There have been few kinds of whiskey in the world that have been as radical and divisive as Rye whiskey. Historically popular in the North American region due to the relative ease with which the grain could be grown, a number of factors led to the eventual decline in popularity for Rye whiskey. It has since been revived owing to a combination of loyalty from both distillers and drinkers, but the dichotomy of Rye whiskey’s fame and infamy is still unclear to many.
Intensely flavoured, spicy and radically different from many other kinds of whiskey around the world, Rye whiskey is tricky terrain for many neophytes in whiskey circles. Definitely an acquired taste, Rye whiskey could be placed in the company of blue cheese, sushi and even caviar as one of the ‘don’t knock it till you try it’ experiences.
The Whiskypedia says Rye whiskey is something you definitely must try at least once in your lifetime but before you do, let us acquaint you with facts and present our case.
What is Rye whiskey?
Rye whiskey has been immensely popular in the North American countries of United States of America and Canada for many centuries. In the USA, it is categorized as a whiskey distilled from a mash bill that is at least 51% Rye based, whereas the other 49% could be corn, barley or wheat. The Canadians have a rather significantly relaxed classification for Rye whiskey, and it is one that doesn’t exist at all. Just some Rye content in the mash bill is enough to call it a Rye whiskey in Canada.
Why you must try Rye whiskey?
For starters, it’s a completely different experience and Rye whiskeys are nothing like the sweeter Corn based Bourbon whiskeys. Before Bourbon whiskey had become the whiskey of choice all over America, it was Rye whiskey that ruled supreme before being knocked off its perch by Prohibition.
Rye whiskies are far more complex, richly flavoured and contain an entirely different array of flavours that just wouldn’t be the same with Bourbon whiskey. True, some Bourbon whiskeys do have a slightly higher amount of Rye in their mash bill but that’s still not the same as a mash bill with 95% Rye!
They are also phenomenal base spirits for whiskey cocktails such as the Manhattan, the Sazerac (the cocktail that made the whiskey popular), and the Whiskey Smash. The harmony between the spicy nature of Rye whiskey and the tangy sweetness of many cocktails is absolutely delightful.
That doesn’t necessarily mean Rye whiskeys can’t be taken neat. A Rye whiskey that has been matured for a generous amount of time makes for a wonderful neat drink. The Rabbit Hole Boxergrail and WhistlePig 10 Year Old Rye are both excellent examples of Rye whiskeys you can enjoy without having to worry about walking into a territory you know nothing about.
If you’re looking for your very first encounter with Rye whiskey, these are three of the best available bottles in the market today.
Rabbit Hole Boxergrail
This is a special one, and there is an even more interesting story behind the name. Rabbit Hole Boxergrail has been named in honour of fellow Louisvillian, Muhammad Ali, considered by many to be the greatest boxer of all time. The Rabbit Hole Distillery, located in Louisville, Kentucky is one of the newest entrants in the American whiskey market. The brand has disrupted the status quo with their terrific core range of straight bourbon and Rye whiskey.
While the Rabbit Hole bourbons have been praised by many, their only Rye whiskey expression stands so tall, it has forced the world to stop and take notice. Rabbit Hole Boxergrail has been the recipient of a string of Gold medals at multiple whisky tasting competitions since 2016.
Distilled from a mash bill that is 95% Rye and 5% Malted Barley, the Rabbit Hole Boxergrail is a phenomenal drink. Crisp, smooth, and earthy with spicy caramel and pepper flavours greeting you gently earn this wonderful whiskey a very strong recommendation on our list of Rye whiskey brands to try at least once in your lifetime. The Rabbit Hole Boxergrail comes in at 47.5% ABV (90 US Proof), making it a slightly more potent whiskey than most people are accustomed to.
WhistlePig 10 Year Old Rye whiskey
This Canadian Rye whiskey is one of the few to have a mash bill that is all Rye, and contains no other type of grains. A very popular brand among Rye loyalists, WhistlePig is a unique drink that is the handiwork of Dave Pickerell, who was at the helm of Maker’s Mark for 14 years, serving as Master Distiller.
Currently the Master Distiller at WhistlePig, Dave created this whiskey by distilling and maturing it in Canada, eventually bringing the whiskey out to the WhistlePig Estate in the United States and aging it further.
The WhistlePig 10 Year Old is different from many other Rye whiskeys in the market, American or Canadian whiskey. Distilled from a mash bill that is 100% Rye, and matured for 10 years, WhistlePig 10 Year Old is also bottled at a much significant 50% ABV (100 US Proof). It is a pleasant delight with flavours of warm spices, peppermint, vanilla, caramel and dark chocolate lending it a refreshingly flavourful character.
Sazerac Straight Rye whiskey
The Sazerac straight Rye whiskey might probably be the only whiskey brand in the world to get its name from a cocktail, the one that established the brand in legend forever. The Sazerac Coffee House was the birthplace of the cocktail that took its name. Originally prepared with Cognac, it was Rye whiskey that elevated the cocktail to iconic status.
Distilled at the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Kentucky, this is a 6 Year Old straight Rye whiskey that can be slightly hard to find sometimes due to its popularity. The Sazerac Rye is the most popular product for the company and has been credited with being the driving force behind the company’s good fortunes.
Alongside the quintessential spiciness that Rye whiskeys are well-known for, the Sazerac Rye also boasts of honey sweetness, vanilla, nutmeg, and zesty orange flavours that make it a compellingly desirable Rye whiskey. Bottled at a 45% ABV (90 US Proof) alcohol strength, it is an ideal mix for many Rye whiskey based cocktails.