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What Is Rye Whiskey?
Rye whiskey used to be the most popular form of whiskey in the United States—until bourbon supplanted it. The primary difference between bourbon and rye is that bourbon has to be made up of 51% or more of corn (which gives it more of a sweet taste) while rye has to be made up of 51% or more of rye, which gives it a somewhat spicier profile. Both rye and bourbon are aged in new oak barrels for at least one to two years, but often more.
Some rye whiskeys can be expensive, but you can have an excellent one for an affordable price. Here are some of the best ones that you can find for $50 or less!
The prices in the following list range from $30-$50, though there can be lots of local variation. Any of these would make a great addition to your collection, and they are also great whiskeys for people who are new to rye.
1. Bulleit Rye
Bulleit Rye is a great first try for those who are new to this spirit. Some might say it's good for people who don't like (or are not sure if they like) rye whiskey. It's not quite as spicy or harsh as some can be, and it isn't as syrupy-sweet as some can be—particularly those that are trying not to taste like rye whiskey.
Bulleit is a series of bourbon and rye spirits produced by Four Roses Bourbon in Kentucky.
In its iconic bottle with a green label, this rye has a really nice balance of spice and sweet, under a strong base of complex flowery or tea notes. Some people say they can smell a bit of eucalyptus. With a bit of ice or water, it is a very drinkable beverage!
Cost: You can often find a 750ml bottle for ~$30, or (great deal!), or a 1.75ml bottle for $45. Not only is this one of my favorite rye whiskeys on this list, it's also one of the cheapest.
2. Minor Case Rye
Minor Case Rye is a really delightful and tasty; one might say it is more "artisanal." Because it is aged in barrels that used to hold sherry, it gives it a rich creaminess overtop the spice. Think of that unique experience of a curry with creamy coconut sauce, or a spicy pumpkin pie with homemade whip cream. That's the sort of thing that happens on your palate when you enjoy this brand.
There are two ways to think about this rye: It could be a one to graduate to after you've tried some classics, to experience a bit of what rye can be with some creative additions, or it can be another way to ease into the world of rye if you're not sure you'll enjoy the spiciness of traditional rye whiskeys.
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Cost: You can find a bottle for about $45.
3. Michter's Single Barrel Rye
To me, Michter's Single Barrel Rye is the most quintessential example of a solid, straightforward, paradigmatic rye. It's spicy, but not harsh. It takes you on a journey—from first taste, to floating around your mouth, to its long rich finish—you go from spice to sweet to a combined finish. It's a really solid choice.
Michter's is a solid distillery, claiming its heritage to a Mennonite rye distiller from the 1700s.
Cost: Around $45.
4. James Pepper 1776 100 Proof Rye
Like Michter's (but usually quite a bit cheaper), James Pepper 1776 100 Proof Rye is the other rye that could compete, in my book, for the best example of rye in its purest state. The complex spice flavors of pepper and cinnamon is rounded out by vanilla and citrus flavors. The nose (or "smell") is, unfortunately, not terribly interesting and smells mostly of harsh alcohol (but with a bit of citrus after a few whiffs), but that's a small price to pay for what is an excellent rye.
Cost: Cheaper than Michter's, you can find 1776 for around $30.
5. Sazerac Rye
This is another solid choice on the more affordable side. Unlike Michter's and James Pepper, this is a fairly straightforward rye that is not as dominated by sweet and spicy flavors alone. A bit like Bulleit, Sazerac has some other flavors going on: citrus, honey, and some warmer spice notes (star anise, cinnamon, clove). To me, there's a bit of tea flavor that you experience in the combination of citrus, honey, and the warm spices.
Cost: You can usually find Sazerac for less than $50.
There you have it! A few great rye whiskeys that you can find for less than $50! Enjoy!
Let me know what you try and tell me what you think in the comments below.