The Best Rye Whiskeys You Need To Try In 2023

It's funny how a drink's popularity goes in cycles. For the first few centuries of our nation's history, rye was the spirit of choice for all discriminating drinkers. While nearly all alcoholic beverages went underground during Prohibition, rye unlike other spirits somehow never fully recovered after the repeal. Throughout the rest of the 20th century, it was seen as the kind of beverage you drank in your Chevy at the levy with a bunch of good old boys ... emphasis on the old.

Enter the 21st century and with it, hipsters, foodies, and aficionados of all things artisanal. While millennials may have been blamed for killing many aspects of culture, they made up for it by bringing others back from the brink, including classic cocktails and the spirits with which to make them. At long last, rye was having a well-deserved moment. What's more, according to The New York Times in 2015, it was even considered to be "a young person's drink" (always good for marketing purposes). 

A decade or so into the Rye Revolution, we are practically spoiled for choice when it comes to high-quality options. We couldn't possibly name all of the good ryes on the market today, but these are a few of our current favorites.

How we selected these rye whiskeys

As we mentioned, there are numerous different ryes on the market at this time, but they're hardly identical. Many factors go into making one bottle distinct from the next. Age influences to some extent, although truly old rye is somewhat of a rarity. Ryes also tend to be less boozy than bourbons, as Uptown Spirits explains, but you do find the occasional overproof bottle (our pick comes in at 119 proof).

Rye also comes in an assortment of styles, most of them named after the area in which they originated. The majority are distinguished by the amount of rye grain in the mash, according to Whisky Advocate, as well as various features we'll discuss throughout. We also took into account the best rye for cocktails as opposed to straight sipping, and we even threw in a few ryes picked just for fun: one where the recipe was determined in a most unusual way and another with a super-cute bottle. We'll let you in on a little secret; both of these ryes are excellent in their own right, so we were bound and determined to include them on our "best of" list even if we did have to stretch a bit to come up with the categories.

Best for Beginners

Templeton is a brand with an interesting backstory, even if it's been slightly (or not-so-slightly) embellished. For those not deeply steeped in booze history, it seems as if Templeton, Iowa, was the bootleg hooch capital of the Midwest during Prohibition — at least in terms of rye whiskey production. 

Naturally, a 21st-century craft distiller would want to avail itself of such a legend, but when the Templeton Distillery first opened it was actually bottling a product made by MGP in Indiana rather than one that was "based on a prohibition-era recipe" as the label once claimed. Templeton has now opened a distillery in Iowa and hopes to start making its own booze there pretty soon.

Dubious advertising claims aside, Templeton's 4 year rye is some super-smooth stuff. Whiskey For the Ages praises it as being mild-flavored, sweet, and just the kind of rye that can serve as an easy introduction for someone who's not much of a whiskey drinker — yet. It's not nearly as complex as most ryes but it does offer notes of citrus, ginger, honey, nectarines, oak, pepper, and vanilla as you drink, finishing off without much burn. Even if you're not a newbie, this bottle would be a good option for cocktails.

Purchase Templeton 4 Year from Drizly starting at $39.50 for a 750 ml bottle as of April 2023.

Best Budget Pick

What is a straight rye whiskey as opposed to any other type? As Serious Eats explains, any rye labeled "straight" has been aged for at least two years, and four or more years if the age is not stated. You might think that straight rye would be pretty pricey, but as a matter of fact, one of the better bottles on the market is actually among the cheaper options out there. Yes, Old Overholt Straight Rye Whiskey is a real sleeper, although people are starting to catch on.

Apart from the very low price, Old Overholt is a must-buy due to the fact that the approximately 200-year-old brand is still putting out a great product after so many years. Drizly customers rate it 4.8 out of 5 stars, with one person describing its sweet fruity notes of apple, caramel, dark spices, and vanilla, and another saying it "Compares well to Bulleit." Yet another praises Old Overholt as "Amazingly sweet smooth and spicy," but a fourth reviewer warns: "Don't tell too many people and make it hard to find!"

