Rye whiskey is a lot of fun. The category is constantly expanding thanks to distillers and blenders who are willing to take risks with classic styles and push boundaries. That translates to a lot of great rye whiskeys on the shelf next to some near misses and flat-out bombs.
It’s a lot to sort out as a consumer — so to help you parse them, let’s highlight some of the best rye whiskeys under $50 on shelves right now.
For this list, I’m calling out 20 rye whiskeys from the U.S. market. I’ll call out international ryes (and there are a ton of great!) another time. Right now, let’s focus on the bottles you can actually (generally) find on liquor store shelves around the country in 2023.
When it comes to the ranking, this is all about taste. But let’s not fool ourselves, not all whiskey is created equal and a fair amount of rye whiskeys at this price point are better suited to mixing cocktails than slow sipping neat. That said, there are some true gems in the top 10 or so of this list. These prices are set for delivery in Kentucky or at distillery bottle shops, so local prices will vary slightly depending on where you are.
Also Read: The Top Five Rye Whiskey from the Last Six Months on UPROXX
20. Wild Turkey 101 Rye
Average Price: $28
This is the sibling bottle to the classic Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon. The juice is made from Wild Turkey’s standard rye mash bill. It’s then aged in heavily charred barrels for about six years. The whiskey is then batched and proofed down to Wild Turkey’s signature 101-proof.
Nose: The peppery rye spice is cut with rummy Christmas cake topped with rich vanilla ice cream next to a clear note of toasted oak on the nose.
Palate: The taste leans into the spice with a rye version of the Kentucky hug, as hints of cedar, white sugar, popcorn, and charred bitterness lurk in the background.
Finish: Like Wild Turkey’s 101 Bourbon, the end is long and hot, with pops of peppery spice, creamy vanilla, and charred wood. A very distant wisp of smoke acts as a button on the end.
This is a great place to start this list. Wild Turkey makes some magic happen with their rye whiskeys and this is your gateway into that world. Brasstacks, this is a cocktail whiskey that’s going to shine brightly.
19. Savage & Cooke Lip Service Rye Whiskey
Savage & Cooke
Average Price: $31
This whiskey starts off by blending minimum of three-year-old rye barrels from Tennessee with a mash bill of 51% rye, 45% corn, and 4% malted barley. Once batched, the whiskey is then refilled in California into wine barrels sourced from Maury, France. Those barrels are batched after a short finishing maturation and then cut with pure mountain water from the Alexander Valley in Northern California.
Nose: There’s a clear sense of bourbon with cherry/vanilla notes that lead to orange rinds, gingerbread, and a touch of dark cinnamon, clove, and allspice.
Palate: There’s a lush body to the taste that leads to a hint of white pepper and tart red berries with a touch more of that creamy vanilla with slightly woody honey.
Finish: The end has a hint of cumin with that white pepper but ends up pretty light and vanilla-forward.
This is a pretty solid rye whiskey all around. That said, I’d still lean toward this making a mean cocktail over a neat sipper.
18. Great Jones Straight Rye Whiskey
Average Price: $40 (Coming Soon)
This is a very local New York whiskey. The mash uses grains grown in New York before the juice is distilled and aged at the craft distillery. The whiskey ages for four years before batching, proofing, and barreling.
Nose: This whiskey opens with a nose full of lemon and cumin with a dose of vanilla and pepper.
Palate: The palate is cinnamon candy forward with vanilla tobacco and lemon pepper mingling with a hint of old oak staves and maybe some sour cherry.
Finish: The end is light but spicy with a rush of dried fruits and sweet brown sugars.
This is a nice, solid rye with a good profile. Overall, it still falls squarely into the cocktail base category. Thanks to the citrus notes, I’d lean more toward smashes and sours when mixing up cocktails with it.
17. Sagamore Spirit Rye
Average Price: $43
This Maryland whiskey (though part of it is still sourced from Indiana) is two rye mash bills that are put together for maximum ryeness. The low and high rye whiskeys are aged four to six years before batching. The whiskey is then proofed with limestone water from a Maryland spring ahead of the bottling.
Nose: Winter spices and orange oils mingle with candied walnuts and deep umami, kind of like tomato paste.
Palate: The taste marries dried orange peels with nutmeg and vanilla cream with more candied walnuts and a hint of pecan.
Finish: The vanilla amps up with a cookie vibe that leads to more of those winter spices and a good dose of wet brown sugar with a wet wicker end.
This is a nice rye that makes a dope old fashioned.
16. Redwood Empire Emerald Giant Rye Whiskey
Average Price: $40
This 95% rye whiskey (a portion from Indiana) is shipped out to Sonoma County, California where it’s blended with Redwood’s own rye and proofed. The whiskey is named after the fastest-growing Redwood tree in the world, the Emerald Giant.
