Any whiskey made with rye is going to have a dry, spicy taste. Keen rye whiskey developers sometimes create drinks that compliment the rye grain. Others blend the grain with fruity or earthy tastes to create a drink where the spice only shines in the aftertaste. This catalog mentions some of the best rye whiskey brands of 2019 for all rye whiskey drinkers.
How We Chose Our Ratings
Many factors go into our decision of what bottles contain the best rye whiskey of 2019. First, we are judging American Rye Whiskey, though we will be calling it rye whiskey from here on. Different countries have different standards for what can be called rye whiskey.
American rye whiskey must contain 51% rye or more in the blend. Canadian rye whiskey, on the other hand, has no such limitation. For that reason, Canadian whiskey and other whiskeys that don’t meet the US standard will not be rated on our list.
When judging the best rye whiskey, the final rating will take into consideration customer reviews from other reviewers, first-hand testimonials from taste testers and drinkers, and our personal consideration about the product.
Our ratings will factor in where the best rye whiskeys fit when compared to the brand's other whiskeys. This means a rye whiskey made by a brand with history may be compared to the brand's past creations. This won't be reflected in the final rating, which will judge the rye whiskeys on their own merits but may come up when we discuss what makes them unique.
If a rye whiskey is part of a continuing line, it will only be judged based on bottles produced this year. If an aged whiskey was finally released this year, it would also qualify for consideration.
All rye whiskeys will be judged based on a five-star rating system. This system is meant to compare the best rye whiskeys to one another, so a low rating does not mean the whiskey is bad. It simply reflects how good an already great rye whiskey is compared to other exceptional whiskey brands.
Top 5 Best Rye Whiskeys of 2019
Here are the entries for the best rye whiskey of 2019. These entries include rye whiskeys with different tastes so that if you prefer a spicy rye whiskey, or want one with a multitude of flavors, there's still something for you to consider on this list.
Michter’s US-1 Barrel Strength Rye
Butterscotch and cinnamon with a hint of cherries on the nose; warming, rich, toasty vanilla and caramel up front with a dry oaky spice on the finish
Michter’s Us-1 Barrel Strength Rye is a straight rye whiskey drink. Though Michter says it comes in 108 to 110 proof, one reviewer noted their bottle had contents with a 103 proof.
As the name implies, Michter’s Barrel Strength Rye is an extremely hot and spicy whiskey. This drink hasn’t been watered down at all, and before taking a sip, most testers were advised to add ice to take some of the proverbial fire out of it.
Though it does not factor into the final rating, some people have noted an issue with the name. Michter's US-1 refers to its status as the first whiskey distillery in the United States. Some people pointed out that they closed in 1989, and have only recently reopened. The brand's reputation doesn't affect this review, but some hesitated to drink it due to "dishonest branding."
Judging it based on taste, however, this whiskey is as peppery as rye whiskeys get. If you want rye whiskey in its purest form, or want something you can mix into a classic drink like an Old Fashioned, there is no doubt Michter's US-1 Barrel Strength Rye Whiskey is the best drink you'll find in 2018.
We give Michter's Us-1 Barrel Strength Rye a 4.5-star rating. A few reviewers noted finding bottles with proof below what was expected. For a rye whiskey trying to be the strongest, purest rye whiskey on the market, those few points can matter. Another factor is how few people want a pure rye drink. If you prefer an unmixed rye whiskey, however, this is among the best.
High West Whiskey Double Rye
- Nose: Mint, clove, cinnamon, licorice root, pine nuts,and dark chocolate, with a surprising dose of gin botanicals throughout
- Taste: Rye spices up front, then menthol, mint, eucalyptus, herbal tea with wildflower honey and all spice
- Finish: Cinnamon and mint, gradually sweetening through the finish, with a hint of anise
The sound of a double rye whiskey might make you think this is another bitter entry, but High West Whiskey Double Rye is far from it. Double Rye refers to this drink’s blending components.
