There’s something about the flavor profile of a good rye whiskey that shouts “springtime!” Maybe it’s the green herbal nature of the rye grain in the mash bill (recipe) or maybe it’s just that American rye whiskey feels brighter than your average bourbon. Either way, spring is a great time to try new rye whiskeys — both brand-new labels and new batches of classic brands.
To that end, I’m conducting a classic rye whiskey blind taste test with new bottles that have just hit shelves for spring drinking. These are all straight rye whiskeys with at least 51% rye grains in the mix. I even added a new Irish rye whiskey that was released exclusively for the U.S. market. There are small batch blends, special oak barrel finishes, and some limited editions that go full rye with 100% of the grain in the mash bill.
Our lineup today features the following rye whiskeys:
- 291 All Rye 100% Rye Malt Colorado Whiskey Finished with Aspen Wood Staves
- 15 STARS Fine Aged Rye First West A Select Blend of Straight Rye Whiskeys
- Rare Character Single Barrel Series Selected by ReserveBar Topflight Series Straight Rye Whiskey Finished in Jaqueira Casks
- Doc Swinson’s Alter Ego Solera Method Straight Rye Whiskey Finished in Rum Casks
- Lost Lantern 2023 Single Cask #4 Corbin Cash California Straight Rye Whiskey 7 Years Old
- Sagamore Spirit Reserve Series 8-Year-Old Straight Rye Whiskey
- Method And Madness Irish Whiskey Triple Distilled Rye And Malt USA Limited Edition
- Buzzard’s Roost Straight Rye Whiskey Smoked Barrel
As for the ranking, this is about taste only. I’m looking for that one bottle of new rye whiskey that you should be drinking right now. So let’s dive right in and find you that perfect whiskey to add to your bar cart this spring!
Part 1 — The Rye Whiskey Tasting
Nose: The nose opens with dark fruit leather, dark black tea leaves, cinnamon bark, and a fistful of dry dill and marjoram with a whisper of salted caramel sweetness.
Palate: The palate has a cinnamon toast vibe next to more of that dark black tea with a hint of clove-spiced plum jam, freshly cracked black pepper, and more of that salted caramel.
Finish: The plumminess drives the finish with a hint of cracked almond shell and dark dill next to fresh flat-leaf parsley and a touch of sweet-sour cherry packed in sawdust.
This is excellent whiskey. It really balances the green herbal notes with deeply classic and dark American whiskey fruitiness and sweetness.
Nose: There’s a deep winter spice — clove, anise, cinnamon, nutmeg — next to Earl Grey tea, dried cranberry, dried cherry, and a dash of sour plum.
Palate: Apricot jam over buttermilk scones dusted with cinnamon leads to dry oolong tea leaves, sweet sage, creamed honey, and a touch of ginger tobacco just kissed with dark chocolate sauce.
Finish: That sharp gingery tobacco drives the finish with a bitter chocolate underbelly toward lush cherrywood and sour plum sauce with a hint more of those opening winter spices.
What a great ride! This whiskey is complex and fun. Rye on steroids.
Nose: The nose is deeply nutty with a dark and worn leatheriness next to a soft sense of mild mushrooms, green banana, macadamia, and anise with a soft Kentucky cherry/vanilla/winter spice undertone.
Palate: The palate is lush and silky with a sense of vanilla oils, star fruit, clove, cinnamon bark, and nutmeg next to creamy nuttiness with a dash of toffee and alder planks.
Finish: The finish just lingers and lingers while slowly fading through vanilla buttercream, sour cherries tossed in maple sea salt, and moist marzipan cut with orange and pomelo oils.
This is whiskey is fabulous. 5-stars. A+++++. 100%.
Nose: Quince jam and stewed pears lead the way on the nose with a sense of apple cider spiked with cinnamon bark and allspice berries next to a mild sweet oakiness and grassiness.
Palate: Grilled peaches drizzled in caramel mix with the syrup from a can of fruit cocktail next to smudged wild sage, pineapple rinds, burnt orange, and a sense of sweet wet herbs.
Finish: Those sweet herbs drive the finish toward a sense of spiced cherry next to vanilla cookies with a nice dose of winter spice.