Nose: There’s a nice fruitiness on the nose that’s kind of like dark fruit leather next to sourdough cinnamon rolls with cream cheese frosting, plenty of vanilla, and some brown sugar butter.
Palate: The palate has a light white pepperiness that’s countered by sweet green herbs, burnt orange, and floral honey.
Finish: The green herbal vibe takes on a slight savoriness as light winter spices layer into tobacco leaves with a hint of cedar bark.
This is a solid rye all around. It’s really nice in a highball with good fizzy water and a twist of lime, orange, or grapefruit.
15. Elijah Craig Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey
Average Price: $32
This is a subtle rye whiskey. The mash bill only has 51% rye grains next to 35% corn and 14% barley. The hot juice is then aged for several years before being blended, proofed, and bottled with no age statement.
Nose: There’s a real sense of a dark chocolate bar that’s cut with dried chili and a touch of cinnamon that draws you in.
Palate: The palate mellows that spice into a Christmas spice mix while a honey sweetness and texture lead towards sweet oak and the slightest wisp of pipe tobacco smoke.
Finish: The finish takes its time as those spices keep your senses warm and buzzing on the slow fade.
This feels classic and very bourbon adjacent. That aside, use this for your favorite cocktails.
14. Rabbit Hole Boxergrail Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey
Average Price: $49
This crafty distillery makes this whiskey with 95% rye and 5% malted barley right in Louisville (and via contract distilling). The hot juice is aged for three years in heavily toasted and charred barrels before batching, proofing, and bottling.
Nose: This has an interesting nose that’s part spicy pork stew (chili, umami, fat) with bright peaches, vanilla, and summer wildflowers as a counterpoint.
Palate: The palate has a hint of old cedar next to cream soda, white pepper, and crusty rye bread with a hint of caraway seed and maybe some dry fennel.
Finish: The finish brings in heavily spiced chewy tobacco packed into an old cedar box with creamy vanilla and a dash more of that powdery white pepper.
If you’re looking for the perfect whiskey to pair with taco night, this is it. It also makes a nice, simple old fashioned.
13. Middle West Spirits Straight Rye Whiskey Dark Pumpernickel
Middle West Spirits
Average Price: $46
This Ohio whiskey is made with dark pumpernickel rye, Ohio soft red winter wheat, yellow corn, and 2-Row barley malts. The juice is then aged for three years in new white oak before it’s bottled with a touch of local Ohio water.
Nose: There’s a sense of slight sourdough rye funk on the nose with a hint of pumpkin seed, caraway, sweet cinnamon, vanilla husks, and a whisper of candied ginger.
Palate: The palate leans into that sour funk and caraway as oolong tea, piney honey, and spicy, raisin-filled oatmeal cookies vibe.
Finish: The mid-palate kicks in hard with the heat as sharp cinnamon and chili dominate until a soft sense of vanilla, toffee, and dark fruit leather mingle on the finish.
This is a solid whiskey and where we get into easy sipping over some rocks or great for mixing cocktail territory.
12. Bradshaw Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey
Average Price: $44
Terry Bradshaw’s rye whiskey is a compliment to his new bourbon. The whiskey is made at the Green River Distilling Company (now part of Bardstown Bourbon Company) from an undisclosed mash bill. That whiskey ages for a mere two years before proofing and bottling.
Nose: The nose opens with soft leather and Dr. Pepper spices next to plenty of vanilla and a deep sense of burnt popcorn (that’s slightly rough).
Palate: The palate is oaky put white peach and brown sugar cut through it with a sense of subtle winter spices and mild peppercorns.
Finish: The end mixes soft vanilla with old oak as a butter toffee and spiced cherry tobacco finishes things off on the senses.
This has no business being as tasty as it is for only being two years old. Still, this is nice over a glass full of rocks and really works wonders in a cocktail or highball.
11. Still Austin “The Artist” Straight Rye Whiskey
Average Price: $50
This Austin whiskey is made with 100% Texas rye. The juice is loaded into the barrel at a lower proof and “slow watered” throughout the aging process so that the whiskey comes out of the barrel already proofed and ready for bottling.
Nose: This opens with Wether’s Original candies still in the wrappers next to dark cherry, fig jam, a whisper of espresso bean bitterness, and a touch of orange rind studded with cloves.
Palate: The taste has a fruity saltwater taffy vibe next to vanilla, dried apricot, a touch of ginger candy, and some dark caramel.
Finish: The end leans into woody spices — cinnamon, cloves, and some soft nutmeg — next to burnt orange and sweet caramel tobacco.
Yes, this is one cent over the price point, but it’s good enough that I don’t care. This crafty rye has a nice balance and profile that really works as a sipper with a single rock or your next favorite cocktail whiskey.