The first is a two-year-old rye containing roughly 95% rye and around 5% barley malt. The second rye the name refers to is a nearly two-decade-old rye whiskey that's only about 53% rye. This second whiskey can contain up to about 40% corn as one of its grains, which makes it far sweeter than your average rye whiskey.
The mixture of a nearly pure rye whiskey with a blended and sweet one makes for complex flavors. This isn’t a rye whiskey you should use for blending, considering how much mixing it has already undergone.
The High West Whiskey Double Rye receives a 4.5-star rating due to its high quality for those who can't stand pure rye flavors. It can be mixed into drinks, though we advise drinking it on its own. There is plenty of rye flavor, but if you drink rye whiskey only for its spiciness, this drink may disappoint you.
Whistlepig’s 10-Year-Old Straight Rye Whiskey
- NOSE: Allspice, orange peel, anise, oak, char and caramel
- PALATE: Sweet; hints of caramel and vanilla, followed by ryespice and mint
- FINISH: Long finish; warm butterscotch and caramel.
One thing needs to be made clear: Whistlepig sources its rye grain from Canada. But it has more than 51% rye, which is the requirement for all American Rye Whiskeys. More than that, actually: Whistlepig’s Straight Rye Whiskey, as the name implies, tries to have as close to a 100% rye grain content as possible.
Whistlepig's rye whiskey turns a transparent amber color during aging because it is nearly purely rye. This color makes it instantly distinguishable on a shelf of rye whiskey bottles and is the reason several reviewers named it the best Highly Aged Rye Whiskey of 2019.
Whistlepig’s Straight Rye Whiskey is a 100 proof rye whiskey. It is aged for ten years before it is almost immediately bottled and shipped. Whistlepig recommends this product as an entry point for those interested in rye whiskeys. The aging takes some of the initial bite out of the taste, and some testers told us it tasted slightly of vanilla on their first sip.
After you begin drinking it, you will quickly notice the strong rye flavors immediately though. You can smell them the moment you open the bottle, and the aftertaste is a long, slow burn from the rye’s spiciness.
Whistlepig's 10-Year-Old Straight Rye Whiskey receives a 5-star rating. While the proof might be slightly lower than other straight rye batches, and the aging takes some of the kick out of the initial drink, these only make it more accessible. It's a rye whiskey through and through, and after you get past the first drink, rye might be the only flavor you can taste for several hours afterward.
Rittenhouse Bottled-in-Bond Rye Whiskey
Nose: The traditional Heaven Hill barrel char is prominent on the nose, but the sweet, citrusy notes of the rye are abundant as well. The rye is not as pronounced as some MGP offerings, but it is unmistakable. There is vanilla, caramel, and coffee on the nose as well, making this a sort of bourbon rye whiskey.
Taste: This is really a flavor bomb. Where some ryes tend too much towards the citrus and delicate flavors of the rye, this is a much more robust and richer flavor, speaking of Heaven Hill’s bourbon heritage. But make no mistake, this is still a rye whiskey, not a bourbon. The rye is present, but it is followed with vanilla, butterscotch and ripe bananas. It is surprisingly creamy on the tongue for a rye whiskey as well.
Finish: This lingers quite a while in the mouth, making for a long finish. Cinnamon and clove hit the front of the tongue with a nice prickle, with the citrusy rye coating the mouth.
Rittenhouse’s Bottled-in-Bond whiskey contains 51% rye, just barely meeting the minimum requirement. The rest of its mash bill contains corn, barley, and more.
Bottled-in-Bond is an accessible whiskey, and you’ll find it in most adult beverage aisles or bars. It’s also a favorite for cocktails and mixed drinks. A common recommendation is to combine it with bourbon, to combine the sweet flavors of bourbon with Rittenhouse’s bitter rye taste.
