New rye whiskey is hitting the shelves at a frenetic pace these days. Some of it is great. Some of it is just okay. Hell, some of it is crap too. That’s just the way it works. I’m here to help you sort through it all via a new blind taste test of new rye whiskeys (over the last six to nine months) that have come across my desk.
For this blind tasting, I’m taking new samples and pitting them against one another in a blind taste test face-off. I generally chose bottles that have a price tag between $60 and $100+ on the shelf with one ringer that has an MSRP (suggested retail price) of $99 but has an aftermarket price far above that.
Our lineup today is:
- Lost Lantern Dad’s Hat Pennsylvania Straight Rye
- Nashville Barrel Company Single Barrel Straight Rye
- Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Kentucky Straight Rye BTAC 2021
- BLACKENED Rye The Lightening Kentucky Straight Rye Double Cask Finished in Madeira and Rum Casks
- Rocket Top Straight Rye
- Lost Lantern Dad’s Hat Pennsylvania Straight Rye Finished in Vermouth Casks
- BLACKENED x Willett Kentucky Straight Rye Finished in Madeira Casks
- New Riff Sherry Finished Kentucky Straight Malted Rye
- Pursuit United Blended Straight Rye Whiskeys
- Frey Ranch Bottled-in-Bond Straight Rye Whiskey Batch #5
Let’s dive in and see how these rye whiskeys rank!
Also Read: The Top Five Rye Whiskey from the Last Six Months on UPROXX
Part 1: The Tasting
The nose is soft and leathery with a hint of orange spice next to fresh mint and maybe some woody pepper. That pepperiness leads the way on the palate as old wood, dry straw, sweet orange, and a hint of dark cacao move through the palate. The end has a warm, woody clove vibe that adds some heat to the overall finish.
This felt like a nice place to start. It was balanced, tasty, and felt like a “rye.”
This has a nice mix of old, soft leather next to sweet cinnamon with a hint of toast and maybe some brown sugar. The palate has a rum-raisin vibe with a moment of tannic woodiness next to clove and anise with a line of black pepper. The end leans into tobacco leaves with a spicy cherry vibe next to sharp clove, anise, cinnamon, and pepper.
This felt sort of “classic” rye but ended hot.
The nose on this one is full of anise, black licorice, clove, and old leather with a hint of tobacco. The palate gets very woody with a line of black pepper next to almonds and orange but ends up with a huge note of old, almost stale perfume. The finish is creamy and leans into dark chocolate with a twinge of mint and plenty of spicy warmth.
That perfume note on the mid-palate is a lot to get past.
The nose opens with a soft layer of prunes and dates with a hint of tart berry next to suede, pine resin, and an echo of dry straw. The palate is part black pepper and part leathery prunes with a creamy vanilla underbelly and more of those dark berries. The end comes with more layers of ground almonds, old cinnamon sticks, minty honey, and a touch of raw sugar sweetness with a lush finish.
This was damn nice. This is a contender for first place for sure.
Apple candy and a thin line of old leather lead the way on the nose with a whisper of dried florals. The taste leans into the apple with a touch of black pepper and vanilla frosting. The end is short and sweet with the apple and pepper working towards hints of almond and dried flowers.
The dried flowers weren’t really vibing with the apple on this for me.
The nose on this goes deep with hints of fresh apricot next to suede, wet grains, and a subtle dill that leads to a rye bread fennel. The palate mixes orange oils with dark holiday spices — clove, allspice, nutmeg, cardamom, ginger, cinnamon — with a slightly woody edge that leads to a deep sense of red peppercorns with a robust heat. The end lets those sharp peppercorns dance with the woodier spices as soft vanilla cream and fresh-cut grass counter each other on the finish.
This is another contender. This was a great whiskey, rye or not.
Red berry sorbet explodes on the nose with a mix of ripe black cherry, raspberry, and blackberry with a hint of tart red currants, a touch of fresh mint, and maybe some woody cinnamon. The palate takes on a savory strawberry-rhubarb note that leans into vanilla and butter white wine. The end has a dark fruit leather vibe with a twinge of spiced cherry tobacco on the finish.
