Rye’s modern resurgence continues to demonstrate that Americans just can’t get enough of the distinctive and time-honored spirit. In 2019, the number of cases of American rye more than doubled in annual volume from five years earlier.
Part of rye’s popularity lies in its versatility. It has been a featured spirit in some of America’s most storied cocktails, from the iconic Sazerac to the potent Vieux Carre, while also being high quality enough to enjoy on its own.
As demand increases, so too does the number of brands available on the market. To sort through the many options — and opinions — VinePair asked 10 beverage experts which brands offer the best rye for the price.
Given that many bars and restaurants are currently closed and/or struggling due to the Covid-19 pandemic, at the time of reporting, VinePair requested that bartenders provide links to personal Venmo accounts, GoFundMe campaigns connected to their place of employment, or other restaurant and bar industry fundraisers of their choice. To learn more about helping the hospitality community at this time, please visit: How to Give Back to Hospitality Professionals Impacted by Covid-19.
“Rittenhouse Rye has always been my go-to when a cocktail calls for rye. Dependable and flexible, this Kentucky-style rye has a lower percentage of rye in the mash and a heavy presence of corn, making it approachable for everyone. Also, it’s bottled-in-bond, which is a stamp of quality and tradition. At least four years old, and bottled at 100 proof, it can stand up in any classic cocktail, like a Manhattan or Sazerac. It’s very reasonably priced in the mid-to-low $20s; it will never let you down.” — Ryan Lindquist, Bar Manager, LUXBAR, Chicago
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“I love American Spirit Resurgens Rye. It’s local to Atlanta, super delicious and complex, and it doesn’t have a huge bite that some ryes have which can sometimes intimidate guests.” — Michell Boyd, Beverage Manager, Hampton + Hudson, Atlanta
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“High West Double Rye. This rye is a blend of two different rye whiskies with different compositions that are blended to create something simply sublime. The blend is mostly dominated by a young rye that has been aged for two years (95 percent rye and 5 percent barley) with the older being a 16-year rye (53 percent rye, 37 percent corn, and the rest a mystery). If you’ve never tried this bad boy hailing from Utah, it’s a steal for under $30.” — Mohammed Rahman, Bar Manager, Kata Robata, Houston
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“Old Overholt bottled-in-bond. For around $25 dollars this rye is great on its own as a sipper and beautiful in cocktails. This rye by law has been aged at least 4 years in a federally bonded warehouse before release and touches in at 100 proof. The higher proof lends itself extremely well to mixing because the rye notes still shine through without being overpowered by dilution or other assertive flavors. Notes of stone fruit (think dried apricots), citrus, hay, and cereal are apparent on the nose while the mouth turns into a scorched salted caramel and coriander finish.” — Brett Helke, Beverage Director/Wine Director, Toast & Perro Blanco, Norfolk, Va.
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“Rittenhouse Rye is always the first one I reach for. Its price has gone up over the years but it’s perfectly spicy, and being bottled-in-bond, strong enough to stand up to any mixers in a cocktail. My old corner bar in Chicago sold a can of Hamm’s and a shot of Rittenhouse for $5, [the] perfect end to a day.” — Graham Courter, Bar Manager, Main Street Meats, Chattanooga, Tenn.
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“Best bang for the buck, Pikesville Rye. A revived brand from Heaven Hill, once produced in Maryland, this bottling is everything people fell in love with Rittenhouse, but two years older and 5 percent more alcohol.” — Westin Galleymore, Spirits Director, Underbelly Hospitality, Houston
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“I love WhistlePig‘s new product, Piggyback Rye. Being innately a lover of WhistlePig, this new value-priced rye is designed for mixing but doesn’t lose the integral character of the original.” — Christine Kang, Beverage Director, The Breslin, NYC
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“Wild Turkey Rye is one of my favorites. The history behind the longest-tenured master distiller in America, Jimmy Russell, is legendary and the product speaks for itself. They’ve always used the same process, yeast strain, and proportions when making Wild Turkey, and I am certainly proud that it’s produced in Kentucky, so close to my Tennessee home.” — Ellen Talbot, Lead Bartender, Fable Lounge, Nashville
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“The hipster bartender shot is Old Overholt. It’s the rye they all think they are the only ones who know about. Over the last few years, it has moved up from the bottom shelf to the second shelf, and it’s in a lot of menu Manhattans in the craft world. It’s pretty good, higher proof, and gets the job done. I have always been partial to George Dickel, which has also seen a recent resurgence and change in the company it keeps on that second shelf. High West has been cranking out a lot of their Double Rye, which is more affordable than it once was. This is a good thing. And if you want ‘bang’ as in higher price but higher proof, Pikesville Rye is awesome and alive at 110 proof.” — Jeremy Allen, General Manager/Head Bartender, MiniBar, Los Angeles
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“I’ve been a big fan of Rittenhouse Bottled-in-Bond Rye for a long time now. It’s been a staple on my back bar for nearly a decade. It’s big and spicy and is exactly what you want out of a rye whiskey.” — Ryan Lotz, Beverage Director, Traveler Street Hospitality, Boston
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Published: June 10, 2020