7 American Rye Whiskeys Rich With Spice


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Every wannabe whiskey connoisseur should have at least one bottle of American rye whiskey in the cabinet. The best American rye whiskeys are naturally spicier than their non-rye whiskey cousins, bringing flavours of black pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon, and even smoke.

What Is Rye Whiskey?

A whiskey must meet a list of strict government requirements to be labelled a rye whiskey. The grain mixture for the mash bill must contain a minimum of 51% rye (a type of grass) produced at no greater than 80% ABV. Finally, it must be stored at no more than 62.5% ABV in charred-oak casks or barrels.

Regular Whiskey Vs Rye Whiskey

Regular whiskey can be made from corn, wheat, barley, or a combination of grains. This allows the distillery to have a wide variety of flavours and aromas. Rye Whiskey, however, must be made from a least 51% rye (a type of grass), giving rye whiskey its unique spicier taste profile.

7 Best American Rye Whiskeys

The best American rye whiskeys are packed with spicy flavours of pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon, and a touch of smoke. Here are 7 to consider.

1. Rittenhouse Rye Whiskey

Rittenhouse Rye Whiskey
Credit: Rittenhouse

Overview

  • Distiller: Heaven Hill Distillery
  • ABV: 50% (100 Proof)
  • Country: Kentucky, USA
  • Colour: Mahogany

Review

Established in 1935 by the Shapira family, the Heaven Hill Distillery has seen its fair share of bad luck through the years. On the 7th November 1996, the distillery was struck by lightning and burnt down, destroying property and 92,000 barrels of whiskey. The distillery has since relocated and continued to distil its famous Rye Whiskey.

A mash bill consisting of 52% rye, 35% corn, and 13% malt is allowed to ferment for up to five days (source). The mash is then run through 70-foot tall beer columns before being distilled for a second time. The Rye Whiskey is then placed in charred American oak barrels and left to mature for four years.

On The Nose

A bouquet of sweet toffee, peach, and white pepper.

On The Palate

Dark berry and vanilla with a touch of nutmeg, leading to a smooth and fruity finish with a touch of maple spice and cocoa. I enjoyed the lingering finish.

Best Served

Rittenhouse Rye Whiskey is best enjoyed on the rocks or in a tasty Manhattan cocktail.

Pricing & Info

You can check the latest pricing, product information, and order online.

2. Balcones Texas Rye 100 Whiskey

Balcones Texas Rye 100 Whiskey
Credit: Balcones

Overview

  • Distiller: Balcones
  • ABV: 50% (100 Proof)
  • Country: Texas, USA
  • Colour: Deep Brown

Review

Balcones Distillery was launched in a small welding shop in Waco, Texas, in 2008. They imported copper pot stills from Portugal and turned the small welding shop into a mini distillery. In 2009, Balcones distilled their first batch of Rye Whisky.

Balcones use a minimum of four types of rye for their mash; Elbon, chocolate, roasted, and crystal rye. The mash is distilled through copper pot stills, and the whisky is placed into casks. The whisky is aged for 18 months before bottling at 100 proof.

On The Nose

Dark chocolate, toffee, and black pepper on the nose. 

On The Palate

Rich chocolate and toffee flavour coming through with subtle oak, coffee and pepper earthiness mid-palate. The finish is smooth with hints of chocolate and nuts.

Best Served

Balcones Texas Rye 100 Whisky is best enjoyed neat or as a chocolate old-fashioned.

Pricing & Info

You can check the latest pricing, product information, and order online.

3. FEW Rye Whiskey

FEW Rye Whiskey
Credit: FEW

Overview

  • Distiller: FEW Spirits
  • ABV: 46.5% (93 Proof)
  • Country: Illinois, USA
  • Colour: Amber

Review

Started by Paul Hletko in 1933 in a chop shop in Evanston, Illinois, FEW set out to make Rye Whiskey that would rival the whiskies from Kentucky. The distillery is named after temperance campaigner Frances Elizabeth Willard.  

FEW Rye Whiskey is made from a mash of 70% rye, 20% corn, and 10% malted barley. This mash bill is similar to the production of Saison beer and is distilled and poured into new charred oak casks, then aged for a minimum of one year before bottling.

On The Nose

Sweet vanilla, cinnamon, and oak on the nose with hints of orange zest and black pepper. 

On The Palate

Spiced honey, smokey rye grain, and oak on the palate with a pinch of black pepper.

Best Served

FEW Rye Whiskey is best served neat on the rocks, or consider trying it in a tasty FEW Boldvardier cocktail.

Pricing & Info

You can check the latest pricing, product information, and order online.

4. Jim Beam Rye Whiskey

Jim Beam Rye Whiskey
Credit: Jim Beam

Overview

  • Distiller: Jim Beam
  • ABV: 40% (80 Proof)
  • Country: Kentucky, USA
  • Colour: Dark Amber

Review

Made with an old family recipe, Jim Beam set out to bring a pre-prohibition taste back with their Rye Whiskey. The whiskey conformed to the exact standards governing Whiskey production for almost 200 years.

Jim Beam Rye Whiskey is made with a mash bill with a minimum of 51% rye and barley. The mash bill is left to ferment into a “distiller beer” before being distilled through a 65-foot column. The whiskey is placed in new charred oak barrels for four years.

Check out my article, 7 Jim Beam Whiskeys Made With Kentucky Magic, if you fancy getting thoroughly acquainted with the brand.