10. Pinhook 2022 High Proof Rye
Average Price: $45
Sourced from Castle & Key (a true whiskey nerd’s haven), this whiskey was made from a unique mash bill. The juice is derived from a mash of 60% rye, 20% corn, and 20% malted barley. Once distilled, that whiskey rests for at least four years before it was batched and bottled as-is.
Nose: There’s a soft sense of orange blossom and floral honey on the nose with a tart green apple skin vibe next to cinnamon, clove, and allspice, a touch of nuttiness, and some caramel sweetness.
Palate: The palate leans into sticky toffee pudding with black-tea-soaked dates, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salted caramel with a hint of orange zest, walnut clusters, and light chili pepper spiciness.
Finish: The end has a slight woody chili spice that leads back to the salted caramel and a light sense of walnut cake cut with plums.
I like this on its own with a glass full of ice and a dash of bitters to liven it up. That said, you really want to be making Manhattans or Sazeracs with this one.
9. Woodford Reserve Rye
Average Price: $35
This whiskey was a long time coming. Master Distiller Chris Morris tinkered with this recipe for nine years before it was just right. The juice has a fairly low-rye mash bill — for rye, that is — with only 53% of the grain in the recipe. The rest is made up of local corn and malted barley. The whiskey then spends up to seven years maturing at their Versailles, Kentucky facility before its blended, proofed with soft limestone water, and bottled.
Nose: This opens nicely with soft green grass next to a dusting of freshly cracked black pepper and dry cedar that’s countered by pear and marzipan.
Palate: That pear infuses into the marzipan on the palate as floral honey balances a rye pepperiness and hint of clove.
Finish: A whisper of fresh mint drives the mid-palate toward more of that sharp clove with a final note of honey-soaked pear on the thin finish.
This is the perfect home bar cart mixing rye. It’s versatile and just works with every type of cocktail from a julep to a sour to an old fashioned.
8. Redemption Rum Cask Finish
Deutsche Family Wine & Spirits
Average Price: $45
Redemption is a Connecticut mainstay that sources its whiskey from MGP of Indiana. This MGP 95 is then finished in rum casks in partnership with Plantation Rum. They’re using both Jamaican and Barbadian rum barrels that are then blended for this fascinating rum cask finish expression.
Nose: There’s a mix of rummy molasses that’s spiced with Christmas spices and vanilla, with a hint of tart fruit and sherried jamminess.
Palate: The taste doesn’t really deviate too much from those notes and holds onto the molasses, spice, and vanilla while a touch of oak arrives late with a note of citrus.
Finish: The end is short-ish and really leans into the rummy nature of the spices and sweetness.
This is a nice sipper over some rocks that is a good base for fruity cocktails that could use a little dark spiciness.
7. Smooth Ambler Contradiction Rye
Average Price: $43
This release from Smooth Ambler mixes some very interesting whiskeys together. The blend is two Tennessee ryes (one 70% rye, one 51% rye), MGP 95, and Smooth Ambler’s own rye which has a mash bill of 88% rye. Those whiskeys are then blended, proofed, and bottled in the hills of West Virginia.
Nose: The nose opens with a stewed cherry that’s heavy on woody cinnamon sticks next to hints of vanilla pods and maybe some dried florals.
Palate: The palate leans into the woodiness of the cinnamon stick to the point of feeling like a cedar box full of spicy cinnamon tobacco as creamy vanilla leads to a toasted coconut vibe.
Finish: The finish lets the creaminess of the vanilla drive a sweet edge as the spicy cinnamon tobacco is just kissed with cherry syrup and dark chocolate on the very back end.
This is a great blend. It’s balanced enough to work as a sipper over a few ice cubes or make your favorite version of a Manhattan.
6. Pikesville 110 Proof Straight Rye Whiskey
Average Price: $49
This is a real throwback rye whiskey. Pikesville Rye was at the center of the Maryland rye whiskey scene until Prohibition put it in the grave. Heaven Hill saved the brand and moved the production to Kentucky while holding onto the whiskey’s traditions of longer aging and higher proofing.
Nose: The nose pulls you in with a mix of dark cocoa powder packed into a cedar box with a touch of rye bread, caraway seed, and salted butter with this thin line of spiced honey.
Palate: The taste leans into clove and salted black licorice with that spiced honey leaning a little floral next to a touch of dry singed cedar bark.
Finish: The end mellows significantly towards a vanilla pudding spiked with eggnog spices and a touch more of that dark chocolate shaved overtop with a hint of spiced caramel sauce.
This has really grown on me as both a sipper and a simple cocktail base. It also works neat — starring true depth and fun in finding new notes with every return to the nose and palate.
5. Sazerac Rye
Average Price: $34
Sazerac Rye is a great entry point for a refined touch and a throwback to the 1800s. The brand was named after the famed Sazerac Coffee House on Royal Street in New Orleans where the Sazerac cocktail was born. Today, this expression is a true classic made at Buffalo Trace from their iconic rye mash bill.
