It’s another day and that means somewhere there’s a brand new bottle of whiskey on the shelf. Let’s face it, whiskey drops — rye, bourbon, scotch, American single malt, blended, etc. — are a constant now. Will they ever stop? We don’t know. But we’re enjoying the boom while it lasts.
However, that does leave us with a whole lot of whiskey to track — sometimes with rankings, sometimes blind, and sometimes with single-bottle reviews. Today, it’s time to try some new rye whiskeys and see how they rank in one of our famous blind taste tests.
Like most whiskey categories, rye is rapidly expanding right now. The old days of the simple “rye = spice” are long gone. Distillers and blenders have taken the category in new directions, while still adhering to the legal definition of the spirit by keeping at least 51 percent rye grains in the mash bill (recipe).
For this blind taste test, I’m pulling 12 new rye whiskeys from my shelf and seeing how they stack up. For the most part, these are all brand new releases (some aren’t even on shelves yet) alongside some new batches and reissues which dropped over the past couple of months. As for the ranking part, that’s purely based on taste. Price and availability are not in play.
The lineup today is:
- Chicken Cock Rum Barrel Rye Island Rooster
- Old Potrero 6 Years Old
- Jefferson’s Ocean Aged At Sea Double Barrel Rye Whiskey (Voyage 26)
- Rabbit Hole Boxergrail Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey
- Kentucky Owl The Wiseman
- New Riff Balboa Rye Bottled in Bond
- Stellum Rye Fibonacci Blend #1
- Leopold Bros. Single Barrel Three Chamber Rye Whiskey
- Michter’s Single Barrel 10-Year-Old Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey
- Great Jones Straight Rye Whiskey
- Wheel Horse Straight Rye Whiskey
- High West A Midwinter Nights Dram
Okay, let’s jump in and find you you a new rye to sip this summer!
Also Read: The Top Five Rye Whiskey from the Last Six Months on UPROXX
Part 1: The Tasting
This opens with a hint of sour orchard fruit next to fresh grains, light molasses sweetness (with a twinge of tannic oak) next to a mild dose of dried and woody chili pepper. The palate starts off with a sour apple candy sweetness next to rum-soaked raisins with more of that tannic molasses, a good layer of vanilla creaminess, buttery toffee, and a dash of red peppercorns. The end lets the butteriness of the toffee take over as crusty rye bread flour mixes with dark sugars.
This is a pretty good place to start.
This has a massively grainy nose with a hint of dry cat food (I confirmed with three people in my house without incepting them with that flavor note — one of them said they smelled fiberglass, too) next to buried dark Christmas spices and a hint of rum-soaked oak. The palate is full of sharp ginger and woody cinnamon with a touch of pecans covered in butter and pancake syrup (a complete departure from the nose). The finish has woody vanilla, caramel candy, and a hint of dry porch wicker.
This was flabbergasting. I hated the nose … with a passion of all of hell’s fire. The palate was nice though. It was simple but effective.
This opens with a sense of old pine resin next to dried serrano peppers, woody cinnamon, clove, allspice, and Cherry Coke with a hint of sour apple and maybe some sweetgrass. The palate leans into a cinnamon roll vibe with a lot of ground ginger, nutmeg, clove, and cinnamon next to singed marshmallows and caramel apples before that Cherry Coke makes a roaring comeback — his time it’s heavily spiced to almost a Dr. Pepper vibe (in the best way). The end turns into an old leather pouch with a hint of salt next to a sour cherry tobacco leaf.
This was a bazillion times better than the last dram. Out of these first three, this is the best (by far)… but I have a long way to go.
This has an interesting nose that’s park spicy pork stew (chili, umami, fat) with bright peaches, vanilla, and summer wildflowers. The palate has a hint of old cedar next to cream soda, white pepper, and crusty rye bread with a hint of caraway The finish brings in heavily spiced chewy tobacco packed into an old cedar box with creamy vanilla and dash more of that powdery white pepper.
This was pretty nice. It felt a little one-note in that it was “rye” but that’s fine. I can see this landing in the middle somewhere.
Citrus and green spices open up the nose toward a lot of sweetness — honey, caramel, apple candy — before hitting a light dry sweetgrass note. The taste opens with a warm hit of winter spices with sharp cinnamon and a hint of black pepper before a dry forest moss vibe moves the taste toward old leather and dried apricot with more honey and candy. The end is more warm than spicy with more honey as a counterpoint and a hint of vanilla tobacco.
This was, again, fine. It feels like a solid mid-ranking whiskey.
There’s a trace of saltwater taffy on the nose (or maybe just the wax paper wrappers) next to an almost buttery chili rub with a good dose of salt and red pepper spice that’s both lush and deep. The palate leans into a spicy orange marmalade as a medley of dry grasses, woody spices, and creamy vanilla mingles on the senses. The end is a spiced cherry cola next to more woody spice (clove and allspice berries especially) with a luxurious landing on waxy mint taffy, soft capsicum spice, and dry cedar bark braids.
Okay, this was the first really good pour of this tasting. This resets everything. I was starting to get worried.
