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19 Spicy Rye Whiskeys You Need To Drink This Summer, According To Bartenders

For the unacquainted, rye whiskey can be fairly confusing. This is because there are technically two different types of rye whiskey. The first is Canadian whisky which, regardless of how much rye is included in the mash bill, sometimes gets referred to by the broad term of “rye whisky.” The other is American straight rye whiskey, which has basically identical rules to those of bourbon.

For instance, bourbon must have a minimum of 51 percent corn in its mash bill (recipe). Conversely, rye whiskey has to have 51 percent rye in its mash bill. From there, the rye quotient in each whiskey can reach anywhere from a measly 51 percent rye to a very bold 100 percent. The most drunk versions (the source of many of the bottles below) are all sourced from MGP of Indiana, which primarily uses a 95 percent rye mash bill.

In our humble opinion, there are few spirits more suitable for summer sipping (especially as we get into August) than rye whiskey. Well-made rye should have the sweet, rich, vanilla flavors of a great bourbon paired with the sometimes fiery, spicy, cracked black pepper flavor and/or a green, grassy, almost herbal note often accentuated by red berries and other bold fruits that feels like late summer in a glass.

To find the best, we enlisted the help of our friendly neighborhood barkeeps. We asked a handful of bartenders for their picks for the best rye whiskeys to drink this summer. Check them all out below and click on the prices if any of these bottles feel like something you’d like to try.

Michter’s US-1 Kentucky Straight Rye

Michter

Tara Gillum, bartender at Steiner’s Speakeasy in Chillicothe, Ohio

ABV: 42.4%

Average Price: $47

Why This Whiskey?

There are a lot of great rye whiskeys and for me, it’s hard to pick just one. But if I have to pick a rye, I’m going with Michter’s Rye. It is spicy and bold with just enough heat to make you wake up and appreciate it.

George Dickel Rye

George Dickel

Scott Wenger, bartender The Continental in Tampa

ABV: 45%

Average Price: $28

Why This Whiskey?

George Dickel Rye is one of my favorites. Like its more popular siblings, it is a very sippable whiskey if you like to drink your rye neat. But its high rye build gives it great spice and caramel notes that are great in a cocktail or just as a highball.

Russell’s Reserve 6-Year-Old Rye

Russell

Michael Parish, head bartender at Jia in Miami

ABV: 45%

Average Price: $44

Why This Whiskey?

Russell’s Reserve 6-Year-Old is the best rye whiskey to drink this summer to give the season that extra kick of spice. It’s creamy, spicy, and has hints of pepper. A swirl of the glass lends to an underlying trace of the perfect amount of sweetness.

New York Distilling Rag Time Rye

New York Distilling

Ivy Mix, co-founder of Speed Rack and co-owner of Leyenda in Brooklyn, New York

ABV: 45.2%

Average Price: $40

Why This Whiskey?

I love New York Distilling Rag Time Rye. It’s super spicy and makes a fantastic whiskey ginger (or you can just taste it in the Social Hour Whiskey Mule!). It’s also great neat or on the rocks.

Tattersall Straight Rye

Tattsersall

Cassidy Flannery, bartender at Sonder Shaker in Minneapolis

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $36

Why This Whiskey?

I’ve been in love with Tattersall Distilling’s Straight Rye Whiskey for years. Their rye makes beautiful, stirred cocktails. It’s also perfect in our “Goonies” cocktail (rye, Falernum, ginger, and lime). It’s robust and peppery, which elevates this fresh and gingery tiki sour.

Chicken Cock Straight Rye

Chicken Cock

Monica Collins, bartender at Lucky Rooster Kitchen + Bar in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

ABV: 45%

Average Price: $75

Why This Bottle?

Chicken Cock Rye is a rare gem that’s been around since pre-prohibition. It’s a blend of nine and 12-year barrels, finished with a little eucalyptus. It’s perfect for a summer Manhattan or boulevardier. It’s Kentucky-made, spicy, sweet, and delicious.

WhistlePig Old World Cask Finish Rye

WhistlePig

Daniel Yang, lead bartender at Rosina inside The Venetian Resort in Las Vegas

ABV: 45%

Average Price: $130

Why This Whiskey?

I have been a huge fan of WhistlePig ryes since my early bartending days due to their awesome story and amazing products. Their 12-Year-Old World Rye is incredible and should be on anyone’s list who is interested in exploring rye whiskey. It’s aged first in new American oak barrels, then split and aged in three different types of old-world containers, (French Sauternes barrels, Madeira casks, and Port pipes). It has flavors of apricots, plums, dates, honey, and most importantly, that nice rye spice kick.

Basil Hayden’s Dark Rye

Jim Beam

Adam Mason, cocktail specialist at LouVino in Louisville

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $45

Why This Whiskey?

Basil Hayden’s Dark Rye is an outstanding spice forward and balanced rye bourbon. Carmel, oak, and dried fruits pay this rye whiskey homage in any form of cocktail or just straight up.

Bulleit Rye

Bulleit

Stephen Lasaten, food and beverage manager at The Ritz-Carlton in St. Thomas

ABV: 45%

Average Price: $30

Why This Whiskey?

Bulleit Rye Whiskey is my go-to. This whiskey with a well-crafted ginger beer (St. John Brewers Ginger Beer) and a couple of wedges of lime make spicy and refreshing Kentucky mule, a nice “kick” for the late summer. It’s also a pretty great sipper on its own.

