A Quick Overview of American Rye
As you might figure out by reading this blog site of mine, my whiskey journey started out by exploring the many facets of scotch whisky while travelling around the English countryside for work back in the 90s. My interest in American whiskey started to mature within the last decade because I was interested in what my own country was producing (i.e. there has to be more than just Jack Daniels & Jim Beam – no offence Jack and Jim).
As with scotch, I started with the smooth stuff, but while my pallet was maturing I found myself needing more “spice in my life” with my whisky. I soon found the smokey and peaty taste of the Islays and my world started to open up.
This is similar to my American whiskey journey. I started to explore the nicer bottles that I never knew was out there. The full and smooth body paired with the sweeter taste of Bourbon was starting to gather my interest. But what about the spice? This is where Rye comes into the picture.
To me, Rye whiskey is to Bourbon as an IPA is to an Ale. It’s got the dryer body with a bite to the finish. The predominate rye content (by definition, all Rye whiskey must have a mash content of at least 51% rye) definitely gives it a spicier taste than your typical bourbon, but to me it’s more of a pepper-spice rather than the earthy-peat spice you get from an Islay Scotch. This makes Rye an excellent whiskey to use in certain cocktails because the spice comes through and gives your cocktail that extra kick that a straight bourbon sometimes is lacking.
New to Rye – where should you start?
If you are just starting out with wanting to get a taste of what Rye has to offer, the easiest Rye to start with is just about the oldest one in American history:
Old Overholt Rye Whiskey
Named after Abraham Overholt, a farmer and distiller back in the early 1800s. This Rye whiskey has been the staple through American history and at times the most popular one out there. Light- bodied and smooth with a tinge of sweetness this rye is easy to get along with. It also does well as a mixer in your traditional Manhattan. The fact that it won’t break the bank at about $16 a bottle is also a reason to give it a try.
If you like what you taste in Overholt, then I would suggest you add Templeton Rye to your list of to-dos because its a similar but more refined taste. its a very good rye indeed, but its a bit more at about $35-$40 depending on your location.
My List of 3 Rye Whiskeys Worth Trying
If you are ready to try a few more ryes with more kick to them, then here is my list of 3 rye whiskies to try next. All 3 of these ryes are in the $25 range so they won’t hurt your pocketbook too much to try them.
Bulleit Rye (90 Proof)
Whether you want bourbon or rye, you can’t go wrong with Bulleit. With a mash bill of 95% rye and 5% malted barley, it’s got plenty of body with a spicy palate. I like drinking this rye on the rocks or in my Manhattan.
George Dickel Rye (90 Proof)
George Dickel is a bit drier and has got a little less body then Bulleit, but it has a spiciness that makes me keep in my list of bottles to have on hand at all times. I tend to like drinking Dickel on the rocks rather than neat or in a cocktail. This bottle is worth trying and comparing it to the other 2 to see what you like best.
Rittenhouse Rye – Bottled in Bond (100 Proof)
This might be my favorite rye in this $25 price range. Rittenhouse has a sweetness to its body, similar to what you find in Old Overholt, but with a fuller taste. Pair that with a spicy finish and you have one heck of a good rye.
I like Rittenhouse with one large ice cube (so it melts slowly and it doesn’t water down the drink too much), but it also is possibly the best rye to use for a Manhattan. Rittenhouse also seems to be a crowd favorite since it has been the preferred rye during blind taste tests I have had in the past.
If you haven’t ventured into having a rye yet I hope that this encourages you to give it a try.