When it comes to booze, we live in a whiskey world. It’s a great place to be. Great whiskey is cheaper and better than ever and that’s something worth celebrating. Small batch distillers are popping up all over the country and big macro distillers are getting back into niche styles across the board. That translates to a lot of great whiskey hitting the shelves, rye included.
Rye is a bit of an outlier in the whiskey world. Generally, it needs to be distilled from a mash bill of at least 51 percent rye grain, similarly, bourbon has to be at least 51 percent corn. Generally speaking, barley, wheat, or even corn is used in the other 49 percent to very varying degrees — with the bigger and bolder ryes hitting the 90 percent mark with the rye grain. (Except in Canada, where “rye” can mean a rye distillate or simply just “whisky” in general as more of a colloquialism.)
Either way, rye is the spicy cousin to bourbon’s sweet burn. There’s more going on here — profile-wise — with the sharp contrast of the rye grains adding an extra layer of depth to whiskey. That makes rye one of the more interesting whiskeys out there, full of oaky complexity and peppery depths. “It’s rad!” is what we’re saying, so here are some of our favorite bottles for under 30 bucks.
Old Overholt Rye Whiskey
Old Overholt is the bottle of rye that needs to be on everybody’s booze shelf. It’s very economically priced and has depth and, well, a power to it that’s at once fun and delicious.
There’s a real sense of what “rye” is as a style here. It’s peppery, oaky, and tastes good with a rock or in a killer Manhattan. Buy it, drink it, love it.
Jack Daniel’s Rye Whiskey
Good ol’ Jack Daniel’s is always a solid bet for a good time. This rye is on the subtler side of the spiciness scale, with a nice fruity balance that you’ve come to expect from JD.
You can take shots of this one if you really have to, but we recommend mixing up a great cocktail or a nice rye and soda highball with a dash of lime.
Jim Beam Rye Whiskey
Jim Beam’s rye has a nice peppery edge to it that’s underpinned by the Jim Beam smoothness and neutrality. This one is great a sazerac base, with a nice brandy and plenty of Peychaud’s. It also works on the rocks if you let that water open it up a bit.
Slow & Low Rock And Rye
Okay, we’re sorta breaking our own rules here. Slow and Low Rock and Rye is infused with honey, giving the spirit a very old-fashioned cocktail feel. But the honey is so subtle and well integrated that it really works here. The peppery rye is balanced well and you can straight up just drink this one over a few rocks and it’ll put a pleasant smile on your face.
Wild Turkey 81 Proof Rye Whiskey
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Wild Turkey is a great bottle to have around and their rye fits that mold perfectly. There’s a bold spiciness at play that almost feels like Szechuan red peppercorns have been mixed with orange zest and mineral water.
It’s a little complex, but remains very easy to drink. It also makes an amazing Manhattan with the orangey pepperiness creating the perfect counterpoint to a citrus and herbal-forward sweet vermouth.
Rittenhouse Rye Whiskey 100 Proof
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Rittenhouse is a big hitting booze, period. This is the stuff that the old-timers would say “put hair on your chest.” There’s an old-school heavy alcohol vibe here that lends to a nice oak-aged sweetness, giving way to a big spicy finish.
Try this one with a rock first to let it bloom in the glass — get a feel for it. Then mix it into an outstanding old fashioned.
George Dickel Rye Whisky
George Dickel is another throwback bottle that’s damn tasty. This one feels more like the type of rye you should have in a hip flask for sipping on when an analgesic is in order. It’ll cure what ails ya.
There is a great balance of oaky “whiskey” fortitude paired with a real pepper spice. This is also a great place to start a sazerac or boulevardier. The big flavors here make for big, bold cocktails.
Bulleit Straight Rye Whiskey
Bulleit just makes good whiskey. Their rye is another great sipper, shooter, or mixer. That signature Bulleit vanilla oakiness is here. That’s layered with a bright, almost fresh, peppery nature.
It’s a big drink that’s very quaffable. Try it in a highball with a nice (harder) minerally water and some orange or grapefruit zest and you’ll be in pure Draper-mode.
Crater Lake Rye Whiskey
Crater Lake distillery out in Bend, Oregon, is cooking up some great, local booze. There’s a fresh air, mountain breeze feel to this one — with a spiciness that leans almost piney. Try a shot between sips of your favorite West Coast IPA.
If you can’t find this local distillate in your neck of the woods, use it as a reason to track down who’s distilling in your backyard and check them out.
Alberta Rye Canadian Whisky
A shocking amount of your favorite rye whiskeys come from distillers up in Alberta (though most are aged stateside and then bottled, like some older Whistle Pig and others). So, trying a great rye from the source is a no-brainer.
Alberta Rye is a really good standard bearer of what “rye” is all about. There’s a distinct pepper spice here that gives way to a mineral essence that’s more great “plains grassy” than “oaky.” This is a good sipping whisky with a drop or two of water. It also works perfectly well as a mixer too, so don’t sleep on using this one in a highball or hot toddy.
Redemption Rye 92 Proof
Redemption is a strong rye with a high percentage of actual rye (92 percent). There’s a real sense of charred oak that hints at almost a Christmas spice matrix of cinnamon, allspice, and biting ginger.
This is a great sipping whiskey that really blooms with a little water or a cube or two of ice. But, again, it also shines as a base spirit in a cocktail. Sazeracs, toddies, manhattans, and, especially, old fashioneds pop with Redemption as the base.
Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye
Crown Royal’s signature rye is a must-have bottle that feels like it should be in $50 range. There’s a complex balance of rye spiciness that feels like its been paired with a fruit orchard on a warm summer’s day. It’s breezy and, yet, still has a nice kick to it to leave you feeling like you’re drinking like a grown up.
Sip this one, maybe add in a little ice or water and let it bloom. Then start experimenting by layering this great rye into your highball and cocktail rotation. Though we recommend a very soft mineral water for the highballs.