Go ahead and splurge on that fancy bottle of whiskey if you have the means and it makes you happy. After all, the number one rule when it comes to drinking should be drink whatever you want, however you want, with no shame involved. But it’s also helpful to recognize that you don’t have to pay a lot for good booze, and that rule particularly applies to rye whiskey.
When bourbon fell out of favor in the late 1960s, rye became even less popular, and that held true even when American whiskey began to rise again in the early 2000s. That has all changed now, and the category has grown extensively in recent years as whiskey fans began to recognize the appeal of bourbon’s spicier sibling, which also happens to be a key component in classic cocktails like the Manhattan and Sazerac.
The Best Rye Whiskeys of 2022It was a good year to go bold. Top bottles of the year from Redemption, Dickel, WhistlePig, Sagamore Spirit and more.
Make no mistake — there are some very pricey bottles of rye whiskey out there like Michter’s 10 Year Old, Thomas H. Handy (part of the annual Buffalo Trace Antique Collection), WhistlePig Boss Hog and some Kentucky Owl rye batches. But the category is also full of inexpensive, high-quality options, mostly from the bigger distilleries in Kentucky and MGP in Indiana. Some of these are on the immature side at around four years old, but that’s okay! There are many who believe rye can shine at a younger age than bourbon.
So here’s a list to help guide you to some of the best affordable rye whiskeys on the market that will give you the most bang for the least buck. Note: because prices vary wildly by store and area, we’re not providing exact figures, but know that none of these cost more than $50 (and several are less than $40 or even $30).
Dickel does make a little rye whiskey at its Tennessee distillery, which recently turned up in the Collaboration Blend made in partnership with Colorado distillery Leopold Bros. But the core rye whiskey is made from a mash bill of 95% rye and 5% malted barley at MGP in Indiana (now known as Ross & Squibb), the factory-like operation that produces a whole lot of whiskey for a whole lot of other brands. This is classic MGP rye, with a big hit of spice on the front end that fades into notes of vanilla, caramel and oak. It does exactly what it was intended to do at a low price point.
Just like its bourbon, Wild Turkey Rye comes in two different proofs — 81 and classic 101. Stick with the latter because there is so much more flavor to be found with that burly alcohol content. This affordable rye is no frills and all flavor, with a bit of heat from the higher ABV that augments the notes of vanilla, baking spice and dried fruits. Wild Turkey is sometimes overlooked as a rye whiskey maker, but this is a bottle definitely worth paying attention to.
Elijah Craig, produced at Kentucky’s Heaven Hill Distillery, added rye to its lineup in 2019, its first step away from bourbon. And it’s a welcome addition that was embraced by whiskey fans, made from a mash bill of 51% rye in the “barely legal” Kentucky style (the rest being 35% corn and 14% malted barley). Sweet and spice are in balance on the palate, and the whiskey’s 94 proof makes this more than capable of holding its own in any cocktail. So far the rye hasn’t gotten the barrel-proof treatment like its bourbon brother, but who knows what the future might hold.
Redemption is another brand that sources from MGP, using that same 95% rye mash bill. But it’s all about barrel selection and blending, and the team at Redemption are experts at coming up with a quality whiskey built for use in cocktails without emptying your wallet. There are some other higher-end expressions to check out as well, like the rum cask finish and 10-year-old barrel-proof rye, but the core release is an affordable rye whiskey that’s ideal for your home bar and gets right to the point.
Produced at the James B. Beam Distilling Co., this rye is beloved by bartenders around the country for its affordability and quality. Old Overholt got some major upgrades in recent years — the age of the whiskey increased from three to four years old, the proof crept up to 86 and a bottled-in-bond version came out. This is a classic Kentucky-style rye that isn’t overly complicated but delivers just enough spice to work in any classic drink.
Heaven Hill has been producing Rittenhouse Rye since the early 2000s, and for a while, it may have edged out Old Overholt for some because it has always been a bottled-in-bond whiskey (at least four years old, 100 proof). That changed when Old Overholt made the previously mentioned changes, but loyalists have stuck with this workhorse rye whiskey that is good enough to sip and elevate any cocktail.
Sazerac is Buffalo Trace’s entry into the world of affordable rye, named after the New Orleans cocktail that counts rye as an essential component. Sazerac leans more toward the sweeter side than the spicy end of the spectrum, but there’s just enough kick to give it some depth of flavor. (If you’re looking for something much more expensive and difficult to obtain, there’s always the 18-year-old and Thomas H. Handy versions that are released as part of the Antique Collection.)
MGP isn’t the only rye whiskey game in the state of Indiana anymore. Hard Truth Distilling Co. entered the field in 2015 and has come into its own with this 93-proof, sweet mash rye (meaning no backset from previous distillations is included in each new distillation). The mash bill is 55% rye, 36% corn and 9% malted barley, a change from the distillery’s original mash bill of 94% rye. This is approachable, tasty and affordable and a great example of what the craft world is doing with rye whiskey.
Pinhook does things a little bit differently. It’s not a distillery; instead, this brand sources whiskey from different producers and then blends and bottles it, creating different vintages that vary from year to year. The 2022 release of the Flagship Rye is made of a mashbill of 60 percent rye, with the rest being equal parts corn and barley to give it a nice spicy kick which is amplified by its higher 99 proof. It was distilled and matured at Castle & Key in Kentucky, but despite it being a relatively young whiskey at just over two years old, this rye is full of flavor and is an extremely versatile option at a low price point.
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