The blunt truth is that most rye whiskey drinkers don’t want a pure rye drink, so Rittenhouse’s Bottled-in-Bond was very well received for its ability to take the bite out of rye’s usual aftertaste. It is still a 100 proof rye whiskey, and that high alcohol content makes it a great base for cocktails.
The Rittenhouse Bottled-in-Bond is a common base for a Manhattan if that's your preferred drink. Adding ice or a sweetener can further remove the rye flavor, and if you choose to take Bottled-in-Bond that direction, you may soon realize you don't taste spiciness at all.
It is sweet enough to drive away rye whiskey enthusiasts. Several tasters admitted to being bourbon drinkers and found it appealing. Those who preferred hot drinks like the Whistlepig, on the other hand, say it was almost undrinkable.
Rittenhouse's Bottled-in-Bond receives a 3-star rating. It is a rye whiskey for those just being introduced to rye-heavy drinks, or for bourbon drinkers who are making the transition. Its sweetness made it the most popular drink we tested, but on the other hand, it was the only whiskey that our rye purists refused due to the other ingredients involved.
Old Overholt Straight Whiskey fits into a strange niche. Old Overholt Straight Whiskey is a spicy rye whiskey, but it is intended for mixologists more than for drinkers of a pure rye whiskey.
Old Overholt Straight Whiskey is an 80 proof bottle of rye whiskey. As the lower proof implies, it's not meant for getting drunk. Instead of drinking straight from the bottle, you're meant to mix it into drinks like an Old Fashioned or use its spiciness to take the sweet edge off of bourbon.
That’s not to undermine Old Overholt’s value, though. This rye whiskey is one of the most widely produced, and it’s easy to drink if you prefer sipping rye whiskey directly. Its high rye content makes it easy to drink for those who prefer a pure rye whiskey too, so this might be the rye whiskey with the widest customer base on our list.
Old Overholt Straight Whiskey receives two and a half stars. It has a low proof value compared to other straight rye drinks. It isn't sweet or complex enough on its own to be drinkable by those who hate rye flavors, either. Where its value shines though is its ability to be mixed into other drinks to give them a higher alcohol content, the tinge of rye, or the spiciness of whiskey.
For those new to whiskey, one thing should be clear; of all four grains, rye is arguably the driest and spiciest. Even the most complex American Rye Whiskey must be 51% rye, so every drink on this list will be too hot if you are a light drinker or prefer fruity alcohol.
When determining what the best rye whiskey is for you, two questions take precedence. The first is if you prefer hard drinks that feel hot and leave your throat tingling for hours afterward. If so, you may want an extremely pure rye whiskey, like Whistlepig’s Straight Rye Whiskey. If you don’t want that aftertaste, you may want a blend like High West Whiskey Double Rye instead.
The second thing you should consider is whether you're buying rye whiskey to mix into other drinks, or if you enjoy drinking rye whiskey itself. Rye whiskey with additional ingredients are usually called complex whiskeys, like the Double Rye. Drinks that combine rye whiskey with outside ingredients are known as mixed drinks, but in practice, there's little difference.
A complex whiskey like High West Double Rye is essentially a mixed drink already, so it can be hard to blend with other ingredients. A pure rye whiskey like Old Overholt Straight Whiskey, on the other hand, may be a pure, unmixed rye whiskey, but that means it can be a better base for mixed or bar drinks because you have the option of adding the flavors you prefer.
If you want to mix drinks yourself, you likely want to use an inexpensive rye whiskey. Something like the Old Overholt Straight Whiskey is easy to obtain and has a high rye content. The lower proof means you will get drunk slower, so you can take your time enjoying a drink like Old Overholt.
A high proof drink like Whistlepig's Straight Whiskey has higher alcoholic content, and if you try to use it to mix drinks, you may quickly lose track of how much alcohol you've consumed. A high proof, pure rye drink like Whistlepig should only be used in mix drinks cautiously. Often you should simply choose to drink them without mixing them instead.