Wow. This opens with a mix of chili-spiked tomato soup next to tannic old oak staves dipped in orange-laced honey. The palate opens with a hint of apple pie filling, clove, and plenty of buttery creamed brown sugar before veering into forest floor dirt, old Earl Grey tea bags, and a twinge of dried mushroom. The end arrives with creamy cherry/vanilla/chocolate that leads back to the orange-laced honey as gingery tobacco leaves pack into an old cedar box that’s lined with soft leather.
This is another killer. This is damn fine whiskey, rye or not.
From my notes: “We’ve found the whiskey to beat, folks!”
The nose is subtle with hints of maple syrup bran muffins next to star fruit, a hint of creamy Nutella, and a whisper of a salted peanut shell. The palate is lush but grainy with dried apricot and orange marmalade leading to a Cherry Coke vibe with plenty of cola, clove, and allspice and maybe a small nub of black licorice. The end comes with an echo of white wildflowers next to nasturtiums, sour apple candy, and mulled wine-soaked tobacco leaves.
This is another banger. It’s not quite as “wow” as the past pour but it’s close.
Rich and lush toffee combine with soft marzipan on the nose as a dash of freshly cracked black pepper lead to cinnamon-laced apple cider and cherry-soaked cedar bark. The palate is part Red Hot and part zesty orange marmalade with creamy vanilla pudding, sweet and spicy dried chili peppers with a hint of smoke and woodiness, and this fleeting whisper of celery salt. The end dries out the almond with a vanilla cream tobacco, soft and sweet cedar, and dark chocolate orange vibe all balanced to damn near perfection.
From my notes: “This took me on a journey and is as soft as silk. This is going to be hard to beat.”
This whiskey opens with a nose full of lemon and cumin with a dose of vanilla and pepper. The palate is cinnamon candy forward with vanilla tobacco and lemon pepper mingling with a hint of old oak staves and maybe some sour cherry. The end is light but spicy with a rush of dried fruits and sweet brown sugars.
This was pretty good overall. It didn’t blow me away, but it was perfectly solid all around.
Chili salt and black pepper lead to peach cobbler and a hint of vanilla frosting. The palate is full of winter spices that lean toward cinnamon and black licorice candies. The finish is all Red Hots with dashes of dark chocolate, dry grass, and old vanilla husks.
Again, this was pretty nice. It wasn’t an arresting sip but it went down nicely.
This is a pretty complex nose with sour berries next to dried apricot, woody and slightly sweet cinnamon, French toast, and a mild note of something umami (dried mushrooms perhaps). The palate gets more savory with a rhubarb vibe as dark chocolate with a serious woody spiced edge meets old leather laced with years of tobacco, lush vanilla cream, and salted caramel. The end is as silky as eggnog with a whisper of black tea bitterness and minty tobacco rounding things out.
This is another good damn pour.
Part 2: The Ranking
12. Old Potrero 6 Years Old — Taste 2
Average Price: $72
This whiskey is a bit of a throwback with a West Coast vibe. The juice is 100 percent rye whiskey made at Anchor Brewing in Portero Hill, one of San Francisco’s most iconic spots for booze. As of this year, the spirit is being distilled on the waterfront in San Francisco but still carries that Anchor Brewing heritage. With that move, the bottle also got a brand new design that leans into San Francisco’s sea-faring history.
I damn near didn’t rank this one. The nose was so off-putting that it was almost impossible to get past.
11. Kentucky Owl The Wiseman — Taste 5
Average Price: $53
This whiskey is part of Kentucky Owl’s new accessible line of whiskeys (its previous releases were very exclusive and expensive generally). The juice is contract distilled at Bardstown Bourbon Company. The whiskey is made from a classic 95 percent rye and five percent malted barley mash. That ages for at least four years before bottling as is.
This is really where the ranking starts. This was pretty solid rye all around. It wasn’t anything that wowed or changed the way you think about whiskey, but not every bottle has to be. That said, I think I’m relegating this to highballs and cocktails.
10. Wheel Horse Straight Rye Whiskey — Taste 11
Average Price: $35
The latest batch from Latitude Beverage/Ocean State Distillers, which pulls its juice from the famed Green River Distilling Co. in Kentucky, is another classic rye. The contract distilled whiskey is the quintessential 95/5 rye/barley mash. This one is aged for up to three years before it’s batched, proofed, and bottled.
I enjoyed this basic rye whiskey with no frills. I think it’s more of a cocktail base than anything else, but that’s fine.
9. Rabbit Hole Boxergrail Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey — Taste 4
Average Price: $53
This crafty distillery makes their rye with 95 percent rye and malted barley right in Louisville (and via contract distilling). The 95/5 rye juice is aged for three years in heavily toasted and charred barrels before vatting, proofing, and bottling.
This is solid as ever. Again, this is still squarely in the “good cocktail base” category for me, hence it’s ranked a little low.
8. Great Jones Straight Rye Whiskey — Taste 10
Average Price: $40 (Coming Soon)
This is a very local New York whiskey. The mash uses grains grown in New York before the juice is distilled and aged at the craft distillery. The whiskey ages for four years before batching, proofing, and barreling.