This felt pretty good but a little “BERRY!” overall.
Dark red fruits — black cherry, tart raspberry, plums — drive the nose toward a line of dry cedar kindling with hints of soft oatmeal cookies with plenty of raisins, cinnamon, and nutmeg. The palate picks up on the woodiness leading toward a hint of firewood sap next to spicy tobacco leaves laced with dark fruit sweetness while woody berries of clove and allspice mix with an echo of sassafras — all of which are wrapped up in an old leather pouch. The end brings it all together with soft leather and a sweet dark fruity end that’s just silky.
This is another contender for the top spot. This is pretty damn good whiskey.
There’s a good mix of dark fruits and dark spices on the nose with a nice buttery edge that leads to some wet brown sugar and a mild hint of old leather. The palate has a lush vanilla underbelly that allows the woody winter spices to mix with the cherry syrup that’s countered by a tart apple and some wet porch wicker. The end is spicy but more sweet than hot — it’s well balanced — and melds that brown sugar, vanilla, and dark fruit into a nice finish.
I like this a lot. It was very “good rye vibes” through and through. Though, I’m not sure it’s as decisively complex as some of the others on this list.
Orange and floral honey lead the way with a hint of damp oats next to walnuts, raisings, and plenty of wintry spices with a woody edge. The palate is lush with a vanilla ice cream feel next to an almost rummy molasses with plenty of sweetness. The end has a ginger spiciness to it with a bit of black pepper next to dark chocolate with a thin old cedar. Eventually, the finish ends up on a ginger-spiced chocolate tobacco leaf.
This was very “well, that’s nice!” Not sure where it’ll land but I do like it.
Part 2: The Ranking
10. Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Kentucky Straight Rye BTAC 2021 — Taste 3
MSRP: $840 ($99 MSRP)
This is the youngest bottle in 2021’s BTAC. The whiskey was distilled in the spring of 2015 and bottled in the fall of 2021. The mash is mainly Minnesota rye with Kentucky corn and North Dakota barley. The juice matured in warehouses I, K, L, and O on the fifth through seventh floors. Over that time, 31 percent of the juice was lost to the angels.
This was so obviously last for me today. I didn’t hesitate to write “10” next to my tasting notes for this. I just can’t dig that old perfume note in the middle. It throws the whole thing off for me. This begs the question if this was actually its MSRP on the shelf, would it be as revered?
9. Rocket Top Bottled-in-Bond Straight Rye — Taste 5
Average Price: $99
This new release from Redwood Empire Distilling out in California is a unique whiskey. The mash bill is not a 95 percent rye. I know, shocking. Instead, we have five-year-old rye made from a mash bill of 87 percent rye, seven percent malted barley, and six percent wheat.
This was perfectly fine but a little one-note on that apple vibe. That’s a huge advantage for mixing up a cocktail as you can build off of that apple note. On a neat blind tasting, it wasn’t too exciting.
8. Nashville Barrel Company Single Barrel Straight Rye — Taste 2
Average Price: $115
Nashville Barrel is all about the barrel picks for retailers, bars, and whoever comes along (within reason). The juice in this case is 95 percent MGP rye that’s around eight years old. The whiskey went into the bottle at barrel strength without any additional fussing.
I liked this a lot more the last time I tried it. I think that woody/tannic note set me off the course this time around. Otherwise, this was perfectly fine but needed a rock for sure.
7. Lost Lantern Dad’s Hat Pennsylvania Straight Rye — Taste 1
Average Price: $90
Mountain Laurel Spirits — which created Dad’s Hat — has the distinction of reviving the old-school ways of Pennsylvania rye whiskey, which goes back centuries. The juice from this hand-picked barrel is a five-year-old rye whiskey made with 80 percent rye, 15 percent malted barley, and five percent malted rye. That whiskey was bottled as-is from a single 53-gallon barrel.
This felt like classic rye with a hot end. It was tasty, deep, and I truly liked it. It just needed a rock to calm it down and, likely, lead to much deeper flavors.
