The winter was meant for whisk(e)y. The baking spices of bourbon and the smoke of Scotch make them the most likely candidates for holiday season sipping, but sometimes the chill in the air requires a little something extra. No, we don’t mean the cinnamon kick of Fireball or another flavored whiskey. You can save those to pass around at your next tailgate.
We’re talking about the spicy warmth of a well-made rye. Like bourbon and its makeup of 51 percent corn, rye must be made with at least 51 percent rye grains in the mash bill. The result is a spice-forward whiskey with big, bold flavors surging to the fore.
Michelle Hamo, bartender at Brabo Brasserie in Alexandria, Virginia, prefers rye this time of year — specifically Redemption Rye from Lawrenceburg, Indiana.
“It’s a classic American rye that goes beyond the mandated 51% rye in the mash bill for a whopping 95%,” she explains. “The result is a spicy, rugged whiskey with that uniquely earthy rye funk that I love. It’s 92-proof and spends 2.5 years resting in new charred oak barrels. It makes me think of the pre-prohibition tipples someone might have enjoyed in the 19th century.”
In recent years, rye whiskey has seen a boom in the US (and Canada) — meaning there’s no shortage of expressions to try. We asked some of our favorite bartenders to tell us their go-tos this time of year.
Kyle Ritchie’s, bar manager at Doug Fir in Portland, Oregon
Rittenhouse Rye, a workhorse in any environment. It’s great in cocktails or neat, even on the rocks while sitting around a cozy fire.
High West Midwinter’s Night Dram
Scott Kollig, beverage director of Rye Street Tavern in Baltimore
High West Midwinter’s Night Dram for sure. It is a masterful blend of 6 and 16-year rye whiskeys and finished in Port Wine French Oak Casks. While I generally avoid saying that something tastes like a season, or a holiday for that matter, this genuinely tastes like Christmas. It is damn near perfect. Everything from the name, to the robust rye spice and the story behind it, there is no better option for winter rye drinking.
WhistlePig 10-Year-Old Rye
Brian Krux, mixologist and bartender at Topnotch Resort in Stowe, Vermont
Named ‘Best Whisky in the World’ at the prestigious San Francisco Spirits Competition, Whistle Pig Rye has my vote for best rye during the cold winter months. It is a little on the pricey side at $75 but it is unlike any other rye on the market.
Hailey Coder, lead bartender at The Park Bistro & Bar in Lafayette, California
Templeton Rye is truly the good stuff! I love the smell of cedar and the flavor of vanilla. It is light with bold flavors that can be made easily made into an old fashioned or poured over a nice big clear ice cube.
Old Overholt Rye
Lauren Mathews, lead bartender at Urbana in Washington, DC
Old Overholt Rye is one of my favorite ryes to keep warm with through the winter. The ABV really warms you up while smooth enough to sip and enjoy.
WhistlePig Boss Hog
Amy Wong, bartender at King Tide Fish & Shell in Portland, Oregon
A very special rye to keep you warm and toasty is the Whistlepig Boss Hog 5th Edition. This edition, if you can find it, is finished in Calvados Casks. I love Calvados so it’s like a mixed drink in every pour.
Savage and Cooke Lip Service Rye
Cameron Lang, bartender at Center Hub in Irvine, California
Savage and Cooke’s ‘Lip Service Rye’. This Straight Rye Whiskey is based out of Vallejo, California surprisingly! It drinks with so much personality! Cinnamon, caramel, brown sugar. This rye is perfect for the colder seasons, especially the holidays with all of its festive tasting notes. Easily an underdog that I wish more whiskey drinkers knew about.
Lock, Stock, & Barrel Rye
Josh Korn, bar manager at Bar West in Portland, Oregon
If I’m trying to impress company, I’m looking to get my hands on a bottle of Lock, Stock, & Barrel Rye. The 13-year-old is the most affordable, and it’s a beautiful rye that exemplifies all of the best that rye whiskeys have to offer. It’s aged for 13 years, which gives is a lovely texture, toffee sweetness, plenty of front palate spice, and a warm toasty finish with overtones of milk chocolate and black coffee. While it’s distilled in the original home of rye, Pennsylvania, the grain is grown here in the Pacific Northwest.
It’s a whiskey with an interesting story in a well-curated package, making it a perfect gift bottle for a bourbon enthusiast looking to get into rye.
Angel’s Envy Rye
Jay Oakley, bartender at B&O American Brasserie in Baltimore
Angel’s Envy Rye. The quality is excellent with a solid rye presence. The rye bottle is accented with green writing, adding a visual of holiday cheer.
Ron Manlapid, bartender at Menlo Tavern in Menlo Park, California
Whistlepig 12. No doubt, right now this is the best rye whiskey out there. Maple flavor and perfect richness but has some heat behind it. It’s great mixed, but even better by itself.
High West Double Rye
Drew Hairston, beverage manager at Dirty Habit in Washington, DC
Any rye from High West will do the trick during the winter. Their huge line of unique ryes will keep you interested at any price point. My favorite in their Double Rye.
Basil Hayden’s Dark Rye
Rebecca Edwards, bar manager at Tavola in Charlottesville, Virginia
Basil Hayden’s Dark Rye. It’s such a distinctive spirit. The blend of Kentucky and Canadian ryes balance each other well, and the touch of port in the finish makes you think of sitting by a cozy fire after a good meal.
Woodford Reserve Straight Rye
Daniel Burns, manager and bar lead at Elixir in San Francisco
If I need rye to warm me during the winter months, I go for Woodford Reserve Straight Rye. I like low-rye rye and Woodford has a beautiful nose and nice depth of flavor.
George Dickel Rye
Paul Sanchez, general manager at Alma Cocina Latina in Baltimore
I think it’s pretty obvious at this point that I’m a huge fan rye whiskey and there are some wonderful whiskey options out there such as Four Roses, Rittenhouse Rye, WhistlePig 10 Year, George Dickel Rye, Bookers, Angel’s Envy and Templeton Rye to name a few. Every one of them will keep you warm all winter long.