What’s crazy is that this is really, really good rye but I want to go back to the last pour. That’s the sort of rub with these blind tastings, this could be a number one had I not had the last pour right before this. Still, this is delicious but… maybe a touch fruity/sweet?
Nose: Chili-spiced old chocolate bars sit next to mint chocolate chip ice cream in waffle cones with a hint of old grain silos off in the distance.
Palate: There’s a clear ABV buzz on the palate with a clear sense of fresh green tea leaves, sweet stone fruits, spiced hot chocolate topped with vanilla buttercream, and a light sense of nuttiness.
Finish: The end has this vibe that’s kind of like a hot green matcha creamy tea (the ones made with condensed milk from the can) that’s rolled into a mint mochi ball and dipped in dark chocolate.
This is another great whiskey. It’s so different yet makes total sense once you go on the journey from the nose to the finish. I really want more of this one too.
Nose: The nose draws you in with dried cherries dipped in dark chocolate and sprinkled with ground clove and allspice and then dipped in old vanilla syrup made with burnt pods and orange peels.
Palate: A soft cherry sweetness plays with a classic winter spice mix — think cinnamon sticks, anise, clove, orange rind, holly — next to ginger rock candy, peanut butter cookies, and a hint of rum-raisin.
Finish: That sweet/rummy dried fruit drives the finish toward clove-laced plum jam, peanut brittle, vanilla oils, and a whisper of pine resin layered into rum-raisin tobacco.
Goddamn it, this is f*cking great too. I’m six pours in and all of these whiskeys have been stellar. I have no idea how I’m going to rank these.
Nose: There’s a nice deep leatheriness on the nose with a sense of old dry lemon rinds next to lavender oils, clove buds, and a fleeting sense of eggnog with a lightness to it.
Palate: Oats and winter spices lead the way on the palate with a sense of fresh firewood, honey-dipped malt cookies, and raisins dipped in dark chocolate and flaked with salt.
Finish: Those malt cookies drive the finish toward more raisin and oats with a honeyed vibe, a hint of dry red chili, and a dash of white pepper.
This is very good too, but much lighter. It looks a lot lighter too. I’m guessing this is the Irish rye, mostly due to the oatiness and honey vibes. Still, this is pretty good all things considered.
Nose: The nose is rich and full of nutty banana bread brimming with cinnamon and cardamom next to salted caramel and moist vanilla cake kissed with tart cherry and a pinch of dark chocolate.
Palate: The palate leads off with a hint of burnt orange that sweetens towards marmalade with more of that vanilla and caramel accented by a campfire-singed marshmallow.
Finish: The end has a light smudged sage vibe that circles back to that nutty and spicy banana bread with a buttery softness.
This was good but kind of standard. That might just be that the first six pours on this panel were all on a different plane.
Part 2 — The Rye Whiskey Ranking
6. Buzzard’s Roost Straight Rye Whiskey Smoked Barrel — Taste 8
Average Price: $70
Buzzard’s Roost is a female-led Kentucky bottler. The whiskey in this bottle is double-casked rye from Indiana (MGP’s famed 95/5 rye). After four years of resting, the rye whiskey is re-barreled into new American oak that was toasted and then smoked instead of charred for a final maturation rest before blending and bottling.
This was nice, standard rye whiskey. It had a nice sweetness to it and would work as an easy everyday sipper.
5. Method And Madness Irish Whiskey Triple Distilled Rye And Malt USA Limited Edition — Taste 7
Average Price: $89
This whiskey is from Midleton Distillery’s (the place that makes Jameson, Powers, Spot, and Redbreast) craft distillery. The whiskey is made from a mash (recipe) of 60% rye and 40% malted barley. The whiskey is twice-distilled as per most Irish whiskeys before a long rest in ex-bourbon casks. Once those barrels were ready, they were batched, proofed, and bottled for the U.S. marketplace.
This was a nice rye whiskey that felt like a good bridge between classic Irish whiskeys and bolder ryes from the U.S. Overall, if you’re looking for something a little different but still very drinkable, then grab one of these. I think with the honey vibes on the palate, this will make a great citrus-forward cocktail too.