Nose: There’s a vanilla underbelly that’s pretty luscious which supports star anise, sasparilla, clove, cardamom, and a hint of red peppercorn.
Palate: The palate has big Christmas-time vibes with fruit cakes full of candied fruits and nuts with plenty of dark spice, mulled wine, more of that red peppercorn, and a hint of black licorice with old pine wood paneling lurking in the background.
Finish: The finish is bold yet soft and lush with anise and candied fruits creating a spicy cream soda with an old sweetgrass rope drying things out.
If you buy one bottle of rye whiskey to make a Sazerac, it has to be this.
4. Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Rye
Average Price: $36
This release from Jack asks “what would straight rye whiskey taste like if it was given the ol’ Lincoln County treatment?” Jack’s mash bill utilizes 70% rye mash bill and water from the nearby Tennessee mountains. They then treat the hot distillate as they would a standard Tennessee whiskey, with sugar maple charcoal filtration before barreling and aging.
Nose: This is very mellow with soft layers of rich vanilla pudding, peach/apricot, rum-raisin, and cinnamon-heavy oatmeal cookies on the nose.
Palate: The palate lets the cinnamon sharpen a bit as the silky vanilla takes over and leads to applewood, floral honey, and a hint of nutmeg.
Finish: The mid-palate lets the fruity sweetness fade as a vanilla/cinnamon tobacco chewiness leads to an old oak stave.
This is way better than it has any right to be at this price point. This makes a killer cocktail and is just deep enough to work as a slow sipper on the rocks.
3. Knob Creek Rye
Average Price: $29
This is a bourbon drinker’s rye with a mash bill that’s believed to be very low rye. The barrels are batched and proofed at a higher ABV, allowing more of the barrel and rye to shine through than, say, Jim Beam’s other rye — Basil Hayden’s Rye.
Nose: Classic cherry Coke, vanilla, cedar, and peppery spice lead the way on the nose.
Palate: That matrix of flavors delivers on the palate with the vanilla getting super creamy as the cherry really pops as “ripe” and “vibrant” on the tongue before a hint of dried dill and maybe fennel sneaks in.
Finish: The spice is more attached to a moist tobacco leaf with a bit of a chew to it that’s also just touched by dark chocolate cherry vibes, a hint of dry porch wicker, and a final note of dry potting soil.
This is just freaking good whiskey. It’s very bourbon-forward, making it a good candidate for anyone looking to get into rye whiskey. Moreover, this makes a perfect cocktail base or slow sipper with a single rock in the glass.
2. Russell’s Reserve 6-Year-Old Rye
Average Price: $36
Russell’s Reserve is where we really dive into the “good stuff” with Wild Turkey. This expression is a collaboration between Master Distillers Jimmy and Eddie Russell, who search through the center cut of barrels in their rickhouses for the exact right minimum-six-year-old ryes. The end results are a window into the Russells’ shared palate for the whiskey.
Nose: This a subtle rye with hints of crusty rye bread soaked in apple honey paired with a hint of vanilla, a touch of caramel, and mild orchard fruit.
Palate: The palate is all about a spicy and sweet Christmas cake full of dried fruit, nuts, and spicy minced meat pie with a flutter of black pepper.
Finish: The oakiness shines late as the winter spice, vanilla/caramel sweetness, and singed cedar fade away toward a touch of apple cider tobacco.
This is another whiskey that’s just plain good, excellent even for this price point. It’s not going to blow your mind but it is going to 100% satisfy your soul either as a wonderful everyday slow sipper or a great cocktail mixer.
1. Micher’s US*1 Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey
Average Price: $43
Michter’s well-crafted juice is warehoused until the deeply charred new white oak barrels hit just the right moment in both texture and taste. Those barrels are then hand-selected and bottled one at a time with a touch of Kentucky water.
Nose: Peppery rye and a hint of citrus open this one up before deep fatty nuttiness, dry espresso beans, soft dark chocolate sauce, and a twist of sharp spearmint dance through the nose.
Palate: There’s a distant line of toffee candies dipped in roasted almonds next to a brioche smeared with Nutella and dipped into a fresh cup of espresso with mild notes of white pepper, ground chili powder, and maybe a whisper of honey.
Finish: The finish leans into woody winter spice barks and buds — think cinnamon, clove, and allspice — with a sense of whole red peppercorns soaked in molasses, a whisper of walnut cake, and a thin line of toasted marshmallows dipped in dark chocolate.
This single-barrel rye is the rye that you can measure most others against (at this price point). It’s sweet, spicy, and full of real depth. It takes you on a journey. And while I like to sip this neat or over a rock or two, it makes one hell of a cocktail. Use it for your next Manhattan, boulevardier, or Sazerac.