Previously, on recommendations from a fancy whiskey shopgirl, Allison Shoemaker suggested six whiskeys—mostly bourbons—that are great bang-for-your-buck bottles. That doesn’t mean they’re the cheapest bottles around, but it does mean that, in the humble fancy whiskey shopgirl’s opinion, they overdeliver on the price. This week, as promised, ryes.
It’s a great time to be a rye drinker (and while my love of bourbon can occasionally drown out my rye affection, I’m absolutely a rye drinker.) Forbes reported in January that production of rye in the United States increased 778 percent between 2009 and 2016, which is quite a jump, to say the least. The odds of finding an affordable, off-the-beaten-path, delicious rye whiskey are much higher than they once were. Whether you’re drinking it straight or making a Manhattan, Old Fashioned, or Vieux Carré, there are a number of great bottles worthy of a spot on your bar cart.
A few quick reminders: My favorites are my own, taste is subjective, and so on. While I definitely seek out cool bottles, my selection is also somewhat limited by geography—so if I didn’t pick that amazing New Mexico rye you love, it’s probably because I’ve never even seen it on the shelf. And for the most part, I’ve tried to stick with smaller distilleries, if only because they make for a more interesting list. Last, as before, while not all of these are cheap, I think they all seriously over-deliver on their price points.
I’ve already sung the praises of Catcher’s Rye (Two James, Michigan) and of Willett Distillery in general (Kentucky), so while those are two of my favorite ryes, I’ll leave them off this particular list.
$50 and under
Last Feather Rye (Journeyman Distillery, MI), around $45
60 percent rye, 40 percent wheat, all organic (and kosher). Journeyman makes some delicious stuff, including an apple cider liqueur that’s my go-to fall gift and a seasonal mainstay in my fridge, but this is their flagship, and my favorite of their roster. Expertly balanced, very smooth, and a perfect mix of spice and sweet (for my palate, anyway). Its beautiful gold color makes it gorgeous in the glass, too, which is always a bonus.
Single Barrel Rye (Koval Distillery, IL), around $40
If you love the rye-ness of rye, this 100-percent version is the bottle for you. It’s a “heart cut” spirit, meaning it only uses the liquor from middle phase of distillation. Koval believes that using only the heart cut makes for a better, more flavorful and aromatic whiskey. I believe that it’s delicious, whatever the cause. 80 proof. Great on its own, great in a cocktail.
A.D. Laws Secale Straight Rye Bottled In Bond (Laws Whiskey House, CO), around $75
To be frank, I could have picked any of the ryes from Laws—every one I’ve had has been holy-shit-good. But this one is the winner. First, you get to explain what bottled in bond means to everyone with whom you choose to share this gorgeous thing, and then everyone gets to feel really smart when they see that designation on the label. Aged four years in new charred oak barrels, bottled at 100 proof, and made from a mash bill that’s 95 percent rye and 5 percent barley. Maybe my favorite on this list.
Roknar Minnesota Rye (Far North Spirits, MN), around $60
A field-to-bottle spirit, meaning that Far North Spirits also grows its own grains. 80 percent rye, 10 percent corn, 10 percent malted barley, finished in cognac casks. Beautiful bottle, inside and out, with a little star anise thing happening that I’d normally hate, but somehow don’t, because it’s all too delicious. And in addition to being a pretty bottle to look at, it’s also very sturdy—I have personally watched one of these things bounce across the floor. Don’t test it or anything, maybe it was just a fluke, but still, it happened.
12-Year Old World Cask Finish (Whistlepig, VT), around $120
A pretty obvious choice, but if you get the chance to try this one, take it. This 86-proof rye is “a marriage of whiskeys aged in New American Oak and ingeniously finished in Port (7 percent,) French Sauternes (30 percent,) and Madeira casks (63 percent).” As such, it’s incredibly complex. It’s rightly lauded as a top-notch spirit, and while I can rarely afford such a bottle, I treat myself to a glass from time to time if I see it in a whiskey list. Honestly, try any of their stuff. It’s all great.
Any bottles of rye you’d like to add to this list? Let us know in the comments!