I agree that this is a really interesting topic. Just tonight I was asked the difference in flavor between ryes and bourbons, and i gave a long winded answer that probably wasnt very satisfying for the person who asked. I told him that ryes are spicier, bolder, earthier, but I kept thinking of exceptions. The spiciest whiskeys I've had recently are Four Roses store picks (though, as mentioned, Willett and High West found some great spicy stuff).
From some of the comments here, it sounds like the ryes of ol' seemed to fit the stereotypical rye profile better than most ryes of today...in a good way. What could have changed that would have caused that shift? Using less malted rye? Is the rye grain itself less flavorful? Have many distillers paired their rye mashes with a less spicy (and perhaps more efficient) yeast?