5 Very Expensive Rye Whiskeys Worth the Price (and a Couple That Aren’t)

If you can swing it, these bottles deserve a place on your shelf

January 3, 2024 11:42 am
A collection of five rare, expensive rye whiskeys
These rye whiskeys are worth the potential sticker shock.
Photo illustration

Whether you’re a longtime collector or a first-time buyer, sometimes you’ve just got to splurge on a pricey bottle of whiskey. On the plus side, most expensive rye whiskeys don’t reach the stratospheric levels that bourbons often do. On the less-plus side, they’re still expensive, and there aren’t nearly as many options as there are for bourbon.

We’ve compiled a few recommendations based on savoring a sip or two of these pricey potables, along with a couple you may want to avoid (unless you can find them for the actual SRP and not inflated retailer prices). As with the high-end bourbons, we’re not even considering the secondary market, nor are we including super-exclusive one-offs usually created for auctions or NFT/crypto exchanges. As always, if it tastes good, it’s worth it to you.

WhistlePig Boss Hog IX
WhistlePig Boss Hog IX

WhistlePig Boss Hog IX: Siren’s Song

This Vermont company has five “promises” it makes with each of these annual releases: single barrel, bottled at proof, powerful and complex, unique from previous expressions and “stupendous.” While that final tenet may be fairly subjective, Boss Hog IX carries through well. Straight rye is aged in new American oak then double-cask finished in casks that held Greek fig nectar/syrup and tentura (a Greek liqueur). Both finishing casks were created by WhistlePig (rather than sourcing from another winery or distillery), a company first. A big hit of orange blossom, dried fruit and molasses or brown sugar teases the nose. On the palate, you’ll get baking spices, black cherry, jam and fig notes over bold rye spice and oak. Note: this was last year’s version, so it’s getting hard to find.

Leopold Bros 2022 Single Barrel Three Chamber Rye
Leopold Bros 2022 Single Barrel Three Chamber Rye
Leopold Bros

Leopold Bros 2022 Single Barrel Three Chamber Rye

Inspired by a production style that went extinct after WWII, Todd Leopold and his team in Colorado painstakingly reconstructed a three-chamber still based on old documents and designs. They grew heritage Abruzzi rye (apparently a favorite of pre-Prohibition distillers) and created a mash of 80% rye and 20% Leopold floor malt. The whiskey’s aged at least five years, and each bottle represents a single barrel from those carefully selected out of the warehouse. The finished product is big, complex, funky and mind-blowing with notes of maple, cocoa, peanut shell, plum, cherries and candied orange. The long finish is floral as well as spicy. If you’re seeking a more affordable (and equally intriguing) bottling, the distillery teamed with Tennessee’s George Dickel to create the fantastic George Dickel X Leopold Brothers Collaboration Blend (about $100). This year’s version of the Three Chamber Rye is also much more accessible: available only in 200ml flasks, it’s a six-year, Bottled-in-Bond product selling for $40.

Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2022
Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2022, featuring two of our preferred ryes
Buffalo Trace

Sazerac Rye 18-Year-Old BTAC

Part of the original three releases in the first Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, Sazerac 18-Year is a distinctive extension of the company’s core Sazerac Rye, which launched in 2006 with roots dating back to the Sazerac cocktail and coffeehouse going back to the 1800s. It’s not easy to age ryes beyond about 13 years without them becoming over-oaked, but the whiskey in this bottle is sublime. Age is evident in the deep color, the rich, round and full-bodied nature of the spirit, and a mature flavor profile of black pepper, mint, baking spices, vanilla, oak and grassy eucalyptus. It’s incredibly well-balanced. Each bottle in the collection has an SRP of $125, but the 2022 edition of the Sazerac 18-year sells online for $1,700 or more. 

Thomas H Handy Sazerac Rye BTAC

Another rye from the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, this one is named for the bartender who is credited with first using rye in a Sazerac cocktail. The label was created in response to demand for well-aged, barrel-strength whiskeys and consists of rye aged at least six years. The uncut and unfiltered whiskey is a big, full-bodied and unapologetic rye. On the nose, you get lots of citrus peel, caramel and a hint of forest pine. On the palate, it opens spicy with warm honey and orange notes. It has a medium to full-bodied mid-palate with a round baked rye bread warmth, and the long oak-and-pepper finish has a hint of anise. Like its 18-year Sazerac cousin, last year’s expression goes for more than the SRP but in the more moderate $500 to $800 range.

Chicken Cock Cotton Club Rye
Chicken Cock Cotton Club Rye
Chicken Cock

Chicken Cock Cotton Club Rye

The name might make our inner 12-year-old giggle, but the whiskey is legit, reviving a heritage brand that dates back to 1856 Kentucky. This Canadian rye, released in 2021 and aged a whopping 20 years, hearkens back to Prohibition days when American brands would smuggle in Canadian whisky — in this case, in a distinctive tin can. Supposedly, it was also the house whiskey for New York’s famous Cotton Club jazz venue/speakeasy. Featuring an old-timey bottle design and a conversation-inducing tin case, the whiskey has a surprisingly light gold color and a distinctive sweetness more commonly associated with wheated bourbons (though the mash bill is 90% rye/10% malted barley). A surprisingly complex palate for such an old whiskey leads with warm oak, but you’ll get vanilla, citrus, ginger and a sweet-and-spice finish. This one is worth it for three reasons: the extra age (which is difficult to find), the novelty and the fact it tastes great. 

What Are the Regional Styles of American Rye Whiskey?
Some distilleries still root their whiskey in provenance and history, but the regional designations may be fading into the past

And Two Expensive Rye Whiskeys Not Worth the Price

Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye
Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye
Buffalo Trace

Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye

As with the Pappy Van Winkle bourbons, we’re going to stress here that this is a wonderful rye that is a “victim” of the three-tier system of alcohol distribution in America. Distillers sell their products below the suggested retail price to distributors. Distributors sell their products wholesale to retailers, and retailers then sell at any price they choose. Because there’s a huge demand for Pappy products, the markup at retail is bananas. In the case of this 13-year-old rye, the SRP is $120, but you’ll rarely find it anywhere for less than $1,500. It’s just not worth it at the inflated price unless you’re a PVW completionist with a significant stock portfolio or trust fund. Still, the deep dark color, rich palate and long, pleasing spice, sweet and oak finish are worth coughing up a few bucks for a taste if your favorite bar carries it. Want to try a 13-year rye that hasn’t escaped to the stratosphere? Check out Lock Stock & Barrel, which usually clocks in around $500. 

Booker's Rye
Booker’s Rye
James B. Beam Distilling Co

Booker’s Rye Limited Edition

The Booker’s releases are eagerly awaited by many fans — two to four unique expressions come out each year in limited quantities. Jim Beam distiller/ambassador Fred Noe helps craft each batch, paying tribute to some element of his father’s heritage (Booker Noe, who oversaw the Beam family’s distilling for almost 50 years). The whiskeys, usually bourbons, are attractive, intriguing and fun. They also retail at a pretty reasonable $90 or so. Booker’s Rye, however, has attained a unique position: though it’s been on the market for around six years, retailers are charging $3,000 to $5,000 for a bottle. Sure, it’s an early example of extra-aged ryes on the market. Naturally, it’s distinctive because it represents some of the last barrels Booker Noe himself laid down in 2003 (he died in 2004). And it comes in at a whopping 136.2 proof, a rarity for any aged whiskey. It’s delicious, but it ain’t $3,000 delicious.


Join America's Fastest Growing Spirits Newsletter THE SPILL. Unlock all the reviews, recipes and revelry — and get 15% off award-winning La Tierra de Acre Mezcal.