This definitive guide to the best rye whiskeys explores everything you need to know about bourbon’s spicy sibling, including the best bottles you can buy at your local liquor store.

At one time in our history, rye, not bourbon, was America’s whiskey. In the late 1700s, distillers in the rye-growing regions of Pennsylvania and Maryland created a market so reliable that rye was used to barter. When rye became the first domestic good taxed by the newly formed U.S. government, the backlash was such that it led to a rebellion.

Then Prohibition decreased production and bourbon, produced from corn grown in the newly farmed Midwest, supplanted it as America’s favorite brown liquor. As recently as 2006, in an article in The New York Times about a potential resurrection, rye survived only “by whiskey lovers who want to preserve its singular, almost exotic essence.”

Then something happened. The sweet-toothed, older, bourbon-drinking generation gave way to a generation that reached for more spice and flavor. Since the late aughts, rye sales have increased by hundreds of percentage points, which has driven the number of ryes on store shelves up in turn. We've gathered together our personal favorites as well as some recommended picks from a pair of rye experts from lauded Vermont distillery WhistlePig — Head Blender Meghan Ireland and Head of Whiskey Development/Whiskey Scientist Liz Rhoades — to bring you this list of the best rye whiskeys to buy.

The Best Rye Whiskeys

Russell’s Reserve 6-Year Small Batch

Russell's Reserve 6-Year Rye Whiskey

Despite rye’s recent burst of popularity, for a time it was represented consistently by only three brands: Jim Beam, Old Overholt and Wild Turkey. Then the bourbon boom spilled over into rye, and Eddie Russell stepped up rye production. With an excess of rye, he decided to let some barrels age a bit longer. The most interesting thing is that Wild Turkey (which produces Russell's) only uses two mashbills (one for rye, one for bourbon) and one yeast. So to taste their lineup is to taste differences that purely came from aging. This rye is 51 percent rye, 37 percent corn and 12 percent barley, leading to a more complex, sweet and bold rye that’s ideal for cocktails or sipping neat. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more consistently excellent and available product at a fair price.

  • Proof: 90
  • Price: $46

    WhistlePig PiggyBack 100% Rye

    WhistlePig PiggyBack Rye

    Truth be told, WhistlePig is responsible for a big chunk of the 21st-century rye resurgence. The Vermont-based distillery debuted in 2007 and fast established itself as a producer of premium rye, and in just 15 years it's become the most awarded rye whiskey maker in the world. Their PiggyBack is the distillery's flagship product, and it's distilled from a 100% rye mash bill. In other words, this is as rye whiskey as rye whiskey gets. "We wouldn’t make it if we didn’t love it, so naturally on this list is our PiggyBack 100% Rye," Ireland and Rhoades say. "Aged for six years and at 48.28% ABV; baking spice front and center, but complemented by caramelized apple and orange peel; we designed this expression for cocktails — it’s amazing in a Maple Old Fashioned — but it’s also very delicious neat or on the rocks, cheers!"

    • Proof: 96.56
    • Price: $50

      Old Overholt Straight Rye

      Old Overholt Bottled-in-Bond Straight Rye

      Old Overholt is cheap and easy to drink. It’s a perfect bottle for anyone transitioning from bourbons (which are less spicy) to rye. First made by Abraham Overholt in 1810 and produced in the Jim Beam portfolio, we recommend it for a light, summery Old Fashioned with a bit of spice to combat the sweet.

      • Proof: 80
      • Price: $19

        Old Forester Rye

        Old Forester 100 Proof Rye

        It would’ve been fair to call it a tie between Old Forester’s new 100-proof rye and Old Overholt for the “Best Cheap Rye” title. It’s a stout, cheap rye that balances spice and Old Forester’s classic bubblegum-like sweetness nicely. It’s been out for less than two years, but don’t be surprised when it becomes a staple well rye at your local bar.

        • Proof: 100
        • Price: $26

          Bulleit Rye

          Bulleit Rye


          One of the easiest ryes to find in stores is also a solid choice that holds up especially well in cocktails. Bulleit is best known for its bourbon, which has an unusually high rye content of no less than 28% in its mash bill. Unsurprisingly, the Kentucky-based distillery's rye also doesn't slack on the grain, with a whopping 95% rye mash bill. The result is an exceptionally spicy rye that our tester loves using to kick his old fashioneds up a notch.

          • Proof: 90
          • Price: $30

            High West Whiskey Double Rye!

            High West Double Rye! Whiskey


            David Perkins is a creative distiller, and Double Rye! was among his first to push the envelope. He blends ryes from two to seven years old, including MGP’s famed 95/5 rye and its own 80 percent rye, 20 percent barley rye — spicey-meets-sweet, basically. The result is a whiskey that feels green and springy, with a strong, mellow finish.

