Best Rye Whiskey for Old Fashioned cocktails

By Timo Torner / Last updated on April 1, 2023

A great cocktail heavily relies on its base spirit. Choosing the best Rye Whiskey base will vastly enhance the taste of your Old Fashioned and we will give you our recommendations.
Best Rye Whiskey for Old Fashioned cocktail

The Old Fashioned is a classic cocktail invented in the 19th century. It is one of those drinks that actually highlight the base spirit.

In most cases, an Old Fashioned cocktail is made with either Bourbon or Rye Whiskey. Over the past decades, using Bourbon as a base was significantly more common, but Rye is catching up lately.

Rye Whiskey has a spicier taste with peppery notes compared to the rather sweet flavor of Bourbon. This spicy touch works brilliantly in mixed drinks, particularly in an Old Fashioned cocktail.

The 10 Best Rye Whiskey for Old Fashioned cocktails

When choosing a Rye Whiskey for your Old Fashioned cocktail, aim for a well-rounded and smooth spirit. My recommendation is: Choose one you would enjoy drinking neat as the drink enhances the taste of the spirit rather than softening it.

WhistlePig Rye 10 years

Whistle Pig 10 year Rye Whiskey

Region: New England / Canada
ABV: 50% 
Taste: Orange, pineapple, peppermint, and vanilla 
Price: $65

Whistle Pig Rye Whiskey is made from 100% rye grains and barrel-aged for ten years in oak barrels. The result is an excellent spicy Rye Whiskey with a unique character and a perfect Rye base in an Old Fashioned.

The distillery producing it is relatively young. In 2007 the WhistlePig distillery opened its doors. For the first few years of operation, it focused on importing Canadian Rye to refine and finish in Vermont. 

In 2015 they started to produce their own whiskey. However, that is not part of the 10-year expression I recommend for the Old Fashioned. If you still want to try it, look for their farmstock bottles.

The taste of Whistle Pig Rye is quite distinctive. You get strong fruity notes of orange and pineapple but without being on the sweet side. In contrast, there are lots of spicy and peppery notes combined with hints of wood.

Sazerac Rye Whiskey

Sazerac Rye Whiskey

Region: Kentucky
ABV : 45%
Taste : Peppermint, spice, and honey
Price : $31

This Rye from Sazerac is a rich and exotic take on Rye Whiskey. It is likely that the Sazerac Rye mash bill is the same or at least similar to the one of Buffalo Trace's low-rye Rye.

I sensed stone fruit and slightly toasted oak dominating the aroma. On the palate, this whiskey is a perfectly balanced mix of fruits like bananas mixed with grains and spicy notes.

Overall, I find the Sazerac Rye is a beautiful Rye for every occasion. In an Old Fashioned, it adds a nice fruity touch while still having enough spicy notes to be recognized as a Rye Whiskey.

Knob Creek Cask Strength Rye

Knob Creek Cask Strength Rye Whiskey

Region: Kentucky
ABV : 63.5%
Taste : Oak, char, caramel, and cream
Price : $69

This cask strength expression from Knob Creek is one of the best Ryes you can get for an Old Fashioned. 

The first batch of this limited release won a best-in-class award from the San Francisco International Spirits Challenge even before the whiskey was available for purchase.

As the name suggests, the whiskey is uncut and comes straight from the barrel. It's a superbly boozy and complex whiskey that should be at the top of your Rye shopping list. 

Barrel-aged for more than nine years, Knob Creek Cask Strength is full of smoky and spicy notes from oak and char. The flavor profile is beautifully complex and with every sip I took, there were new flavors to taste like clove, dill, caramel, and even hints of cream.

High West Whiskey Double Rye

High West Double Rye Whiskey

Region: Kentucky
ABV : 46%
Taste : Vanilla, oak, and honeysuckle
Price : $28

This product from High West is a blend of two different types of Straight Rye Whiskeys. The first one is aged for only two years, the other for more than nine years.

It isn't the most complex Rye Whiskey you can get, but it packs some mighty spicy notes.

So, if you want a Rye to bring heaps of zing into your Old Fashioned, you can't go wrong with a bottle of High West Whiskey Double Rye.

Sipped neat, the aromas and flavors feel almost muted. But combined with just a bit of simple syrup and bitters, the subtle flavors of honey and honeysuckle are more pronounced and balance the spiciness.

In a nutshell, this Rye is great value for money and an excellent choice for cocktails in general.

Old Forester Rye

Old Forester Rye Whiskey

Region: Kentucky
ABV : 50%
Taste : Pepper, cinnamon, and vanilla
Price :

Old Forester Rye offers exceptional quality at a low price point. In 2019, the whiskey won double gold at the International Spirits Challenge. If you just started drinking Rye Whiskey, this affordable bottle is a great choice. 