Purchase Old Overholt Straight Rye Whiskey from Drizly starting at $19.99 for a 750 ml bottle as of April 2023.

Best Splurge

On the other end of the price spectrum from Old Overholt is another straight rye: Michter's 10 Year Kentucky Straight Rye. This bottle will run you some pretty big bucks (around a couple hundred if you can find the limited edition product), so it's definitely a special occasion, once-in-a-blue-moon sipper. Still, for your money, you're getting a truly exceptional bottle of rye.

The Whiskey Shelf's reviewer is no Michter's fan person and claims to be underwhelmed by the brand's standard range. However, they describe the 10 year straight rye as both "outstanding" and "incredible." It is an exceptionally fine-smelling whiskey, the kind that you'd be tempted to splash on as a perfume if it didn't cost more than a bottle of Chanel No. 5. (Okay, maybe we're exaggerating a teensy bit here.) 

As for the flavor, it's a rich and complex mélange of earthy, fruity, herbal, and oak with notes of apple, blueberry, caramel, cherry, cinnamon, clove, coffee, fennel, ginseng, honey, licorice, lychee, maple, orange, pineapple, rose, rosemary, and vanilla. The ABV is on the low side at 46.4%, which allows you to experience this rye's full flavor without the bite that high levels of alcohol can deliver.

Purchase Michter's 10 Year Kentucky Straight Rye from Drizly starting at $279.99 for a 750 ml bottle as of April 2023.

Best Canadian

Canadian whisky tends to have the highest rye content of all the varieties, and Lot 40 Canadian Rye's rye level couldn't get any higher with a mash bill of 100%. This single-batch whisky (Canada, like Scotland, omits the "e") belongs to Corby's Northern Border Collection which also includes the Pike Creek and Gooderham & Worts labels. While there is no age statement on the bottle, it's thought to have aged for at least 3 years and has a fairly low ABV of 43%.

Lot 40 has won quite a few accolades, including Whisky of the Year in 2013, 2015, and 2017 at the Canadian Whisky Awards. The Whiskey Jug's review lauds its well-balanced, spicy-sweet flavor profile with notes of butterscotch, citrus, grass, rye spice, and vanilla, noting that the copper pot used during distillation also lends its flavor. One Drizly reviewer goes so far as to call the copper "by far the dominant note," although they don't find that it overwhelms the other flavors as they're able to detect orange peel and pepper, as well. Another happy customer calls it "One of the best ryes I've ever had."

Purchase Lot 40 Canadian Rye from Drizly starting at $39.99 for a 750 ml bottle as of April 2023.

Best Kentucky Rye

If you're a bourbon fan thinking of switching to rye (or at least giving it a try), your best bet is to start off with a Kentucky-style one. According to Whisky Advocate, these tend to have the lowest amount of rye in the mash bill at 51%. Anything less and they wouldn't be considered ryes at all. The other 49% includes a lot of corn, and these ryes usually spend several years aging in charred barrels as do many bourbons. What you have then, is basically the missing link between the two spirits.

Our pick for a Kentucky style is Pikesville Rye from the Heaven Hill Distillery. While this rye was originally produced in Maryland (hence the name for Pikesville, Maryland, a Baltimore suburb), it's distilled in Kentucky and fits the profile with 6 years of aging and a 51% rye, 39% corn, and 10% barley mash bill. 

Bourbon Inspector chose this rye as one of the top whiskeys for making a Manhattan, due to the fact that the cherry, clove, honey, licorice, and nutmeg notes perfectly complement both vermouth and bitters. Drizly customers award it 4.9 stars, finding that it works just as well as a solo sipper. One calls it a "Terrific rye" with a "perfect balance of spice, sweetness, and burn," while another declares that the "Flavor is amazing whether you enjoy it neat or with a small amount of water/ice."

Purchase Pikesville Rye from Drizly starting at $59.99 for a 750 ml bottle as of April 2023.