            • Proof: 92
            • Price: $37

              Sazerac Rye

              Sazerac Rye Whiskey


              This is the namesake of the Sazerac cocktail, among the oldest American cocktails and one that still turns heads (especially in New Orleans). Once considered among the best bangs for your buck in the rye world, it’s suffered from its own cult success, and the price tag has risen over the years. It’s complex, both spicy and a little sweet, and tastes very similar to Old Overholt and Rittenhouse. In fact, a general rule would be to buy Old Overholt to save money, Sazerac for an easy drinker and Rittenhouse for cocktails.

              • Proof: 90
              • Price: $33

                Knob Creek Straight Rye

                Knob Creek Rye Whiskey


                What Knob Creek’s standard rye has going for it: sturdy proof, solid price and hyper-consistency. It isn’t the rye you pull out when showing off your collection; it’s the go-to pour for the nights in between. Its relatively high proof and high corn mash bill make it a workhorse whiskey, not unlike a slightly upgraded Old Overholt. Find it literally everywhere.

                • Proof: 100
                • Price: $35

                  Sagamore Spirit Signature Straight Rye

                  Sagamore Spirit Signature Rye


                  Though there is some debate on what once defined a Maryland-style rye, Sagamore Spirit is deadset on establishing what it is going forward: subtly sweet, not-too-spicy and much closer to bourbon than the ryes of the 2000s. Its Signature Straight Rye is low-proof, relatively affordable and becoming available in more states every year. It’s easy drinking to the point where one might consider using a straw. After you’ve tried the Signature, do yourself a favor and reach for one of the distillery's barrel-finished ryes, which are among the most awarded in the business.

                  • Proof: 83
                  • Price: $39

                    New Riff Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey

                    New Riff Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey


                    New Riff is the distillery your whiskey-obsessed buddy won’t shut up about. Its straight rye is bottled-in-bond, non-chill-filtered and springy as can be, but the most interesting part is the mash bill, made up of the classic 95 percent rye and a very rare 5 percent of malted rye. Seeing as the whole of the whiskey is rye, it’s sharp out of the bottle, but not problematically so. Try it on the rocks and your breath will taste like mint.

                    • Proof: 100
                    • Price: $48

                      Pikesville Straight Rye

                      Pikesville Rye Whiskey


                      Not long ago, Pikesville Rye was a bottom-shelf rye from the Potomac region. First distilled in 1895, the name was acquired by Heaven Hill in 1982, who began distilling it on-site in Kentucky. Then, in 2015, Heaven Hill launched an older, higher proof and much better version nationwide. The bottle was named runner-up for Jim Murray’s 2016 World Whisky of the Year, even though its price tag stays in the $50 range.

                      • Proof: 110
                      • Price: $54

                        Willet Family Estate Small Batch Rye

                        Willett Family Estate 4-Year-Old Small Batch Straight Rye Whiskey


                        Led by Drew Kulsveen, Willett is a fantastic distillery. The family, which has distilled for 120 years, reopened their still in 2012 and their made-on-premise rye batches have been just as promising as their older ryes which they purchased from MGP. The younger ryes — which are four and five years old at this point — have a distinct taste and drink nicely neat or on ice.

                        • Proof: Varies
                        • Price: $55

                          Stauning Danish Rye

                          Stauning Danish Rye Whisky


                          Not all great rye comes from the US or Canada, as those across the pond also know their way around the spicy grain. This export out of Denmark was singled out by Rhoades as one of her personal favorites. "It’s so amazing to see what our friends in Europe are doing within the rye space," the whiskey scientist tells us. "In-house floor malted rye and barley, direct-fired alembics, and 100% passion. Of course, it tastes great as well — black licorice, pepper, rye bread and dried fruit!"

                          • Proof: 96
                          • Price: $80

                            Hillrock Double Cask Rye Whiskey

                            Hillrock Double Cask Rye Whiskey


                            Meghan Ireland stayed a little closer to home when making her personal favorite pick, going with a rye from Hillrock, which is a stone's throw away from Vermont-based WhistlePig in neighboring Hudson Valley, NY. As the Head Blender puts it, this whiskey — which is distilled from organically-grown rye and was crafted by the late Dave Pickerell, former Master Distiller at WhistlePig, Maker's Mark and others — has a whole lot going for it. "A solid cask finish, pot distilled, estate rye, Dave — what’s not to love?" Ireland says. "The flavor profile: apricots and figs, butterscotch and vanilla, but rounded out by that quintessential rye spice."

                            • Proof: 90
                            • Price: $80

                              Rittenhouse Bottled-in-Bond Straight Rye

                              Rittenhouse Bottled-in-Bond Rye


                              If you drink rye, you’ve probably had some Rittenhouse. It’s made with a mash bill of 51 percent rye (called “barely legal”) along with Old Overholt and Sazerac, so it tends to be sweeter and more accessible than ryes which are made almost entirely from rye and tend to be extremely spicy. At 100 proof and a 4-year minimum maturation, it makes for a wicked cocktail whiskey.

