Rye whiskey is the key to your cocktail cabinet. Here are the best bottles…

The US spirit has a slightly less sweet taste than bourbon, but it more than makes up for it with a spicier, fruitier flavour…

Take a long, strong look at your drinks cabinet. You’ve got a reliable rum, a top-shelf scotch and a simple vodka that knows its libatious liminations. There’s a dusty cognac, a dustier mezcal and a tequila so strong it’ll give you a hangover just looking at it. Behind them; the flavoured gins, the finicky bitters and a jar of fused-shut cocktail cherries. But there’s something missing — a good bottle of rye whiskey.

This often overlooked whiskey is the key to a good cocktail cabinet. It’s the base of more cocktails than you can name, bourbon’s ‘older brother’ and a spirit that dates back to 1607. It was first produced by US colonists in the first permanent British settlement — in Jamestown, Virginia — and is the key to creating the best mixed drinks this side of Kentucky; from the Manhattan to the original Old Fashioned.

So what is rye whiskey? While bourbon must use a minimum of 51% corn in its mash, rye requires a mash bill containing at least 51% rye grain. That gives the spirit a slightly less sweet taste than bourbon; but it makes up for it with a spicier, fruitier flavour. Here are the best bottles to plug that rye-shaped hole in your home bar…

Catoctin Creek Roundstone Rye

Where’s it from? Next to the charming creek that gets a namecheck on the label. It’s a tributary of the Potomac in Virginia, and the distillery creates the ‘Roundstone Rye’ using grains sourced almost exclusively from the area.

What can you expect? Something sweet — with a touch of woody spice. Aged in Minnesota white oak casks, it’s got hints of vanilla in the mix, but softer, more rounded flavours of banana and toasted nuts on the palate.

How should you drink it? Mix a ‘Vieux Carre’. The New Orleans cocktail is a strong, bitter affair — and one that will punch up the flavour of the ‘Roundstone Rye’. Add cognac, vermouth, Benedictine and bitters. 

Rye whiskey is the key to your cocktail cabinet. Here are the best bottles…

Catoctin Creek Roundstone Rye

£37.00

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Sagamore Signature Rye

Where’s it from? A plucky distillery in Baltimore, Maryland. Originally, Sagamore produced its handsomely bottled spirits in Indiana. But, for the past five years, they’ve been cooking it up in Charm City’s Port Covington neighbourhood. 

What can you expect? That distinctive Maryland style of rye whiskey. It’s less spicy and dry than many of the other offerings on this list, with a supple, almost saccharine sweetness that presents with notes of candied peel and honey. 

How should you drink it? On its own. True, that natural sweetness will work wonders in cocktails — but when you’ve got a whiskey as palatable as this, just pour yourself a single measure and enjoy ever sugary sip. 

Rye whiskey is the key to your cocktail cabinet. Here are the best bottles…

Sagamore Signature Rye

£49.00

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Peerless Small Batch Rye

Where’s it from? The bombastically, confidently named Peerless Distillery in Louisville, Kentucky. But the bravado and braggadocio isn’t misplaced — the brand has been at the top of the rye game since 1889. 

What can you expect? A cornucopia of flavours, starting with a nose bursting with buttery vanilla and ripe green apples. On the palate, stem ginger and chocolate appear, before lapsing back into a lingering marmalade finish.

How should you drink it? We’d mix it into a Manhattan. Perhaps the most famous of all rye whiskey cocktails, this three-ingredient serve will perfectly showcase the range of flavours; accentuated by vermouth and bitters. 

Rye whiskey is the key to your cocktail cabinet. Here are the best bottles…

Peerless Small Batch Rye

£80.00

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Lot 40 Rye Whisky

Where’s it from? Canada! Produced in a copper pit still, this 100% rye grain spirit is produced using the traditional technique of whiskey-making. Recently relaunched, it’s named for a plot of land occupied by one of the founder’s ancestors. 

What can you expect? Something solid. It doesn’t have the symphonic spectrum of flavours that Peerless above brings to the table, but you’ll get every iconic rye note — from caramel and orange to vanilla and brown sugar.

How should you drink it? Try a rye-based Old Fashioned. Whilst most recommend using bourbon, a Canadian spin on the serve can add a new dimension to your favourite cocktail. You could even replace the sugar syrup with maple syrup…

Sazerac Straight Rye Whiskey

Where’s it from? The behemoth that is the Buffalo Trace Distillery — in Frankfort, Kentucky. The largest, oldest continuously-operating distillery in the United States, it’s got provenance pouring out of its slender spout. 

What can you expect? The best ‘basic’ rye whiskey money can buy. And that’s not a criticism. Far from it. If you’re looking for a sweetly spiced, zesty whiskey with notes of black pepper, toffee and charred wood, then this is the rye for you. 

How should you drink it? Once you’ve stopped staring at that beautiful bottle, why not whip up a Sazerac cocktail? The suggestion is right there on the bottle, and it mixes magnificently with rich cognac. 

Rye whiskey is the key to your cocktail cabinet. Here are the best bottles…

Sazerac Straight Rye Whiskey

£38.00

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Ragtime Rye New York Whiskey

Where’s it from? This new-ish distillery is based in Brooklyn — Williamsburg, to be exact. Founded in 2011, it’s been providing spirits to New York’s five boroughs for a decade, and is moving from strength to high-ABV strength.

What can you expect? ‘Ragtime’ uses 72% rye, all grown in New York State. And it shows. There are progressive, punchy flavours here; including red berries, white pepper, liquorice and fruity boiled sweets.

How should you drink it? We’d try two drinks. First, neat — to fully appreciate those idiosyncratic flavours. Then, mix a Whiskey Ginger, blending the rye with ginger ale to unlock further remarkable flavours.

Rye whiskey is the key to your cocktail cabinet. Here are the best bottles…

Ragtime Rye New York Whiskey

£42.95

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Basil Hayden's 10-Year-Old Kentucky Straight Rye

Where’s it from? Clermont, Kentucky. It’s here, on the banks of Long Lick Creek, that Basil Hayden’s is created and bottled (with that incredible ‘tabard’ label) by the esteemed Jim Beam Distilling Company. 

What can you expect? A light gold colour — and a levity of taste to boot. Think pale oak, unobtrusive vanilla and just a half-grind of white peppercorns. It’s refreshing even when sipped straight; a summery rye whiskey.

How should you drink it? On ice. Lean into those light, warm weather flavours and let it sit beneath a single ball of carved ice. Once it’s chilled, take a taste — and try to pick out the peanut notes hiding in the finish. 

Rye whiskey is the key to your cocktail cabinet. Here are the best bottles…

Basil Hayden's 10-Year-Old Kentucky Straight Rye

£199.95

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Michter’s 10 Year Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Rye

Where’s it from? The photogenic Michter’s Fort Nelson Distillery in Louisville, Kentucky. Housed in a four-storey 1800s building, it’s a sufficiently swanky setting for this most expensive of rye whiskeys. 

What can you expect? If you can bring yourself to crack the wax, you’ll be rewarded with flavours including roasted pecans, rich toffee and a larder of sweet baking spices — as well as the faint whiff of leather. 

How should you drink it? Without interference or interruption. Forgo any ice, don’t dare mix it into a cocktail and simply sit back. It’s a musing, pondering, stewing sort of whiskey; one that works best when you’re entirely — but effortlessly — invested in every sip. 

Rye whiskey is the key to your cocktail cabinet. Here are the best bottles…

Michter’s 10 Year Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Rye

£299.95

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Want bourbon instead? These are the best bourbons to make you cheat on scotch…

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