Best Maryland-Style Rye

Maryland-style rye is something of a mystery. While The New York Times relates that the Old Line State was the nation's number three whiskey distiller pre-Prohibition behind only Pennsylvania and Kentucky, Maryland rye never really came back after the repeal. Nowadays, no one knows the recipe for a true Maryland-style rye. The one detail that is still remembered is that it had a particularly sweet flavor profile, although this may have been due to added sugar, syrup, or something no longer permitted in the distilling process. Today's distillers employ various techniques that they claim result in more-or-less authentic Maryland ryes, but there's very little consensus.

One rye, however, can claim to be 100% authentic 21st-century Maryland-style: Sagamore Spirit, which is distilled in Charm City (Baltimore, for those who've yet to experience its charms). The distillery produces 11 different types of rye, as well as three different rye-based canned cocktails, but our pick is the one that's simply known as Sagamore Spirit Rye

It's a blend of two different distillations: the first one with a high percentage of rye and the other with a lower amount of it. The spirit has notes of caramel, cinnamon, citrus, clove, and honey and is as sweet as its predecessor was said to be. Whether it lives up to the legend, who can say? One Drizly customer, however, calls it "The smoothest rye I have ever had."

Purchase Sagamore Spirit Rye from Drizly starting at $41.78 for a 750 ml bottle as of April 2023.

Best Overproof

One of the main differences between rye and bourbon, apart from the mash bill, is the fact that bourbon tends to be distilled and bottled at a higher proof (via Uptown Spirits). While the lower alcohol content allows rye to retain more of the grain flavor, there are plenty of drinkers who want a bit more buzz from their booze and an extra kick in their cocktail. Hence the existence of overproof ryes, such as our favorite pick the 119 proof Old Hamer Cask Strength Rye.

You can tell at first sip that Old Hamer is some high-octane stuff, but it's nonetheless pretty smooth and flavorful for all that. Wine Enthusiast awards it 91 points, although the outlet suggests that adding water will mellow it out a bit and help you better appreciate the notes of almond, cinnamon, ginger, oak, and orange peel. Tasting Panel Magazine also goes with a score of 91, detecting hints of apricot, caramel, and walnut.

Purchase Old Hamer Cask Strength Rye from Drizly starting at $39.99 for a 750 ml bottle as of April 2023.

Best Monongahela-Style

Monongahela-style rye whiskey is the tricky-to-spell name of a style that originates back to more than 200 years of distilling in Western Pennslyvania. The Pennslyvania-style spirit differs from the popular Kentucky style because there is no corn included in the mash bill. Rather, it usually contains a lot more rye or other grains depending on the distillery. The rye is still aged in charred barrels that are typically made of oak, so it's not uncharacteristically different from the average rye. 

A great bottle to explore the nuances of Monongahela-style whiskey is New Liberty Distillery's Kinsey Rye. The Philadelphia distillers named the bottle in honor of the historic Kinsey distillery, which helped pioneer the expression in the 19th century. New Liberty's 86-proof spirit is aged for four years before being bottled. The blend includes three rye mash bills that are all aged in white oak barrels. It's a bit sweeter than your average rye with distinct spicy notes in the background to keep it familiar. Ultimately, it's a great bottle to help a typical bourbon drinker convert over to the rye side. 

New Liberty Distillery sells its Kinsey Rye for $41.59 as of April 2023. 

Best Empire Rye

Another fancy-sounding name for a regional whiskey is Empire rye, which is a pre-Prohibition style that helms from New York. To qualify as Empire rye, the spirit must have a 75% rye mash bill that is grown within the state of New York and be aged for a minimum of two years. Because of the strict stipulations, there are only a handful of distilleries around the state that produce authentic Empire rye. One option right in Brooklyn comes from Van Brunt Stillhouse.  

Van Brunt's Empire rye is made of 75% New York-grown rye with the remainder of the mash bill consisting of malted barley. The whiskey is aged for a minimum of two years and the result is a distinguishable spicy rye. The malted barley adds slightly sweet bready notes but it's nothing too overwhelming to distract from the earthy rye flavor. 

