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The 5 Best Rye Whiskeys for the Unsure Drinker

Rye whiskey always seems to be very hit-and-miss for whiskey drinkers. Like peated whisky, rye is an acquired taste, with the spice suited to certain palates.

However, there are many rye whiskeys that you can sample if you are unsure. These rye whiskeys are the perfect gateway for the drinker who just doesn’t know where to start. 

Rittenhouse Rye 100 Proof (50% ABV)

BUY NOW: $20.99 

Let’s start with the bigger, bolder ones. Rittenhouse was a style of whiskey based in Pennsylvania, some would say that this is the home of rye whiskey. 

But when it was purchased by Heaven Hill a few years ago it became more of a Kentucky-style rye. What does this mean? 

Essentially the content of rye is lower, versus what it would’ve been back on the East Coast, 51% rye to be exact. 

But don’t let that fool you about Rittenhouse Rye, it is still a spicy, warming, full-bodied style of rye, especially when bottled at 100 proof. 

Some additional quality in the product with its Bottled In Bond label, too. A saver of the wallet and generally good quality for all occasions. 

Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey (45.2% ABV)

BUY NOW: $27.99 

Launched in 2015 from the ever-famous bourbon distillery, Woodford Reserve Rye quickly became a favorite of mine. My personal love for this whiskey was backed up when it won Whiskey of the Year in 2016. To this day it is a standard bottle on my back bar. It just hits the spot. 

Much like the Rittenhouse mentioned above, Woodford Rye is a low rye style, with the rye grain only making up 53% of the overall mashbill. 

This still allows the corn to push through with more caramel sweetness, the rye just giving a little kick on the finish to make things seem deeper and more complex. 

Redwood Empire Emerald Giant Rye Whiskey (45% ABV)

 

BUY NOW: $29.95 

This is a recent discovery for me and I’m so happy that it happened. 

I’d heard so much buzz around Redwood Empire but had never ordered a bottle. I was happily in an incredible restaurant the other day and saw it behind the bar. One of the best bar stool revelations I’ve ever had with a whiskey! 

Much like its namesake tree (which is 359ft tall), this rye whiskey makes a statement. The mashbill contains a whopping 95% rye. 

If you want to start big, bold, and feisty, then please look no further. 

However, it wasn’t allspice and over-the-top power. Being bottled at 45% ABV allows this to have some softer more chocolate qualities to it that I honestly wasn’t expecting. 

Paired with BBQ food then this thing really steps into its own realm. If I’m being very honest here, not a lot of whiskey of any variety pairs this well with some BBQ short rib. Outstanding! 

Old Overholt Straight Rye Whiskey (40% ABV)

BUY NOW: $16.99 

Another story for you now. 

I was traveling around New York solo for my 26th birthday and wandered into many wonderful places to eat and drink. Even the ones that weren’t wonderful still offered quite a good time. 

I was propping up the bar in a place called Mama’s BBQ in Brooklyn after deciding to walk from Wall Street to 147th Street to pick up a bottle of whiskey. Bad idea in the summertime folks, but I don’t regret the sunburn. 

Anyway, I spotted this bottle of Old Overholt on the back bar and asked the bartender about it. She told me some incredible stuff. 

The brand began life in 1810 as another Pennsylvania style of rye whiskey, but it’s now owned by Beam Suntory and made in Kentucky. This is a very common theme for a lot of these more approachable rye styles. 

I ordered a double, she poured me a quadruple, and I’ve never had such occupying fruit notes come from a rye whiskey before. This thing is all about papaya and grapefruit, along with all of those more classic spicy rye notes. 

 have a lot of time for this bottle, especially for the price, but it’s the history attached to this bottle that makes it so impressive, too. 

Drunk by John F. Kennedy and Ulysses S. Grant, as well parodied in Terry Pratchett novels as ‘old overcoat’ – this thing spans a time and memory that is difficult to comprehend with some of the most ancient brands in whisky. Give it a try. 

Power’s Irish Rye Whiskey (43.2% ABV) 

BUY NOW: $26.99 

Everything tends to be better with an Irish twist and here is the Power’s 100% rye whiskey from the ever-charming folks at the Midleton Distillery in Ireland. 

When I first saw this I was a little confused, but there have been so many parallels drawn between Irish and American whiskey over the last decade or so that it starts to make sense. 

The way that Jameson’s has grown on the East Coast of the United States is incredible to fathom. In fact, Irish whiskey as a whole has been the fastest-growing category of whiskey since 1990. There’s no stopping them because it all just tastes great! 

Matured in a combination of virgin oak, first-fill ex-bourbon casks, and refill ex-bourbon casks, this thing is soaked with rich cherry flavors and some nice spice to finish. 

Surprisingly though, this isn’t a new idea. Carol Quinn, who is Irish Distiller’s archivist, dug through the history of the company to find some surprising mashbills from the 19th and 20th centuries. 

The Irish have always been experimental when it comes to whisky, and nothing shows it better or more affordable than this offering from Midleton.

Phil Dwyer

Having worked in whisky retail for a decade, and running Whisky Wednesday on YouTube for nearly as long, Phil has always wanted to learn, talk and tell everyone as much about whisky as he can.

Whisky can be overly complicated at times. Phil wants to end that. Brands have pushed far too much jargon into the drinking atmosphere; it's difficult to breathe when whisky is mentioned at times.

Phil also manages The Whisky Shop Manchester stocking some of the best drams on the market.

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