Which Whiskey Won the Best Rye Under $40 Taste-Off?

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I tasted plenty of bourbons in varying price ranges recently, and on Wednesday night, it was time to give the rye whiskeys their due.

I approached the ryes the same way I did the bourbons: I walked into a liquor store with the goal of buying every whiskey in a certain price point, this time anything $40 or less. Now, if it’s not in the store, I don’t buy it. If it’s finished in another barrel, it’s not suitable for this tasting. Only straight rye whiskey.

I only ranked 12 of the 19 I bought, because I had to get to my fantasy football draft, but at the bottom of this post you’ll see my tasting notes on those that didn’t make the ranking.

Here’s how the blind taste-off played out:

12. Glass H – River Boat (Oily, herbal, grainy; “basic kind of rye, not going to wow you.”)

11. Glass M – Old Henry Clay (Chocolate, “doesn’t have the umph for me.”)

10. Glass S – Wild Turkey 81 (Definitely rye; pumpernickel bread, smoke, sea salt, “butter from Longhorn Steakhouse.”)

9. Glass F – Pinhook (Petrol, rye baking nose, oily, dill; extremely herbal, touch of spice, “like a nice herbal candy you’d get in a Chinese medicine store.”)

8. Glass E – Woodford Reserve (Cotton candy, cherry pie, coconut, hatch chili.)

7. Glass O – Templeton (Herbal candy, black pepper; chocolate.)

6. Glass D – Minor Case (Fruity, dried apricot, canned peaches, “fruit city;” skews on sweet side, fruit, caramel, vanilla, Nutella, hint of cinammon, “Tastes more like a bourbon … that’s an interesting cat, right there.”

5. Glass R – Jack Daniel’s (Cherry, banana, roasted walnut; banana city, “coming off like bananas foster.”)

4. Glass G – Russell’s Reserve (Floral notes, honeysuckle, magnolia, spice, sweetness; “aw, sumbitch”, tingles the tongue, caramel, vanilla, complex. “G is all up on me.”)

3. Glass L – Rossville Union (Spicy, cinnammon red hot; “L is the kind of whiskey that can win a tasting.”)

2. Glass A – Knob Creek (Licorice, toasted bread; spicy, sweetness. “A is fantastic.”)

Glass I – James E. Pepper 1776 (Bread pudding, banana pudding; dill.)


Glass B – Old Overholt (Asphalt and plastic; “pretty neutral for me … drinkable.”

Glass C – Jim Beam (Honey and jalapeno; stark black licorice.)

Glass J – Braddock Oak (“Oh god, J, no. J is a double nope. Might be the worst thing I’ve tasted yet. Like a lump of charcoal.”)

Glass K – Deadwood (Rye bread, rye muffin, herbal; “nice, just not enough to it.”)

Glass N – Old Forester (Cherry bomb; cherry cough syrup on the palate, “I would actually inspect that for a contamination.”)

Glass P – Ezra Brooks (“Nice, but too light for me.”)

Glass Q – New Riff (Plastic note; “Oh god, that’s horrid. … Like the leftover ashes of a fire.”)

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4 Replies to “Which Whiskey Won the Best Rye Under $40 Taste-Off?”

  1. Unfortunately, they all pale in comparison to the $50 Pikesville, which has become the gold standard for a solid rye whiskey.

  2. Minor Case is my favorite rye. But it doesn’t meet your criteria – it’s finished in Sherry casks.

  3. We love Rittenhouse Rye and are wondering why not in your testing. Price locally well below $40. Thanks for the review. Learned a lot.

  4. Would like to have seen Wild Turkey (especially the 101), High West Double Rye!, and Rittenhouse in this set. They all seem conspicuously missing.

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