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Primer: Rye

Whiskey's hot new mash bill
Tasting Table: Rye
A rye-based Sazerac

If whiskey-making were a soap opera, this would be the moment in the plot when the gentle but worn-down sweetheart (played by corn), is left for the sultry, spicy first love (played by rye).

Lucky for us, this drama isn't on TV; it's real--and drinkable. Rye whiskey sales have tripled in the last five years, convincing storied corn-loving distillers from Knob Creek to Woodford Reserve to George Dickel to hop on the bandwagon. Here's your crib sheet.

What to buy: A wealth of rye has flooded the market recently (see the slide show). Of the newer brands, we're partial to the product by Tennessee whiskey maker George Dickel, which launched in November. At $27 for 750ml, it's an everyday rye that still has fruity nuance and sharp edges.

How to drink it: Classicists should enjoy rye as part of a Sazerac or a Manhattan, but lately we've been turning to brighter mixers. The bittersweet flavor of grapefruit--either fresh-squeezed juice or bitters--rounds out the whiskey's inherent spice, and vinegar shrubs parallel its boozy sharpness.

  • Bulleit Rye

    Released in 2011, this rye has a smooth, bourbonlike mouthfeel that evolves into a cinnamon-tinged heat. ($22 for 750 ml; buy it here.)

  • George Dickel Rye

    Launched last fall, this Tennessee-based offering is aged for five years before undergoing a charcoal filtering. With a mash bill of 95 percent rye, it tastes like a freshly baked loaf of rye bread. ($27 for 750 ml; buy it here.)

  • Knob Creek Rye

    A brash iteration of the spirit, this rye has none of bourbon's pillowy characteristics; instead, it is dry with notes of white pepper and powdered ginger. ($44 for 750 ml; buy it here.)

  • Colonel E. H. Taylor Rye

    Produced in extremely limited quantities, this overproof whiskey is powerful, with notes of caramel and chile. ($70 for 750 ml; buy it here.)

  • Jack Daniels Unaged Rye

    The first new mash bill from this Tennessee producer in more than 100 years, this rye white dog is a preview of the aged rye to come. Crisper than others, it offers dry grassy notes.

  • 1/5

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