Introducing the best of the best!

Our expert judging panel discovered many new favorite bottles during the blind tasting at the Spring 2021 John Barleycorn International Spirits competition. And one of the hottest categories this year was rye whiskey. While dozens of products were tested, only a small handful earned the exclusive double-gold medal. Here’s are five of our favorites from all around the United States.

291 Colorado Rye Whiskey Finished with Aspen Wood Staves, Small Batch

Colorado Springs, CO
Vitals: 101.7 Proof (50.85% ABV); $75

Founder Michael Myers’ 291 Colorado Whiskey small batch rye took “Best in Category” in the Barleycorn International Spirits Competition this spring, and it’s easy to see why. This expression is finished with locally grown Aspen wood staves, imparting “a sweet and herbal nose” and “dried chile, apricot, and nutmeg flavors” with “fine and elegant tannins.” But the whiskey is perhaps best summed up by one judge’s comment: “This is like a muscular guy in a tux. Splendid.”

Elijah Craig Straight Rye

Bardstown, KY
Vitals: 94 Proof (47% ABV); $30

“That’s a high-quality rye right there.” Sweet and decadent, here is the first rye whiskey in Heaven Hill’s Elijah Craig bourbon portfolio, and it is nothing short of “delicious.” The high corn recipe of 51% rye, 35% corn, and a good pinch of malted barley yields “violet and vanilla aromas followed by a luscious palate of spice, caramel, and sweet vanilla.” And it doesn’t end there as “everything comes together beautifully with a dry, leathery, and lingering finish.”

Belfour Single Barrel Straight Rye Whiskey

Dallas, TX
Vitals: 100 Proof (50% ABV); $89

National Hockey League hall of fame goaltender Ed Belfour started Belfour Spirits with his family in 2014. After four years of intense whiskey education, Belfour released their first product in 2019. Today, the hard work is paying off. Belfour’s single barrel rye impressed our judges with “a nutmeg and peppery nose with tendrils of vanilla cream and cinnamon clove flavors.” And there is more to feel good about by supporting Beflour; the company supports veterans and cares for abused and neglected dogs.

Laws Whiskey House Bonded San Luis Valley Straight Rye Whiskey

Denver, CO
Vitals: 100 Proof (50% ABV); $75

Alan Laws waited years to release his whiskey while his craft whiskey competitors were putting out underaged stuff. For this reason, Laws is proud of this six-year-old bottled-in-bond San Luis Valley Rye, and we agree it was worth the wait. “Beautiful aromas of chocolate, cherries, and coffee” greets the nose with flavors of “cacao powder, flint, and ripe peach.” The rye also has a “lovely salinity on the front palate that makes me reach for another sip.”

Nashville Barrel Co Single Barrel Straight Rye Whiskey

Nashville, TN
117.24 Proof (58.62% ABV); $99

Nashville Barrel Co. doesn’t pretend to make their whiskey. Instead, they are proud of their skill in picking choice barrels, and here’s proof. This straight rye is the second of only two single barrels in the category to score double gold at Barleycorn this spring. “A chewy, grain forward nose with tons of spice” opens the show with “red fruit, ginger spice, and a touch of oak flavors” on the palate. Overall, a “juicy, delicious whiskey for people who really like rye.”

Spirits writers, marketers and designers are among the most influential forces in the spirits industry. Their opinions, ideas and creative talents inform and influence consumer perceptions and buying decisions. The John Barleycorn Society was started by a group of spirits journalists seeking to honor excellence in all facets of the industry. The journalists spent several years creating a comprehensive competition that became the John Barleycorn Awards. An elite team of authoritative and influential spirits journalists was selected to administer the flagship component of the Awards, a blind tasting competition destined to become the preeminent arbitrator of spirits taste, quality and character.