The pilgrims who landed on Plymouth Rock were a thirsty lot. They had fortified themselves, during the long journey from southern England, with barrels and barrels of beer. The Mayflower had originally even been used to transport wine.
And it wasn’t long before they were making booze in America. In fact, according to David Wondrich, noted liquor historian and The Daily Beast’s chief drinks columnist, about 30 years after arriving in the New World, the pilgrims were distilling straight rye whiskey in Massachusetts.
The liquor was wildly popular for hundreds of years before falling out of favor in the second half of the 20th century. Fortunately, over the last decade, the whiskey has staged a remarkable comeback, and excellent rye is produced around the country and in Canada. The spicy whiskey is a favorite of the current generation of bartenders and spirits aficionados alike. As a result, sales of the spirit are up, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, a meteoric 536 percent, from 2009 to 2014.
Thanks to this newfound popularity, there is a new class of high-priced super-premium ryes whose prices rival those of single malt Scotches.
Whether you’re treating yourself or shopping for another, here are some of the most deluxe ryes currently on the market.
Lock Stock & Barrel 16 Year Straight Rye Whiskey ($150)
Lock Stock & Barrel was one of the last projects that spirits entrepreneur Rob Cooper (the creator of St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur) was working on before he passed away in April. A rye fanatic before it was trendy to be one, he found this remarkable whiskey aging in an Alberta, Canada, warehouse. There are just 3,000 cases of this 107-proof whiskey.
Templeton Rye Special Reserve 10 Year Old ($150)
It has certainly been an interesting decade for Templeton Rye. The brand became a sensation, was the focus of a class-action lawsuit, and has since worked to regain drinkers’ trust. The brand is building its own distillery in Iowa and will began producing whiskey there. It also just released this 10-year-old Special Reserve whiskey.
Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye ($120)
There are rare spirits and then there is Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye. If you can believe it, this 13-year-old rye is even harder to find than the brand’s legendary bourbon and was originally created for the Japanese whiskey market. While the liquor has a suggested retail price of $120, it usually sells for much more—a recent search yielded several bottles going for between $900 and $2,200.
Redemption Aged Barrel Proof Rye Whiskey: 8 Years ($100)
Bartenders love using spicy rye in classic drinks like the Manhattan and the Old Fashioned. At 122-proof, Redemption Aged Barrel Proof Rye Whiskey: 8 Years will certainly hold its own with sweet vermouth and other mixers.
High West A Midwinter Night’s Dram ($90)
If you want to try High West’s latest limited-edition whiskey—the aptly named A Midwinter’s Night’s Dram—act fast. To create this special bottling, the brand finished its acclaimed Rendezvous Rye in port and French oak barrels.
WhistlePig 2016 The Boss Hog The Independent ($300)
There are just 30 barrels of this 14-year-old rye by Vermont-based WhistlePig. The whiskey was matured in large so-called hogshead barrels that are normally used to age Scotch. The bottle is capped with a pewter stopper made by the historic Danforth Pewter company.
Old Potrero Hotaling’s 16 Year Old Single Malt Rye Whiskey ($165)
Fritz Maytag is arguably the father of the rebirth of rye whiskey. In 1994, he started producing the liquor in San Francisco when the category was on life support. I’m not sure even Maytag would have been able to predict its recent success. Toast his achievement with this extremely limited 16-year-old—less than 200 bottles of the stuff exist.
Michter’s 25 Year Kentucky Straight Rye ($700)
Michter’s has developed a cult following for its bourbon and its rye. And the bottle that collectors dream about owning is the brand’s 25-year-old rye. The suggested retail price is $700, but it typically sells for quite a bit more. If that’s too rich for your blood, look out for the 10-year Kentucky Straight Rye that sells for around $150.