WhistlePig Straight Rye Whiskey
Rye, the backbone of the original recipes for the Manhattan, Sazerac, and Old-Fashioned, spent much of the last few decades losing ground to bourbon and Tennessee whiskey. Now, the most American of liquors – George Washington distilled the stuff at Mount Vernon – is having a resurgence, thanks to a modern mix of nostalgia and craft. One of the leaders of the rye charge is Raj Peter Bhakta, who founded WhistlePig in 2007 on a farm near the shores of Lake Champlain in Vermont. His goal: Establish the nation’s first farm-to-bottle single-estate distillery.
And he’s making progress. Though the whiskey currently bottled on the WhistlePig premises is distilled in western Canada, all production takes place under the auspices of legendary whiskey distiller Dave Pickerell, who, after a 14-year run at Maker’s Mark, chose in 2008 to focus on a less-heralded spirit. The inaugural batch of WhistePig 100/100 was introduced in 2010. Wine Enthusiast gave it a 96, its highest score to date for an American whiskey. Similar accolades followed.
What makes a rye like WhistlePig so spectacular is, well, the rye. Technically, one can blend a 51% proportion of rye with corn or other grains and still call the whiskey rye (the same proportion applies to bourbon, with corn being the majority component). WhistlePig’s 100/100 is 100% rye, which leads to a more assertive and complex flavor devoid of the sweetness of corn.
Another factor in high-end rye production is the attention to aging. Ten years minimum in a barrel is required, but many mass whiskey producers age both their bourbon and rye in the same barrels, resulting in a conflation of flavors that compromises both products. The finest producers of rye, including WhistlePig, produce only rye, in limited amounts, insuring the flavor is not informed by disparate elements. It’s American rye – simple as that. [$80; drinkupny.com]
Bulleit’s new rye whiskey is soft and forgiving on first sip but quickly comes around with a twiggy, nutty finish that all but declares independence from sweeter bourbon. [$28; bulleitbourbon.com]
Knob Creek Rye Whiskey
Historically, autumn belongs to bourbon. For nearly 20 years, the Kentucky Bourbon Festival has taken center stage in Bardstown, the county seat of that state’s whiskey-making region. But for the past little while, another native American spirit has been creeping up behind bourbon’s back: rye whiskey.
With a handful of major players already in the rye-making game, Knob Creek, a brand that’s as old as the bourbon festival itself, has finally ushered in its take on rye whiskey, bottled at 100 proof just like its bourbon. Considering this is the brand responsible for introducing drinkers to the concept of small-batch whiskey (Knob Creek claims bragging rights as the number-one selling premium bourbon in the world), it’s a big deal in the whiskey world for it to risk its rep. In our opinion, the move has paid off in spades.
There are certainly less expensive options out there – at $41 a bottle, Knob Creek Rye costs more than twice as much as our well-bar go-to, Old Overholt – but as with most things in life, you get what you pay for. In this case, the proof (all 100 of it) is literally in the bottle. Sipped neat, it has a smooth, extra-spicy finish that’s alluded to in Knob Creek bourbon, but is now fully realized in a rye content well above the requisite 51 percent. Put it on ice, and that spiciness counters the cold with a warm aftertaste. When the weather turns, a softer, sweeter rye such as Old Overholt suffices in an Old-Fashioned. But for a stronger drink such as a Manhattan – when we want our whiskey to kick – Knob Creek’s Rye has strong legs.
One caveat: We have no idea how old this stuff is. The bottle tells us only that Knob Creek Rye is “patiently aged,” a coy approach that contrasts strongly with the brand’s proud declaration of its bourbon’s nine years of age. Whether it’s a marketing gimmick (perhaps driving demand for an older rye to be released in the future?) matters little at this point: We’ll take it. [$41; knobcreek.com]
Angels Envy Rye
Two years ago, something amazing happened in the bourbon category: Angel’s Envy. It was ushered into the crowded whiskey market by Lincoln Henderson. Over the course of 40 years, he developed now popular brands such as Woodford Reserve and Jack Daniel’s Gentleman Jack, earning a reliable name for himself – and ‘Malt Advocate‘s’ Lifetime Achievement Award – before retiring in 2004. He reemerged in 2011 with Angel’s Envy, a super premium bourbon with a spicy-sweet nose, complex full flavor, and rich, velvety finish resulting from a rest in port wine barrels before bottling.
He’s at it again, with similar, brilliant success. Angel’s Envy Rye is something special. As you would expect from a rye, it’s a bit more biting and bold than the original. On the nose, there’s rich vanilla and spice, evoking a very expensive dessert. On the tongue, it’s just about the smoothest rye we’ve sipped, despite the fact that it’s bottled at 100 proof. It has a high rye content (95 percent, well above the required 51 percent), and like Angel’s Envy bourbon, it has a special finish: up to 18 months’ rest in Caribbean rum casks that were previously used to age French cognac.
This isn’t something to mix into your Manhattan (especially not at this price). We get the feeling that Angel’s Envy Rye was designed for the same breed of sipping-whiskey nerds who fell for Angel’s Envy bourbon. Plus, it’s a rarity: Just 2,500 cases exist for now. [$88, angelsenvy.com]
This robust 80-proof whiskey, a re-creation of a Prohibition-era rye, has a subtle vanilla aroma with notes of pear and apricot, a bit of cinnamon, and a fleeting hint of cotton candy. [$40; templeton rye.com]
A rich, full-flavored rye that came onto the market in 2013, it’s layered with caramel and cherry, and finishes with a phantasmal flourish of orange. [$26; redemptionrye.com]
Published on Men’s Journal: The 6 Best American Rye Whiskeys