10 American Rye Whiskies to Drink Right Now - Imbibe Magazine Subscribe + Save

Rye whiskey has been a part of America’s drinks culture since Colonial times, but the spirit nearly faded from existence in the late 20th century. As our March/April issue details, American drinkers and distillers have given rye whiskey a new lease on life, and today the category is arguably stronger than ever before. Here are 10 American rye whiskies worth checking out.

Barrell Seagrass

Bourbon isn’t always well-suited for cask-finishing, but rye whiskey is a totally different story, and Barrell Seagrass makes this abundantly clear. Louisville-based Barrell Craft Spirits sources and/or has whiskey contract-produced from several distilleries, then adds its own magic by cask-finishing and blending the whiskies to create something totally new. For Seagrass, the Barrell team takes rye whiskies from Kentucky, Indiana, Tennessee, and Canada and finishes them separately in casks that formerly held rhum agricole from Martinique, Madeira, and apricot brandy, before blending them together into the finished rye. Bottled without dilution (our sample weighed in at 119.12 proof), Seagrass is bright and juicy, with a flourish of tropical and orchard fruits on the nose, and a robust alignment of peppery spice, candied fruit, and a savory nuttiness in the glass. $79.99, barcart.barrellbourbon.com

Catoctin Creek Roundstone Rye Whiskey (92 proof “Distiller’s Edition”)

Imbibe 75 alumni Becky and Scott Harris helped spark the rye whiskey revolution among craft distillers at Catoctin Creek Distillery in Virginia. Making rye the focus of their attention, they’ve released a range of expressions over the years, including this 92-proof version of their flagship Roundstone Rye. Bottled as a single-barrel whiskey, this rye is fragrant with notes of mint, maple, and cocoa, with ginger, vanilla, and nutmeg emerging in the glass, along with a bright touch of lemon zest. $52.79, catoctincreekdistilling.com

George Dickel x Leopold Bros Collaboration Blend

With its initial release in 2021, this rye first seemed to be a unicorn whiskey, something to be talked about by many but only sipped by a few. But last year saw a return of this fascinating rye, and this collaboration between Tennessee-based Cascade Hollow Distilling and Colorado’s Leopold Bros Distillery is destined to become a regular release. Distillers and longtime friends Nicole Austin and Todd Leopold take a column-distilled rye from Cascade Hollow and blend it with a rich, full-bodied rye produced by Leopold on a three-chamber still, a type of equipment common to 19th-century rye production that had slipped into obsolescence. The result is an expressively fragrant whiskey redolent of lavender and roses, and with a robust character of cocoa, maple, and spice. $106.99, caskers.com

Michter’s US*1 Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey

The Michter’s label was revived just as the current bourbon boom started to take off, and the team behind the brand recognized a rye wave was about to happen. Today, Michter’s makes some of the best rye whiskey anywhere, and the US*1 rye has become a bartender’s favorite and a cocktail hour essential. Distilled and matured in Kentucky, the US*1 rye is all bottled as a single-barrel whiskey, at 84.8 proof, and offers rich, luscious notes of citrus peel and butterscotch, with a lively spark of spice. $44.99, totalwine.com

New Riff Malted Rye

New Riff is among the new wave of Kentucky whiskey producers, and the Newport distillery has put rye front and center throughout its range of whiskies. In addition to its bottled-in-bond straight rye, New Riff offers this approach made with 100 percent malted rye, aged a minimum of six years and also bottled in bond. With malting, rye’s character is transformed from the familiar herbaceous spice into a more savory, subtle approach, with aromas of orchard fruit and vanilla, and flavors of pastry shell and baking spice. $55, seelbachs.com

Pinhook Flagship Kentucky Straight ,Rye Whiskey

For the most recent release of Pinhook’s flagship rye, founder and master blender Sean Josephs had a custom mash bill of 60 percent rye, 20 percent corn, and 20 percent malted barley distilled at Castle & Key in Frankfort, Kentucky. Following Pinhook’s horseracing predilections, this 2022 release is paired on the label with Rye Munny, a Kentucky-bred chestnut filly. The whiskey is lively with characteristics of pears, baked fruit, and honey, and has a flavorful depth of cloves, toffee, and toasted nuts. $36.50, bittersandbottles.com

Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Rye Whiskey

Wild Turkey was one of rye whiskey’s stalwart distilleries, still producing and bottling rye even when the style was out of vogue. Russell’s Reserve single barrel expresses the best of what master distillers Jimmy and Eddie Russell (who have a combined 90 years of experience at Wild Turkey) can do. Bottled at 104 proof, this rye is bursting with fruitcake characteristics, with ginger and toffee mingling with allspice and pepper. $69.99, klwines.com

The Senator 6 Year Old Straight Rye Whiskey

Independent bottler Dave Schmier helped get the rye bandwagon rolling around 15 years ago by bottling select whiskey from the Indiana powerhouse distillery now referred to as MGP. The Senator is one of his current brands through Proof and Wood Ventures, and demonstrates there’s still magic to be found in MGP’s now-familiar 95 percent rye/5 percent malted barley mash bill. Mingling 10 to 20 barrels all aged a minimum of 6 years (the same length as a U.S. Senator’s term in office, hence the name), The Senator is bottled at barrel proof, and goes into the glass robust and herbaceous, with orange peel and chocolate playing against tones of nuts and dark fruit. $79.99, reservebar.com

Spirit Works Distillery Straight Rye Whiskey

Rye whiskey’s American heritage is in the Northeast and the Mid-Atlantic, but craft distillers like Sebastopol-based Spirit Works are proving that California can bring the rye action, too. Using a mash bill of 70 percent rye and 30 percent malted barley, this whiskey is aged a minimum of four years and bottled at 90 proof. The aroma of this whiskey is deep with baked apple, leather, and coffee, and the spirit opens up on the palate with characteristics of cloves, nutmeg, toasted coconut, and graham cracker. $50, club.spiritworksdistillery.com

Wilderness Trail Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey

Wilderness Trail is among the newer additions to the Kentucky distillery lineup, and their whiskeys have earned a wide fan base. This bottled-in-bond whiskey is made using heritage rye from a local farm and utilizes a sweet mash process (as opposed to the more frequently encountered sour mash). The new spirit goes into the barrel at a remarkably low barrel proof, which is terribly inefficient from a cost perspective, but absolutely fantastic if full flavor is what you’re after. The fragrance on this rye is rich with cedar, wintergreen, butterscotch, and candied fruit, and in the glass it expands with flavors of toffee, dried cherries, white pepper, and a touch of anise. $61.99, caskers.com

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