Once a dominant style of whiskey made in the U.S., rye took a downturn for a few decades. Bourbon’s popularity exploded, pushing rye out of the general consciousness. But in the past decade or so, bartenders have been using rye to stay true to original classic cocktail recipes, and now it appears that rye is having a moment. If you’re a devoted bourbon fan looking to make your way into this moment, you might be confused about which bottles to try first. Look no further. These seven rye whiskeys have some classic rye spice while being approachable to people whose palates are more used to bourbon.
Unlike many of the larger distillers working with rye, Woodford Reserve is straight up about the percentage of rye grain in its mash bill: 53 percent, just 2 percent more than the minimum. This is a blessing for people used to bourbon, but rye lovers will be satisfied as well if they’re looking for something to drink neat (it’s a manageable 45.2 percent ABV) or over a large ice cube. The peppery rye notes are obvious in each sip along with clove and cedar. Woodford’s rye finishes with fruity and sweet honey notes that keep the spice from being overwhelming.
Jack Daniel’s doesn’t shy away from putting plenty of rye in its mash bill (70 percent), but that doesn’t mean it’s overpoweringly spicy. The spirit is made with the first new Jack Daniel’s mash bill since Prohibition, and it’s charcoal mellowed just like the Old No. 7 that you know and love. It has a bit of pepper up front, then smooths out with some sweetness toward the end.
You won’t have any trouble finding Old Overholt in bars and liquor stores. It’s an entry rye when it comes to both price and flavor, perfect for anyone just starting to get into the style. There’s a touch of white pepper spice that you can expect in most ryes, and it’s tempered with vanilla, caramel and clove. It’s light and slightly sweet, and cheap enough that you won’t feel bad experimenting with it cocktails. The (very slightly) more expensive Old Overholt Bonded Straight Rye has a bit more punch to it thanks to being 100 proof instead of 80, making it another solid selection if you want to stay in the Old Overholt family on your burgeoning rye adventure.
It’s OK for bourbon drinkers to look outside of traditional ryes to find one they like. Basil Hayden’s Dark Rye is one they will like—as will plenty of other whiskey fans. Dark Rye is a blend of Kentucky rye, Canadian rye and just a little bit of port wine from California. The port smooths out the spirit and gives it ripe fruity notes that complement the rye spice and oak flavors.
Speaking of looking for a good, non-traditional rye, why not ease your way into rye with a spirit that’s literally a mix of rye and bourbon? High West makes its Bourye (a portmanteau of bourbon and rye) using 14- and 13-year-old ryes, a 12-year-old bourbon and two 11-year-old bourbons. Technically, it’s classified as a blend of straight whiskey, not a rye. But if you want to find something right in middle of a bourbon and a rye, both literally and taste-wise, Bourye won’t let you down.
Heaven Hill, the makers of Rittenhouse, hasn’t officially announced the rye percentage, but the rye flavor hits strong, while obvious vanilla and sweet maple notes keep it balanced. Rittenhouse is another affordable go-to along with Old Overholt, and it’s a good choice for cocktails when you want something with a little kick of spice but don’t feel like venturing too far from your beloved bourbon.
John Drew sources whiskey from a distillery in Canada where it’s been aged in oak for four years. It’s then shipped to Florida to be aged for another three. As it turns out, taking your time is a good thing when it comes to whiskey. The blend has body and is easy drinking with a peppery honey flavor.