6. BLACKENED x Willett Kentucky Straight Rye Finished in Madeira Casks — Taste 7
Average Price: $160
This new release from Metallica’s BLACKENED is a masterful collaboration with Willett. The rye is a blend of whiskeys that were aged around six or seven years (with one barrel up to eight years old) that are vatted and then finished in Madeira casks. After an undisclosed amount of time mellowing in those casks, the whiskey is then bottled as-is at cask strength.
This was very good but hit that “berry” note hard. It wasn’t one-note, don’t get me wrong, but it took a moment to get past it to find all the rest that was going on in this pour. Still, this was very easy drinking overall.
5. Frey Ranch Bottled-in-Bond Straight Rye Whiskey Batch #5 — Taste 10
Average Price: $60
This whiskey from Nevada is a single estate spirit. That means it’s made with 100 percent rye in the mash bill and that rye (Winter Rye specifically) came from the Frey Ranch farmland. The spirit was then aged a few years before only a few thousand bottles were filled.
This was a nice whiskey. It felt like classic rye that works really well as a sipper of a cocktail base. It’s the perfect middle of the ranking for this set of pours.
4. Pursuit United Blended Straight Rye Whiskeys — Taste 9
Average Price: $60
This release is a blend of whiskeys from Kentucky and Maryland (which is the source of America’s rye whiskey heritage). The Kentucky rye is from Bardstown Bourbon Company (a 95 percent rye), which is contract distilling and aging whiskey for Pursuit United. The other rye is from Maryland’s famed and beloved Sagamore Spirits (a 52 percent rye). Barrels from each warehouse were masterfully married to create this expression with a touch of water to bring the proof down a notch.
This feels like a great near pout that’d also shine wonderfully in a Manhattan. It’s versatile and very tasty. It doesn’t quite have the depth of the next few on this list but that’s okay because it’s really good.
3. New Riff Sherry Finished Kentucky Straight Malted Rye — Taste 8
Average Price: $65
This whiskey starts off with a 100 percent malted rye whiskey that was aged for five years. That juice is then re-barreled into custom-made sherry casks (from 12 Oloroso and three Pedro Ximenez casks) for an additional year of maturation. The whiskey was then vatted in a stainless steel tank and left to rest for months before bottling in mid-2021.
This was a pretty stellar pour. The fruit, cedar, and soft spice just worked on the palate and helped it stand above the rest. I’d pour this again in an instant. The only reason it’s a little lower is that it wasn’t as deep as the first pick. But I’m really splitting hairs to try and rank these top three.
2. BLACKENED Rye The Lightening Kentucky Straight Rye Double Cask Finished in Madeira and Rum Casks — Taste 4
Average Price: $92
This whiskey from Metallica and Master Distiller and Blender Rob Dietrich is made from barrels Dietrich picked himself. Those barrels were between five and eight years old when they were batched and then re-filled into rum and Madeira barrels and blasted with music for a final maturation. The final result is made from a blending of those barrels with a touch of water to bring it down to proof.
This was just delicious. It was deep and complex but still felt welcoming. The only reason it’s not number one is that it was a tad less complex than the next pick.
1. Lost Lantern Dad’s Hat Pennsylvania Straight Rye Finished in Vermouth Casks — Taste 6
Average Price: $110
This Pennsylvania rye from Mountain Laurel Spirits takes Dad’s Hat’s 80 percent rye and ages it for four years. Then the juice is re-barreled into vermouth casks for an additional five months of mellowing before Lost Lantern got their hands on that one barrel and bottled it as-is.
This was magical. There was so much going on from the fennel to the intense peppercorns to the soft sweetness of the red fruits. Bravo.
Part 3: Final Thoughts
I think the biggest surprise of this tasting was where Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye ended up. It just did not mix well with these pours today. And unlike other bottles of whiskey that get a huge bump on the aftermarket, this really felt like it punched in or below its weight class. It wasn’t bad by any stretch and this is subjective to my palate, but that perfume note is a lot.
Overall, the top three picks are the ones I stand by the most. Any of those three are worth stocking on your home bar cart. That said, the top slot is really the true stand-out of this blind tasting. It was immediately evident that it would win. It was that good.