                              • Proof: 100
                              • Price: $28

                                Stellum Rye

                                Stellum Rye


                                Stellum is a new subbrand of Barrell's making and both its bourbon and ryes are, at launch, excellent. Barrell, being the masters of American whiskey blending, take a classic 95 percent Indiana rye and soften it up with rye whiskeys from Kentucky and Tennessee. The result is spectacular.

                                • Proof: 116
                                • Price: $55

                                  Wild Turkey Rare Breed Rye


                                  Wild Turkey Rare Breed Rye


                                  Something to give to your buddy who's obsessed with Wild Turkey. Rare Breed Rye continues down the path of the distillery's Rare Breed Bourbon by forgoing chill filtration and bottling at a stout proof, a combination of choices that yields a full, fatty and spicy rye that fits Wild Turkey's bold flavor profile to a tee.

                                  • Proof: 112
                                  • Price: $75

                                    E.H. Taylor, Jr. Straight Rye

                                    Colonel E.H. Taylor Straight Rye Whiskey


                                    Sazerac is likely Buffalo Trace’s most well-known rye. For E.H. Taylor, Jr., Buffalo Trace pays homage to the original recipe, dropping the corn and only balancing rye and barley for a spicy, clean rye. It’s not cheap and won’t be available at every store, but is worth the price for EHT completionists and seekers of unique ryes.

                                    • Proof: 100
                                    • Price: Varies

                                      Michter’s 10-Year Single Barrel Rye

                                      Michter's Distillery 10 Year Old Single Barrel Straight Rye Whiskey


                                      Michter’s has made a lot of bourbon bloggers upset due to a perceived lack of transparency when they just began distilling, rebooting the Michter’s name in 2004, after closing in 1989 after operation since about 1753 near Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania. But despite its whiskey being produced in Kentucky, not Pennsylvania, it’s extremely tasty and carries a hefty price tag. Its single-barrel rye is older than most Kentucky-style ryes, lending it a tannic-rich quality that makes it absolutely delicious with fattier foods. It’s going to be hard to track down, but it’s worth a spot on your personal top shelf.

                                      • Proof: 92
                                      • Price: Varies

                                        Leopold Bros. Three Chamber Rye

                                        Leopold Bros Three Chamber Rye Whiskey


                                        A favorite of just about everybody at WhistlePig, according to Ireland and Rhoades, is Leopold Bros.' very old-school Three Chamber Rye, which goes to great lengths to reproduce pre-prohibition-style rye by recreating a three-chamber still from old manuscripts and growing the heritage grain Abruzzi rye that was favored at the time. "We are all rye geeks here at WhistlePig, which means we are excited about what is happening over at Leopold Bros!" Ireland and Rhoades tell Gear Patrol. "Rye grain experimentation, tactful fermentation practices, and historic distillation techniques — yes!" The pair describe the Three Chamber Rye's taste as "Nutty, stone fruit, with a floral bouquet of lavender and chamomile."

                                        • Proof: 100
                                        • Price: $250

                                          Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye

                                          Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Straight Rye Whiskey


                                          Rye novices need not apply. One of five bottles in Buffalo Trace’s mighty Antique Collection, Handy Saz is an uncut, unfiltered, max-proof rye made from the same juice as the standard Sazerac bottling (known as “Baby Saz”). Each year’s release is a little different, but you can generally expect a five-finger rye (and alcohol) punch to the tastebuds. If you find a bottle at its $99 retail price, and you won’t, you should buy it immediately — bottles from the Antique Collection are typically sold for three and four times their MSRPs, at minimum.

                                          • Proof: Varies
                                          • Price: Varies

                                            WhistlePig The Boss Hog


                                            WhistlePig Boss Hog IX Siren's Song


                                            Every year for the last nine years, WhistlePig has crafted a special "Boss Hog" release. Designed as basically a Holy Grail rye whiskey, each year the spirit is different while still fulfilling five criteria: single barrel, bottled at proof, powerfully complex, distinctly unique from anything they've done before, and stupendous. It always sells out in a flash — even at a whopping $600 MSRP — and go on to fetch thousands on the secondhand market. For 2022, we got The Boss Hog IX: Siren's Song, an ode to Greek mythology's muses that was double-finished in barrels that housed Greek fig nectar and the Greek liqueur Tentura, with both finishes being crafted in-house by Ireland and Rhoades. Our tester found Siren's Song to be surprisingly sweet and honey-like on the nose, with a taste that was ultra-smooth and full of baking spice (Christmas comes to mind) and pleasant warmth, followed by a long and subtly sweet finish. Believe it or not, it's worth the sky-high prices it commands.

                                            • Proof: 102.5 – 106.2 proof
                                            • Price: Varies