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Rye Makes Its Move

For years, rye whiskey played second fiddle to bourbon, America's most famous whiskey. But recent years have seen a significant change, and rye is suddenly one of the most exciting categories of whiskey in the country. Distillers large and small are crafting fascinating, delicious bottles that express the full range of what this excellent spirit is capable of.

What is rye whiskey?

What is different about rye whiskey? By definition, Rye whiskey is a whiskey whose mash bill, or list of grains from which it's composed, is at least 51% rye. By contrast, bourbon is required to be crafted from at least 51% corn. Rye tends to be spicier than bourbon, which often leans in a slightly sweeter direction.

How is rye whiskey made?

Rye whiskey starts like any other whiskey: A rye whiskey mash (in this case, of at least 51% rye) is soaked in hot water, which is then fermented, and that "distiller's beer," as it's generally known, is then distilled until it reaches the desired percentage of alcohol. From there, it's transferred to barrels to rest and age for a specified period of time. Once it's achieved the desired character, barrels are blended to create the final product (it may also be watered back to a particular proof).

What does rye whiskey taste like?

Rye whiskey tends to be a bit spicier than bourbon, but it usually shows similar notes from its oak barrel aging, including caramel, butterscotch, toffee, honey, chocolate, and dried fruits.

What are popular brands of rye whiskey?

And what is the best rye whiskey? There are many excellent rye whiskey brands, and some of the most popular are:

What kinds of cocktails can you make with rye whiskey?

Rye can be used in any cocktail that bourbon is appropriate for, though rye will tend to make the cocktail a bit spicier than bourbon. A rye Manhattan is a classic, as is a rye Old Fashioned.

What's the difference between American whiskey and rye whiskey?

They are not mutually exclusive: When rye is made in the United States, it's an American whiskey and an American rye whiskey. Just don't call it rye bourbon, as rye is made mostly from rye and bourbon is made mainly from corn.

What is the difference between Scotch and rye?

Scotch must be made in Scotland and is composed of malted barley, whereas rye can be made anywhere, as long as the mash bill is primarily composed of rye. American rye whiskey, however, must be made in the United States.

How do you drink rye whiskey?

And can you drink rye whiskey straight? Yes! Straight rye whiskey can be a wonderful drink, as long as it's a balanced, well-crafted rye whiskey. However, it's also excellent on the rocks or mixed into a cocktail. Some people call it rye alcohol, some people call it rye, American rye, or American rye whiskey, but whatever name is used, it can be excellent.

Browse our full selection of rye whiskey online or check out our selection of highly-rated rye whiskey for a great new rye whiskey to try this week!

Want to learn more about rye whiskey?

Visit our Guide to Spirits to learn more about rye whiskey.