbon. A whiskey variant that some people swear by and others pretty much ignore. The use of rye grains in the mash bill (recipe) makes for a dram that tends to have more heat via a peppery spiciness. Ryes also lean more into fruity/floral natures, compared to bourbon’s vanilla foundation.

As for production, ryes are made under the same rules as bourbon except for one. Whereas bourbons need a minimum of 51-percent corn in their mash bills, ryes need at least 51 percent rye grains as their base. That other 49 percent can be made up of a mix of any other grain or cereal.

The other major ripple with rye whiskeys is the Canada factor. In Canada, the term “rye” is used colloquially to refer to Canadian whisky overall. And yes, that means that there are Canadian whiskies with zero rye grain in their mash bills that people will still call “rye” when asking for a dram at a bar. It’s slightly confusing, but you can always ask before ordering.

The ten ryes below aim to bridge the gap between the low-end offerings and the higher-end stuff that might be a little too pricy for every day sipping. Overall, these are all quality bottles that live up to their price point and are (for the most part) widely available.

Sazerac Straight Rye

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ABV: 45%
Distillery: Buffalo Trace Distillery, Frankfort, KY (Sazerac Company)
Average Price: $32

The Whiskey:

Sazerac Rye is a great entry point for a refined touch and a throwback to the 1800s. The brand was named after the famed Sazerac Coffee House on Royal Street in New Orleans where the Sazerac cocktail was born. This expression is a true classic.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a hint of vanilla that’s in place to support the clear notes of star anise, clove, and black pepper. The body of this sip leans into a Christmas cake overloaded with spices and candied fruits, with a crack of pepper over the top and a lush-yet-subtle sweetness.

Finally, the spices fade towards a dark licorice essence on the warming final notes.

Bottom Line:

The only way to make a Sazerac is with this. It’s also a very decent highball base.

Lot 40 Canadian Rye Whisky

ABV: 43%
Distillery: Hiram Walker Distillery, Windsor, ON
Average Price: $40

The Whiskey:

Lot 40 is a true rye whisky. The mash bill is comprised of 90 percent Canadian rye and ten percent malted rye. The juice is blended by a Canadian blending icon, Dr. Don Livermore, who’s often been called the mad scientist of whisky.

Tasting Notes:

Caramel spiked with orange zest combines with mild rye spiciness and a slight savory fruit presence. The sip leans into fresh florals with a coriander feel, alongside notes of pepper and cardamon. A hint of that caramel sweetness returns with a flourish of vanilla as the sip luxuriates in the rye spice.

Bottom Line:

Solid sipper but also a worthy Old Fashioned base.

Oak & Eden Rye & Spire

ABV: 45%
Distillery: Sanctified Spirits, Westlake, TX
Average Price: $40

The Whiskey:

At first glance, Oak & Eden feels like a gimmicky brand. But that heavily charred oak spire in the bottle adds that little extra something that helps elevate this expression. The mash bill is 95 percent rye and the juice goes through standard aging in new American oak.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a real sense of floral notes married to rye spice up top. Wildflowers, peppery spice, rich caramel, and charred oak lead towards a hint of bitter espresso. The sip embraces all that bitter, floral, and spiciness and slowly fades towards a billow of pipe tobacco on the end.

Bottom Line:

This is designed for cocktails. Try it in a Manhattan.

Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey

ABV: 45.2%
Distillery: Woodford Reserve Distillery, Versailles, KY (Brown-Forman)
Average Price: $40

The Whiskey:

Woodford’s master distiller Chris Morris took nearly ten years to get this one just right. The juice is made from a meager 53-percent rye mash bill (the rest is malted barley). The whiskey is then aged until it hits the right spot and is small-batch bottled.

Tasting Notes:

Black pepper and cedar bark counterpoint marzipan and apple orchards with a hint of pear. The taste broadens the spices towards clove and more pepper while a lush floral nature sits next to molasses sweetness and a hint of fresh mint. That molasses mixes with the spice as the sip slowly dissipates from your senses.

Bottom Line:

This is a great workhorse whiskey. On the rocks, in a mint julep, or deep in a highball — it all works.

Sagamore Spirit Rye

ABV: 41.5%
Distillery: Sagamore Spirit Distillery, Baltimore, MD
Average Price: $45

The Whiskey:

This rye, originally sourced from Indiana, is a blend of high-rye and low-rye whiskeys that are cut with spring water from a Maryland farm. The expression was the brainchild of master distiller Larry Ebersold who spent 30 years at Seagram’s mastering his trade, giving this bottle some serious history to live up to.

