A Rye for Every Occasion: Six Rye Whiskeys Every Home Bar Needs

I think we can stop talking about rye whiskey as a niche—for anybody paying attention to the world of whiskey, rye whiskey has officially returned, bigger, bolder, and better than ever.

For my money, rye whiskey delivers the best bang-for-buck ratio of any whiskey category. It’s eminently affordable, easy to find, enjoyable neat or in cocktails, and has the amplitude and intensity of flavor often associated with products many times its price. If you’re not drinking rye whiskey yet, here are some ideas to start your collection. Pick one bottle from each category, and you’ll have just the right rye for every occasion; pick both, and you’ll have a home bar to turn your rye-obsessed friends green with envy.

The Cocktail Ryes

Sazerac Rye

Made by Buffalo Trace, Sazerac Rye is a sweet, crisp, juicy rye in a satisfyingly vintage-looking package. Bottled at 100 proof and usually selling for around $30, it’s a killer cocktail base, especially for anything featuring the orange or anise flavors that distinguish the eponymous Sazerac cocktail.

Rittenhouse Rye

When people talk about “spicy” rye whiskey, this is what they mean. Made by Heaven Hill, Rittenhouse Rye has some serious oomph, with enough cinnamon, black pepper, clove, and nutmeg to make you feel like it’s Christmas morning. It too is bottled at a cocktail-friendly 100 proof, and sells for around $25.

The Sipping Ryes

Pikesville Rye

One step up the Rittenhouse ladder, Pikesville Rye from Heaven Hill showcases the verdant, herbal characteristics of the grain. Named Rye Whiskey of the Year in 2016 by James Murray, it references a historic Maryland style. Here, warming spice is offset by a sophisticated suggestion of dill and mint. It’s bottled at a satisfying 110 proof and carries a six-year age statement.

Lot No. 40

For years, this 100% rye Canadian whisky was an impossible-to-find cult favorite until it was finally re-introduced to the states in 2012. For anybody who thinks all Canadian whisky tastes like caramel-flavored vodka, this will disabuse them of that notion. Pure, creamy, and intense, Lot No. 40 can go toe-to-toe with bourbons many, many times its price point.

The Splurge Ryes

Lock Stock & Barrel

From the same folks who brought you St. Germaine Elderflower Liquor, this equally design-y whisky packages 100% Canadian rye in a gorgeous opaque black glass bottle with a classy, vintage-inspired label. The last  Lock Stock & Barrel release was 16 years old, and tasted like a root beer float drizzled with birch syrup and topped with orange zest. This year’s release will be 18 years old.

WhistlePig 10 Year Straight Rye

Also leveraging the amazing 100% rye stock from our northern neighbors, WhistlePig 10 Year Straight Rye sources whisky from Alberta, then gives it a second rest in used bourbon barrels before bottling it under the WhistlePig label. It’s super sweet, with a creamy, unctuous texture and lovely thread of baking spice.

About the author

Margarett Waterbury

Margarett Waterbury is a food and drinks writer based in Portland, Oregon. She's the managing editor of The Whiskey Wash, the managing editor of Edible Portland, and a regular contributor to local and national publications.