Which Rye Whiskey Should I Try?

What ryes are out there and how are they different? I know I’ve talked about this in the past, but I got into a conversation with some folks yesterday about what ryes they should be trying.
Many distilleries steer clear of making their own rye because of the production difficulties that rye grain can pose. Rye can be notoriously difficult to work with. Bruce Joseph, head distiller at Anchor Distilling, said, “Rye is a sticky, viscous, mess-a brewer’s nightmare.” It may be a bear to distill, but it makes a delicious whiskey and is only continuing to grow in popularity in the U.S.

The original American ryes had high rye mashbills. Farmers in Pennsylvania in the late 18th and early 19th centuries were making their surplus harvested grains into whiskey. Though the Scots-Irish immigrants probably would have preferred barley, rye grew much more easily in the rocky Pennsylvanian soil. The original rye whiskeys made in the U.S. was composed of 80-90% rye and 10-20% malted barley. The style was called Monongahela style after the river (and region around it) in western PA. The next most common style was the Maryland style rye whiskey which incorporated more corn into the mashbill, because that grain (corn) was more plentiful further south. There are very few rye whiskeys being made today in those traditional styles.

One Monongahela style rye made in Pennsylvania is Dad’s Hat Rye which uses 80% rye, 15% malted barley and 5% malted rye.  It is the only true Monongahela style rye on the market.

Maryland style ryes include Copper Fox Rye (2/3 rye, 1/3 malted barley), Leopold Brothers Rye (65% rye, 15% corn, 20 % malted barley), Pritchard’s Rye (70% rye, 15% corn, 15% malted barley), and George Washington’s Straight Rye Whiskey (based on George Washington’s original rye recipe, available at Mt. Vernon’s restored distillery).

Here are some ryes that fit in the barely a rye category- That means they are just over 51% rye content and have similar taste profiles. This is generally the mashbill that Kentucky distilleries use to make their ryes.
1. Rittenhouse Rye (Heaven Hill)
2. Pikesville Rye (same juice as Rittenhouse but aged two years longer and bottled at a higher AB
3. Jim Beam’s Ryes (including Old Overholt, though that may have a slightly higher rye content and Knob Creek Rye)
4. Sazerac Rye (including T.H.Handy and Van Winkle’s Family Reserve rye)
5. Wild Turkey’s Ryes (including Russel’s Reserve)
6. Woodford Reserve Rye
Chris Morris at Woodford has, in 2011, experimented with 100% rye in his Masters Collection series, but after his experience, dropped the rye content to 53% rye, 33% corn, 14% malted barley. He described his experience with 100% rye as nothing short of a nightmare.

Here are some ryes that are 100% malted rye.
1. Old Potrero’s Rye Whiskeys
2. Five Fathers Pure Rye Malt Whiskey (Old Pogue-1 year old)

Here are some 100% rye whiskeys
1. Whistle Pig 10 year old Straight Rye (sourced from Canada)
2. Jefferson’s Rye (sourced from Canada)
3. Masterson’s Rye (sourced from Canada)

4. Lock Stock and Barrel Rye (sourced from Canada)
5. Roundstone Rye (Catoctin Creek)


Here are some ryes that have been sourced from MGP. These ryes are all 95% rye and 5%malted barley mashbills. Many people have come to believe that this is what rye should taste like because so many ryes are sourced from MGP, and they are readily available in stores as well as popular with bartenders in making classic cocktails.  The differences in their tastes can be created in their aging processes or in the ABV in the individual bottlings.

1. High West Ryes
High West buys pre-made bulk whiskey, but they create proprietary blends from them. Some of their blended ryes are then aged further in finishing barrels.
2. Redemption Rye
Bottled in Bardstown, they make small 10 barrel batches with the 2-3 year old whiskey they source.
3. Templeton Rye
Often the poster child for false narratives in the American whiskey world, they add 2% flavoring to the whiskey they source.
4. George Dickel Rye
5. Bulleit Rye
6. Willet Rye products over 3 years old
Willet is now distilling their own product so the 2 year old Family Estate Bottled Rye is 100% rye and made in their new distillery. All older products are aged MGP sourced whiskeys.