The was the last of the “just fine” rye whiskey. Though I can see pouring this over some rocks as well as using it for cocktails.
7. Chicken Cock Rum Barrel Rye Island Rooster — Taste 1
Average Price: $200
This contract distilled whiskey (by Bardstown Bourbon Company) from Chicken Cock is from 25 hand-picked four-year-old Kentucky rye casks (with a mash bill of 95/5). Those barrels were vatted and then re-barreled in Caribbean rum casks for six more months of maturation. Finally, the whiskey was bottled with a touch of proofing water.
This is where we get into the good stuff. This is a nice sipper overall with a serious depth that’d work wonders in a cocktail (though that price point…ouch). Anyway, this is the beginning of the “Zach’s splitting hairs to rank whiskey” section.
6. Jefferson’s Ocean Aged At Sea Double Barrel Rye Whiskey (Voyage 26) — Taste 3
Average Price: $93
The latest rye release from Jefferson’s much-lauded “Aged At Sea” program highlights Canadian whisky. The juice is a batch of barrels from undisclosed Canadian distilleries. Those barrels age for up to five years before being loaded onto a science ship and sent around the world.
Once the whiskey arrived back in Kentucky, it was vatted, proofed, and bottled as-is.
This delivered a deep flavor profile even though the proof was on the lower end. It was just a really nice pour that was also engaging. This is something I wanted to return to. It’s not ranked higher simply because I don’t dream about it like the rest of the bottles on this list.
Still… this is very good juice.
5. High West A Midwinter Nights Dram — Taste 12
Average Price: $140
Each year, this limited drop varies slightly. This release was a mix of MGP rye (95 percent rye) and High West rye (100 percent rye) finished in French oak barrels that held ruby and tawny port. The barrels picked for this batch were between four and seven years old with the older barrels coming from Indiana and the younger ones from Utah.
This is just good. Given the collection of pours and their order, this might have been a two or three on any other day. Today, it was a clear winner and remains a top five overall rye for the day. It’s just delicious.
4. Leopold Bros. Single Barrel Three Chamber Rye Whiskey — Taste 8
Average Price: $250
The latest release of Leopold Bros.’s famed Three Chamber rye is a stellar single barrel release made in a bespoke still designed by Todd Leopold specifically to make this whiskey. The summer 2022 release is made with Abruzzi rye and sourced from the best five-year-old barrels in the warehouse, according to Todd Leopold’s master-level palate. Once a single barrel is selected, the whiskey is then slightly touched with water before bottling.
This was new and fresh (that sweet bran muffin vibe is popping up a lot this year). It was also classic and fun. This is just good whiskey that takes you somewhere new.
3. New Riff Balboa Rye Bottled in Bond — Taste 6
Average Price: $210
This whiskey is built around heritage rye from Indiana, Balboa rye, which was popularized in the 1940s. The juice is hewn from a 95/5 rye/barley recipe and aged for up to five years before batching, proofing, and bottling.
This is a pretty excellent whiskey. It’s an easy sipper that’s very rewarding. Still, these top five are all interchangeable. This stood out a tad more in that it was just super silky and easy to drink while carrying serious depth.
2. Stellum Rye Fibonacci Blend #1 — Taste 7
Average Price: $99
This new whiskey from Stellum (part of Barrell Craft Spirits) celebrates the Fibonacci sequence — that’s the sequence of numbers that are the sum of the previous two numbers. To mimic this, the blenders at Stellum selected six rye barrels and blended them with each barrel becoming the sum of the last two barrels. The results were bottled without any proofing or fussing.
This is phenomenal whiskey. It didn’t win the day by a tiny bit simply because it was a little broad. That said, it covered a lot of ground, took me on a journey of flavor, and was just plain delicious.
1. Michter’s Single Barrel 10-Year-Old Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey — Taste 9
Average Price: $400
This year’s only Michter’s 10-Year release is an instant classic. The whiskey is made from a corn-rich rye whiskey mash bill with a good dose of barley in there. The absolute best barrels are chosen — with some up to 15 years old — for this release. Then each of those barrels is individually bottled as-is with a hint of proofing water.
This was the biggest “wow” whiskey of the tasting. While this might be the only Michter’s 10-Year release we see this year (we already know the bourbon isn’t coming again until 2023), it’s also the only one we need. This is stellar whiskey with accessibility that’s both easy and rewarding. It’s deep yet familiar. It’s fresh yet nostalgic.
This is a classic for the ages. Look for it on our end-of-year lists!
Part 3: Final Thought
Well, this shook out weird. The 12th seed was one of the oddest experiences I’ve ever had tasting whiskey — and I taste a lot. Eleven through six were all perfectly good whiskeys with their own merits and faults. Five and four were where I think you should start really paying attention. Three and two are worthy of your hard-earned cash and time to find.
That 2022 Michter’s 10-Year Rye though … that’s the one. That instantly shot up to contention for best whiskey of the year. We’ll see how the next five months play out, but it’s going to be hard to beat.