Tasting Notes:

This one opens with classic notes of vanilla, caramel, and Christmas spices. Those Christmas spices carry on and are supported by brisk orange zest, candied fruit, and wet brown sugar with a faint hint of straw. The sip hits a fatty walnut edge as the spices slowly fade through the senses.

Bottom Line:

This one would make a great gift around the holidays.

Russell’s Reserve Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey 6 Years Old

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

The Whiskey:

Wild Turkey’s Jimmy and Eddie Russell worked together to create Russell’s Reserve and this rye serves as a crucial gateway to the line. The juice is aged for six long years in heavily charred barrels and placed specifically in the center of the rickhouse. Then the Russells hand-select bottles for small-batch bottling.

Tasting Notes:

This is accessible and classic at the same time. The sip has the rye signifiers of both peppery spice and crusty bread. The florals and fruitiness are dialed in and accentuate the rye spice but never overpower it. The oak is present as a supporting act to the spice as a hint of vanilla pops in late in the dram.

Bottom Line:

Try this one and get lost in the rest of Russell’s Reserve offerings. (It also makes a great Sazerac.)

Templeton Rye Aged 6 Years

ABV: 45.57%
Distillery: Templeton Rye, Templeton, IA (MGP Indiana)
Average Price: $45

The Whiskey:

Templeton Rye is a solid sourced rye. The Iowa based company has started distilling and aging its own juice, so this bottle from Indiana will soon be gone. For now, the juice is a classic 95 percent rye base that’s modeled on a pre-prohibition taste to create a throwback feel.

Tasting Notes:

The sip opens with a sense of cream soda vanilla and sweetness next to bright fruitiness that leans almost tropical. The fruit and vanilla carry the sip through a mild oaky stage towards building levels of spice.

That spice soon overpowers the fruit and vanilla on the short end.

Bottom Line:

Solid mixer. We’re patiently awaiting their homegrown spirit in 2022.

Michter’s US*1 Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey

ABV: 42.4%
Distillery: Michter’s Distillery, Louisville, KY
Average Price: $48

The Whiskey:

This expression from Louisville’s Michter’s is a star of the style. The fact that you can grab a single barrel expression of this quality at around $50 per bottle is fantastic. This bottle could easily be $75 or more (and often is on the secondary market).

Tasting Notes:

Orchard fruit and black pepper greet you along with a touch of fresh mint and freshly mowed green grass. It’s the wildflowers and pepper that carry the sip with a note of tart apple covered in very light salted caramel. The barrel starts peeking through near the long end as the spice fades out and a billow of campfire smoke puts the cherry atop the sundae.

Bottom Line:

It’s billed as the perfect cocktail base but we’d argue that it makes for a great sipper too.

Balcones Texas Rye 100 Proof

ABV: 50%
Distillery: Balcones Distillery, Waco, TX
Average Price: $50

The Whiskey:

This rye is Texas in a bottle. The expression is made of 100 percent rye from a mix of Elbon Rye sourced from Northwest Texas as well as crystal, chocolate, and roasted rye. The juice is then aged for just under two years in a hot Texas rickhouse and cut with Hill Country spring water and nothing else.

Tasting Notes:

Cherries dipped in chocolate support black tea bitterness, light oak char, and rush of cracked black pepper. The pepper leads the way as the bitter chocolate leans into espresso bitterness and the sip gains a creamy toffee nature. The dram ends with a flourish of roasted peanuts and more of that bitterness from the dark chocolate.

Bottom Line:

This is the perfect highball base or sipper that could easily be twice the price.

Basil Hayden’s Dark Rye

ABV: 40%
Distillery: Jim Beam, Clermont, KY (Beam Suntory)
Average Price: $50

The Whiskey:

This expression is a combination of Kentucky, Alberta, and California in a bottle. Kentucky rye from Beam is layered with Canadian rye from Alberta Distillers and then Californian port. That makes this a “flavored” whiskey technically. Either way, the result is a deeply layered and satisfying dram.

Tasting Notes:

Cherries and raspberries mingle with black molasses and a hint of oak. Those notes carry on and allow the spice and vanilla to peek up through the rich sweetness and tart berries. The molasses becomes a more familiar caramel flavor as the fruits dry out and the vanilla, oak, and spice pop in for a late final bow.

Bottom Line:

A great “specialty” rye to try at a reasonable price point.

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