On The Nose

Aromas of rich fruits, orange zest, and black pepper.

On the Palate

A distinct vanilla sweetness on the palate, spiced with black pepper, rye grains, oak, and a subtle hint of citrus zest. 

Best Served

I personally prefer my Jim Beam Rye Whiskey neat, but you can try it in a Rye Orleans cocktail or as an old-fashioned.

Pricing & Info

You can check the latest pricing, product information, and order online.

5. Pikesville 6 Year Old Rye Whiskey

Pikesville 6 Year Old Rye Whiskey
Credit: Pikesville

Overview

  • Distiller: Heaven Hill Distillery
  • ABV: 55% (110 Proof)
  • Country: Kentucky, USA
  • Colour: Mahogany

Review

Pikesville Rye Whiskey was first produced in Maryland in the pre-prohibition era. Although Pikesville commenced distilling after prohibition ended, it relocated to Kentucky, making whiskey the old traditional way.

A mash consisting of 51% rye, 39% corn, and 13% malted barley is allowed to ferment before it is run through a 70-foot-tall column still. The Rye Whiskey is then placed in virgin American white oak barrels, left to age for six years, and bottled at 110 proof.

On The Nose

Caramel, cocoa, smoked oak with a touch of pepper.

On Ther Palate

Bitter-sweet dark chocolate, honey and cloves with earthy grains mid-palate. A smooth vanilla finish with a touch of lingering spice.

Best Served

Pikesville 6-Year-Old Rye Whiskey can be enjoyed neat on the rocks or in an Old Pal cocktail.

Pricing & Info

You can check the latest pricing, product information, and order online.

6. Sagamore Double Oak Rye Whiskey

Sagamore Double Oak Rye Whiskey
Credit: Sagamore

Overview

  • Distiller: Sagamore Spirit
  • ABV: 48.3% (96.6 Proof)
  • Country: Maryland, USA
  • Colour: Rich Amber

Review

Sagamore Spirit prides itself in using only Maryland-grown rye for its whiskies. They have built a great relationship with local farmers who provide all the ingredients needed to produce their award-winning Rye Whiskey.

A mash consisting of 95% rye and 5% barley is fermented and distilled in a 40-foot-tall copper column ‘still’. The distillate is placed in high charred new American oak barrels for 4 to 5 years, then put into toasted wave stave barrels for a further 18 months.

On The Nose

Cinnamon, vanilla, and dried fruit on the nose with a note of fresh nuttiness. 

On The Palate

Caramel and hazelnut on the palate with hints of cinnamon, pecans and burnt coconut. 

Best Served

Sagamore Double Oak Rye Whiskey is best served neat or as a Sagamore Cider, with sweet apple cider, lime juice, simple syrup, and a stick of cinnamon garnished with a slice of apple.

Pricing & Info

You can check the latest pricing, product information, and order online.

7. WhistlePig 12-Year Old World Rye Whiskey

WhistlePig 12 Year Old World Rye Whiskey
Credit: WhistlePig

Overview

  • Distiller: WhistlePig Distillery
  • ABV: 43% (86 Proof)
  • Country: Vermont, USA
  • Colour: Rich Amber

Review

In 2007, a group of rye whiskey enthusiasts purchased a dairy farm in Vermont and turned it into a distillery. Master distiller Dave Pickerell joined the team at the WhistlePig, and together they created a truly unique tasting Rye Whiskey.

The Rye Whiskey is made with a mash bill of 79% rye, 15% malted rye, and 6% barley. The mash is distilled with a copper still and aged in three different casks. 63% of the distilled whiskey is placed in Madeira casks, 30% in Sauternes casks, and 7% in port casks and left to age for 12 years.

Before bottling, the three whiskeys are blended perfectly to produce the WhistlePig 12-Year Old World Rye Whiskey.

On The Nose

Sun-dried fruit, caramel, and sweet vanilla on the nose. 

On The Palate

Ripe apricot, dark raisin, plum, and honey on the palate with hints of delicate spices. The finish is ultra-smooth, and I love the rich fruits, dark chocolate and vanilla.

Best Served

WhistlePig 12-Year-Old World Rye Whiskey is best served neat, and you can add a splash of water to open up the aroma still further. Also, try a rye version of the Dirty Shirley cocktail garnished with a cherry.

Pricing & Info

You can check the latest pricing, product information, and order online.

Seperator

Andrew’s Top Pick

best American Rye whiskey

WhistlePig 12-Year Old World Rye Whiskey

My top pick is the Whistlepig 12-Year ‘Old World Rye’. The rich fruits and honey notes are deepened by the delicate spiciness of the rye. Enjoy neat on the rocks for the ultimate rye whiskey experience.

Conclusion

Andrew tasting whiskey
Our Whiskey Road Trip

Ingrid and myself have just returned from a research road-trip to Belgium, where we have been sampling whiskeys from around the world, including the classic American rye (more on this trip in upcoming articles!).

American Rye Whiskey must conform to strict regulations to be considered a Rye Whiskey. These Whiskies come from a long line of traditions dating back to the prohibition era. American Rye Whiskey is quickly becoming more popular as more distilleries are experimenting with its incredible flavour profile.

Don’t forget to check out our articles on 9 Outstanding Irish Whiskeys and 9 Japanese Whiskies For Beginners.

Further Reading

Below are some additional articles from The Drinks Geek blog. We write articles on several fascinating areas of drinks, including different brands, drink types, cocktail recipes and more.

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