The flavors of this specific bottle are complex, with spicy notes of pepper, cinnamon, vanilla, toasted rye, citrus, and even herbal notes. 

This Rye Whiskey is perfect for sipping and also works exceptionally well in an Old Fashioned cocktail.

Wild Turkey 101 Rye

Wild Turkey 101 Rye Whiskey

Region: Kentucky
ABV : 50%
Taste : Grain, spice, mint, oat, and apple
Price :

When you look for a more classic high-quality Rye Whiskey, Wild Turkey is one of the best options. The distillery from Kentucky has been producing high-end Rye Whiskey for over 40 years.

When drinking the Wild Turkey 101 expression neat, it instantly hit me with an intense grainy taste and spicy flavors. After that, the spice level slowly fades, making space for more delicate whiskey notes.

The tasting notes include mint, oatmeal, and even apples. In the background, you also get oaky notes and spice. Overall, the 101 expression is a prime example of a quality Rye.

And even though the level of alcohol is high, the spirit never feels overly boozy. It's just the right amount to be strong but not overpowering. It's certainly one of my preferred bottles for a Rye Old Fashioned.

Woodford Reserve Rye

Woodford Reserve Rye Whiskey

Region: Kentucky
ABV : 45.2%
Taste : Subtle peppery spice, honey, apple, and vanilla
Price :

This bottle contains just enough rye to fulfill the legal requirements. The mash bill includes 53% of rye, and the legal limit is 51%. Also, corn makes up 33%, which brings an unexpected sweetness to this Rye Whiskey.

This interesting mash bill makes Woodford reserve less spicy and creates an intriguing mix of Rye and Bourbon flavors. And it's this unique blend that makes it an excellent choice in a Rye Old Fashioned cocktail.

Willet Family Estate Four-Year Rye

Willett Family Estate Rye Whiskey

Region: Kentucky
ABV : 45.2%
Taste : Subtle peppery spice, honey, apple, and vanilla
Price :

This bottle from Willet Family Estate is made from a blend of two different mash bills. The combination of Willett's high-rye and low-rye creates a beautifully complex flavor.

And although this Rye only aged for four years, the resulting whiskey is of excellent quality. Willett Family's Four-Year Rye is distilled superbly and has quite a complex flavor profile.

You can taste typical Rye notes and hints of floral and botanical flavors. Adding a bit of simple syrup and aromatic bitters creates a delicious Rye Old Fashioned.

Lock Stock & Barrel Rye 16 years Rye

Lock Stock & Barrel Rye 16 years Rye

Region: Kentucky
ABV : 45.2%
Taste : Subtle peppery spice, honey, apple, and vanilla
Price :

Lock Stock & Barrel Rye 16 years is a Straight Rye Whiskey of excellent quality. It is double pot-distilled, made from 100% rye grains, and barrel-aged for 16 years in fresh and newly charred American oak barrels.

The nose is heavy with rye spice, pepper, and sweetness from brown sugar and vanilla. Tasting it neat, you are confronted with spiciness and leather notes. In the background is a rich and underlying sweetness combined with notes of baking spices like cloves and nutmeg.

The price tag for the bottle is premium and usually too high to use in an Old Fashioned. But if you look for a top-shelf option, this is a superb and very complex one.

Combine it with Demerara syrup and a few drops of Angostura bitters for the best results.

Old Overholt Straight Rye Whiskey

Old Overholt Rye Whiskey

Region: Kentucky
ABV : 45.2%
Taste : Subtle peppery spice, honey, apple, and vanilla
Price :

You prefer a budget-friendly bottle of Rye? Old Overholt Straight Rye Whiskey is probably the best choice. The flavors in this whiskey are aromatic, spicy, and peppery, with intense vanilla notes.

After a few sips, you can detect additional flavors like Graham crackers and peanuts.

It's not only a superb Rye option in an Old Fashioned but also works in other classic cocktails like a Manhattan. This versatility and the low price point make it a brilliant addition to your home bar.

What you need for a Rye Old Fashioned cocktail

If you're now ready to start mixing, here's a quick reminder of what else you need for your next Rye Old Fashioned:

  • Rye Whiskey
  • Sugar cube
  • cocktail bitters
  • Splash of soda water

The sugar cube is drenched in bitters and muddled with the help of just a splash of bitters. Traditionally, it is Angostura bitters for an Old Fashioned, but there are many other options.

The best approach is to choose cocktail bitters that match your Old Fashioned. Black Walnut bitters work great in a Bourbon-based Old Fashioned, and Peychaud's bitters are best for Scotch Old Fashioned cocktails. Also, in modern recipes, the sugar cube is often replaced by simple syrup.

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