Nothing evens a playing field like a blind tasting.

Stripping away branding and price points forces our expert tasters to base a spirit’s quality on three simple criteria: aroma, taste, and finish. And when our spring competition went down, the Barleycorn Society tasted dozens of amazing rye whiskeys, and the results were surely surprising. So pour yourself a dram, settle into a comfy seat, and discover our favorite ryes thus far in 2022. Want to check out all of our medalists?

Rabbit Hole Boxergrail Kentucky Straight Rye

Louisville, Kentucky
Vitals: 95 Proof (47.5 ABV); NAS; $50

Louisville’s Rabbit Hole Distillery is an architectural sight to behold, and this Boxergrail Kentucky Rye is a testament to its impressive capabilities. Boxergrail is made from a 95% rye recipe that’s matured in a combo of charred and toasted oak, then bottled sans chill-filtering. The result is “compelling from nose to finish,” featuring a “cherry, sponge cake, and vanilla nose” leading to a “fresh, herbal palate mixed with rye spice, green tea, and apple.” The whiskey concludes with a “clean, billowy, and round” finish.

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Sagamore Spirit Double Oak Straight Rye Whiskey

Baltimore, Maryland
Vitals: 96.6 Proof (48.3% ABV): NAS; $55

To strike upon the “big, bold, and multi-layered” flavors of this Double Oak Rye, Sagamore ages this whiskey in heavily charred barrels for 5-years before transferring the juice into toasted, wave stave barrels for an additional 18 months. The result is a “lovely” whiskey with a “luscious mouthfeel” that “grows through malty, pecan flavors into deep dried fruit, vanilla and coconut.” The “killer finish” is “interesting and long” with “menthol notes mingling with the slightest hint of fudge.”

Learn More About Sagamore Spirit Double Oak Straight

King’s Family Distillery Ryeconic

Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Vitals: 109 Proof (54.5 ABV) ; NAS; $75

Justin and Cara King of King’s Family Distillery located at the foot of the Smoky Mountains have been crushing it on the competition circuit with an impressive lineup of whiskeys and moonshine since opening in 2018. And this double-gold rated Ryeconic was no exception at last spring’s Barleycorn Awards. One judge called Ryeconic “a lovely balance of sweet and spice with enough mature oak to lend it gravitas,” while another deemed it a “robust and powerful whiskey for a special-occasion whiskey.” Simply put, everyone agreed this stuff is “simply delicious.”

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Smooth Ambler Contradiction Rye

Maxwelton, West Virginia
Vitals: 105 Proof (52.5% ABV); NAS; $40

Released as a full-line whiskey last year, Smooth Ambler’s Contradiction is a blend of four straight ryes. This includes their own West Virginia made 88% rye recipe plus stocks of various mashbills from Indiana and Tennessee. The blend delivers aromas of “green apple, mint, thyme, and oregano,” leading to flavors of “cinnamon, honey and dark fruit mingling with caramel and oak, concluding with a “snappy, peppery finish.”

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Hayner Original 6 Year Rye

Troy, Ohio
Vitals: 90 Proof (45% Proof); Age Stated 6 Years; $50

“To make this “dangerously easy sipper,” Hayner Distilling Company finishes a five-year-old rye in fresh charred oak barrels for an additional twelve months, thus doubling down on what new wood delivers. The result yields a “lovely, dry, grassy nose that I can sniff all day,” and that’s just the beginning. Expect flavors of “dark chocolate-covered cherries, candied rose petal, leathery oak with deeply integrated spice.” All of these flavors are “enveloped in a chewy, lush mouthfeel that extends into the finish.”

Learn More About Hayner Distilling Co.

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.