Rye Whiskey Revival

A long time ago, in a place not to far away, rye whiskeys were a staple of the drinking culture.  Far and wide across the land people were sipping on a brown distillate made mostly of rye (at least 51%)  in addition to corn, barley and other grains.  Different regions had different styles of rye similar to regional scotchs. Rye was the cat’s pajamas.  Then prohibition hit. Distilleries of the liquid gold were forced to shut their doors.  By the time no fun time was repealed, America’s palate had changed.  The heavy spiciness of rye’s was no longer in favor and corn based bourbon whiskeys seized the opportunity to give people a lighter sweeter drink.

Rye whiskeys had become a rarity in much of the US until a few years ago when the started to make a comeback.  These days the popularity of rye’s has so far exceeded any persons predictions to the point that many producers cannot keep enough supply in the market.  Due to this surge, many distilleries are allocating shipments to markets only a few times a year.  A few smaller producers have even had to call it quits due to this unforeseen surge.

Despite apparent lack of supply, the popularity also means that more of selection is becoming available in the market for those willing to search for them.   Below is a list of a few that I have been lucky enough to try as well as my thoughts.


Old Overholt

This 80 proof whiskey is woody in color with a smell that burns the nose.  Up front the alcohol comes across strong, as it moves across the tongue there develops a mid palate sweetness.  The finish is a lingering spiciness that is characteristic of rye whiskeys.  Great for mixing classic cocktails such as a sazerac or my personal favorite, the old fashioned!

Buillet Rye

A newcomer to the rye whiskey market this is quite an exceptional whiskey from one of the bigger names in Bourbon.  A nice golden color and the classic sweet meets spicy nose.  A good standard example of a rye whiskey though nothing exceptional.  A splash of water helps to mellow out the alcohol burn.  Another great mixing whiskey. 

Rittenhouse 100 proof

What a doozie! The color on this bad boy is a stunning match to the nose.  Smooth rich buttery caramel had me anticipating the treat that this whiskey would be.  I was shocked how much the alcohol came out with only subtle hints of what the nose showcased.

Van Winkle 13 year Rye

Rich burnt caramel and dark wood on the nose.  Deepest color thus far. The most prevalent flavor component is dry burnt wood from the oak due to the overall lack of sweetness.  Definitely a cold weather sipper. 

Sazerac 18 year Rye

This bad boy had a juicy fruity sweetness on the nose that was followed by the ever so faint alcohol burn.  Super smooth across the tongue with an incredibly light body.  Fruit forward with a classic spicy finish.  Lip tingling deliciousness.

Whistle Pig

Spicy, sweet and wicked grassy.  This whiskey has an herbal component that I honestly have not come across in many other whiskeys.  Has just enough of a sweet malty backbone to come across as really well balanced.

Mmmm... local goodness

Leopold Bros. Maryland Style Rye

Beautiful golden color.  Damp wood with a touch of caramel on the nose.  Another earthy grassy whiskey with a touch of dark sugar sweetness followed up by a black pepper spiciness.  For a real treat add a touch water to this one and marvel at the changes.  Most whiskeys simply open up but this one completely changes. Baffling!

Other rye whiskeys to keep an eye out for include but are not limited to Wild Turkey Rye, Jim Beam Rye, Sazerac, Wild Turkey Russel’s Reserve 6 year Rye & High West Rye.

Many of these whiskeys can be found at such fine drinking establishments as Colt & Gray, Star Bar, & Rackhouse Pub.  Many retailers such as Total Beverage aka Total Bev in Westminster and Argonaut also carry a decent selection.  

About Bess Dougherty

Bess Dougherty's life revolves around hooch. By day she has the pleasure of making beer. At night this dame can often be found sipping whiskey and beer around town. This bearcat is also an avid homebrewer. Yar.