4. Doc Swinson’s Alter Ego Solera Method Straight Rye Whiskey Finished in Rum Casks — Taste 4
Average Price: $46
This whiskey is a blend of classic Indiana 95/5 rye/malted barley whiskey with a very low-rye mash whiskey made with 45% corn, 51% rye, and 4% malted barley. Once blended, those whiskeys are added to Doc Swinson’s solera system where they’re finished in a mix of rum casks from St. Croix, Trinidad & Tobago, Venezuela, and Jamaica. As the barrels are emptied, new whiskey is added to keep the solera method going indefinitely.
This was very good whiskey. It didn’t quite pop as much as the next whiskeys, but it got the job done. If you’re looking for a solid easy-sipper, this is a great choice.
3. 15 STARS Fine Aged Rye First West A Select Blend of Straight Rye Whiskeys — Taste 2
Average Price: $89
This new release from 15 STARS is a blend of six, seven, and eight-year-old ryes from Kentucky, Indiana, and Tennessee. That blend informs the name “First West” as those states were considered the “West” during the early days of the United States in the late 1700s and early 1800s.
This, again, was a very nice sipping whiskey. It is complex and rewarding. There are no faults at all. If you can find a bottle of this one, you’ll be in for a rich and fun rye whiskey to take slow as a sipper.
2. (tie) 291 All Rye 100% Rye Malt Colorado Whiskey Finished with Aspen Wood Staves — Taste 1
Average Price: $115
This Colorado whiskey is made with a 100% rye mash bill — 50% Colorado malted rye (from Root Shoot Malting) and 50% German rye malt — on a bespoke still. The hot juice is then aged in new oak with signature toasted aspen wood staves added to help refine the aging process. Finally, the barrels were batched and bottled 100% as-is, yielding only 1,000 bottles.
This was fantastic. This one and the next entry are number two simply because they’re instant classics but maybe not quite trailblazers. Still, this whiskey hits every note so clearly and well that I kind of don’t care. This is so good.
2. (tie) Sagamore Spirit Reserve Series 8-Year-Old Straight Rye Whiskey — Taste 6
Average Price: $86
This newest spring reserve release from Sagamore Spirit is an eight-year-old rye. The whiskey was batched and bottled as-is to highlight the deep maritime aging in Maryland.
This is just classic from top to bottom with a depth that’s beautiful. If you’re looking for a quintessential pour of rye whiskey, this is it.
1. (tie) Lost Lantern 2023 Single Cask #4 Corbin Cash California Straight Rye Whiskey 7 Years Old — Taste 5
Average Price: $119
This rye is from a tiny California distillery. The distillery was founded on a sweet potato farm that uses rye as a cover crop. The whiskey in this single barrel pick bottle is made with 100% Merced rye grown in sweet potato soil. That whiskey aged for seven years on the farm before Lost Lantern came along and bottled it into 217 bottles completely as-is.
Wow! This is next-level rye whiskey. It’s warm on the palate but offers just a wild and exciting ride of flavors so much so that you just want more. Get a bottle before this one disappears forever.
1. (tie) Rare Character Single Barrel Series Selected by ReserveBar Topflight Series Straight Rye Whiskey Finished in Jaqueira Casks — Taste 3
Average Price: $88
Japqueira is a Brazilian wood that most notably grows jack fruit and is used to age cachaça. The whiskey in the bottle is 95/5 rye from Indiana that’s then refilled into a Jacqueira barrel that previously held cachaça and let it rest in Kentucky for a spell. After four years and six months, ReserveBar bottled a single barrel 100% as-is.
Yeah, this is another next-level rye that goes places that you’d never expect while still holding the thread of a complete story/journey on/in your senses. It’s wildly delicious and lush with a deep profile that just kind of keeps going deeper. This is where rye is going and I can’t wait to go on that ride.
Part 3 — Final Thoughts on the Spring Rye Whiskeys
The top four whiskeys on this list are some of the best whiskeys I’ve tasted this year (and I’m already north of 300 individual whiskeys so far). Find any of the top four whiskeys on this list, they’re amazing.
If those don’t speak to you for whatever reason, really all the whiskeys on this list are great and you’ll be in for a real treat if you buy any of them. Truly — just check the tasing notes to see what speaks to you.