Van Brunt Stillhouse sells a bottle of its Empire Rye for $69 as of April 2023. 

Best Indiana-Style

Indiana-style rye might not have a sophisticated nickname, but it doesn't mean the flavor is any less magnificent. It doesn't necessarily have to be bottled in Indiana — it just needs to spend a minimum of two years aging in the state. The rye content is usually high, ranging between a minimum of 51% to 95%. An easy way to determine if a bottle of whiskey classifies as "Indiana-style" is to see if the process uses Midwest Grain Product (MGP) distillery barrels, even if it's not bottled in the Midwestern state. 

A nice example comes from Pinhook, a distillery known for its Kentucky straight bourbon. The brand releases an annual bottle as part of its Vertical Series. The premise is simple — the distillers track the impact on the flavor of whiskey that is aged in a single group of MGP barrels. As of 2023, the latest release spent seven years aging in 28 select barrels. The Pinhook Vertical Series Rye contains a mash bill that is 95% rye and 5% malted barley. 

The limited release is characterized by deep notes of chocolate, citrus, and caramel. It's undoubtedly a great rye to sip on straight to enjoy all of those distinct notes. Pinhook also pairs its bourbon releases with professional race horses, and the 2023 Vertical Series Rye is teamed up with Kentucky horse Tiz Rye Time. 

Drizly sells the Pinhook Vertical Series 7-year Rye for $79.99 as of April 2023. 

Best 100% Rye

WhistlePig is a Vermont-based distillery known for its extensive line of impressive ryes. If you're wondering what a whiskey with a 100% rye mash bill tastes like, then WhistlePig's PiggyBag 6-Year Rye is an excellent option. The 100% rye is aged for 6 years and bottled at a high 96.56 proof, making it ideal for anyone who likes a stiff drink. 

The PiggyBack rye is bold and strong, with layered notes of vanilla, cinnamon, peppercorns, and baking spices on your tastebuds. "I have tried probably 100 different brands of rye and by far WhistlePig's Piggyback 6-year is my automatic go-to," one Total Wine customer wrote in a review of the bottle. They also praise that despite being 100% rye and containing a high ABV, it doesn't "have that strong ethanol feel" like some other brands. 

Total Wine sells WhistlePig's Piggyback 6-year Rye for $44.99 as of April 2023. 

Best for Cocktails

Another 100% rye that comes from the opposite end of the country is produced by Woody Creek Distillers in Colorado. The brand's rye whiskey is the epitome of local craftsmanship. The brand uses 100% Colorado-grown rye sourced from local farms and ages the whiskey for four years in new American oak. Meanwhile, the vessels used for distilling are custom copper stills that are designed and made in-house. 

Not everyone appreciates a whiskey with a 100% rye mash bill to sip straight, making it a great option to mix into cocktails. It can add depth and character to simple cocktails like an old fashioned, Manhattan, or a Sazerac. It's even a fun spirit to experiment with in simpler ways, like mixing it with ginger ale or soda water to experience how the flavors open up. 

Total Wine sells Woody Creek Distillers rye whiskey for $42.99 as of April 2023. 

Best Bottle Design

Any product from Redemption's Ancients series is a work of art, both for the bottle itself and the whiskey inside. One bottle that would be the star of any bar shelf is Redemption's 18-year-old rye. The 109.9-proof rye is aged for a whopping 18 years. The 2017 release first went into the barrels in 1998. It's a limited release that's worth a taste if you can get your hands on it. It's also both attractive and rare enough that it makes the high price tag seem more worth it. 

Redemption's 18-year-old rye is unlike any typical rye that spends a fraction of the time aging. The taste resembles that of a warm fruit pie, with notes of caramel, apples, pears, and cinnamon. A whiskey aged this long isn't for everyone, but it should be a bucket-list item for die-hard bourbon connoisseurs.

Drizly sells Redemption Ancients 18-year-old rye for $599.50 as of April 2023.