Milam & Greene Straight Rye Whiskey Finished in Port Wine Casks

Milam & Greene

Darron Foy, bar manager at The Flatiron Room in New York City

ABV: 47%

Average Price: $49

Why This Whiskey?

I’m currently loving Milam & Greene Straight Rye Whiskey Finished in Port Wine Casks. Bottled at 47 percent ABV, the Indiana rye is brought to Texas and finished in Portuguese port casks under the Texas sun. Due to the extreme temperatures, each barrel has to be very carefully monitored to ensure the whiskey is removed and bottled at the right moment.

I love rye, and when you compliment the spice and heat of good straight rye with the tempered sweetness of dark stewed fruit, what’s not to love? Pepper and ham notes mix with blackcurrant and wine tannins. The finish is dry and long, egging you on to pour yourself another. It’s delicious neat, on the rocks, or in any rye forward cocktail.

Willett Family Estate 4 Year Straight Rye

Willett

Jeremy Williams, mixologist at MDRD at the Amway Grand Plaza in Grand Rapids, Michigan

ABV: 55%

Average Price: $69

Why This Whiskey?

If you are interested in picking up a special bottle, check out Willett Family Estate 4 Year Straight Rye. This deeply complex and highly luxurious beauty is bottled at around 115 proof. It bears sophisticated rye spice, a touch of sweetness, and wonderful toasted notes.

Rittenhouse Rye

Rittenhouse Rye

Jacob Mata, bar manager at Garden & Grain in Pensacola, Florida

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $28

Why This Whiskey?

Rye whiskey is my favorite category of American whiskey. The spice-forward flavor profile of rye whiskey lends itself to making flavorful cocktails. Rittenhouse Rye has a great balance of flavors including toffee, sweet peppers, cocoa, nutmeg, and cinnamon. I’ve found Rittenhouse Rye shines in a Manhattan-style cocktail and makes a damn good whiskey sour.

Redemption Rye

Redemption

Chaz Gallo, director of food and beverage at The Bristol Hotel in Bristol, Virginia

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $29

Why This Whiskey?

The whiskey market has grown substantially with so many to choose from. Knob Creek and WhistlePig are great, but I would pick Redemption Rye Whiskey above all others. The connection to the old Seagram’s distillery is special as Seagram’s was one of the most popular whiskeys in the mid to late 1900s. Redemption has notes of spearmint, a touch of cigar box spice, and dried cherry.

Timber Creek Florida Black Rye Whiskey

Timber Creek

Manuel Gonzalez, food and beverage director at AC Hotel Sawgrass Mills Sunrise in Sunrise, Florida

ABV: 45.75%

Average Price: $45

Why This Whiskey?

Timber Creek Florida Black Rye Whiskey is a 100 percent rye and uses Florida 401 Black Rye, a strain of rye that only grows in Florida. The Florida heat and sandy soil do something to this rye and gives it a unique bold flavor, unlike any other rye.

Leopold Bros Maryland-style Rye

Leopold Bros.

Liam Odien, beverage director at Playa Provisions in Playa Del Rey, California

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $50

Why This Whiskey?

If you can find it, Leopold Bros Maryland-style Rye is my pick. Most American rye whiskey is made in Pennsylvania and/or Indiana style these days. But historically, Maryland-style rye was also very popular. It vanished for a while, and Leopold started making one several years ago. It’s a little bit less aggressive than most rye, with delicate floral notes and a beautiful aroma.

River Basin Rye

River Basin

Ryan Anderson, complex director of beverage at Ace Hotel in New Orleans

ABV: 47%

Average Price: $45

Why This Whiskey?

I’ve been using a new brand recently that is local to where I’m based in New Orleans. River Basin Distillery bottles a delicious rye whiskey that is distilled in Kentucky but aged in New Orleans, allowing our natural humidity and heat to hasten to the aging process. The end result is a young whiskey that packs in the flavor.

Old Overholt Bonded

Old Overholt

Matt Nicholas, bar manager for The Kennedy Bar in Pensacola, Florida

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $28

Why This Whiskey?

While the label tells a story of whiskey from your grandfather’s liquor cabinet, the whiskey tells a story of devotion and tradition. Said to be America’s oldest continually maintained brand of whiskey, Old Overholt offers a delicious, sweet vanilla and caramel palate that is perfect for any summer day or night.

Hudson Whiskey Do The Rye Thing

Hudson Whiskey

Sebastien Derbomez, William Grant & Sons manager of brand advocacy

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $45

Why This Whiskey?

Try New York’s first straight whiskey in nearly a century, Hudson Whiskey’s Do The Rye Thing. The name says it all, so do the rye thing and taste this new liquid. It’s bold and peppery with a slight fruitiness. I’d say whip up a delicious New York Ryeball highball, it is easy to make and refreshing. Simply mix Hudson Whiskey Do The Rye Thing, Sweet Vermouth, fresh lime, and top with Ginger Ale in a highball glass filled with ice. The spices and fruitiness flavors found in Hudson combine perfectly with these ingredients, it’s my go-to drink for this summer.

WhistlePig 10-Year-Old Rye

WhistlePig

Rustyn Lee, beverage director at Atomic Saloon Show in Paradise, Nevada

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $85

Why This Whiskey?

Anything Whistle Pig is doing is pretty great. The rye spice is there but wrapped in a nice balance of flavors. Find one in your price range and enjoy. Your best bet if you’re new to the brand is to start with its 10-year-old (or the 6-year-old Piggyback). It’s spicy, sweet, and perfect for sipping or mixing.


As a Drizly affiliate, Uproxx may receive a commission pursuant to certain items on this list.

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