Funneled into the U.S. from Canada, rye whiskey is known for carrying devoted drinkers through the drought of Prohibition. But sometimes rye, and rye whiskey cocktails, don’t get the credit they deserve.
Sure, it’s harder now to find the quality rye that existed during the Great Experiment. Lots of ryes these days are unfortunately sweet. But there are also many that are spicy and straightforward, a handy about-face from other ryes’ lack of flavor and versatility.
Certain drinks truly pop when made with rye. Manhattans, now often built with bourbon, originally used rye, probably for its ability to stand up to sweet vermouth and bitters. The same goes for Old Fashioneds and a bevy of classic New Orleans drinks.
The true beauty of rye lies in its capacity to mix with just one or multiple other ingredients and maintain its sense of self. These foolproof drinks would be good pretty much any day of the year.
A staple of the college drinking crowd, the Ginger Ale Highball simply combines whiskey and ginger ale. But when using a top-notch whiskey, a ginger ale that’s not cloying (you could even try a ginger beer) and plenty of ice, it’s a drink worthy of a diploma with honors.
Despite its name, this cocktail shouldn’t be relegated to one season. The mixture of rye whiskey, St-Germain elderflower liqueur, lemon, fresh apple juice and Champagne is refreshing enough to fight the summer heat. But that delicious ingredient combination can lead to inspired drinking any day of the year.
Any cocktail wonk will know the Brooklyn, a mixture of rye, dry vermouth, maraschino liqueur and bitters. But do you know this variation on that classic, named for one of the borough’s other neighborhoods? The Greenpoint was created at New York’s famous Milk & Honey bar, and combines rye whiskey with Green Chartreuse, sweet vermouth and two kinds of bitters. Drop in a lemon peel, and you can channel the historic neighborhood, even if you’re enjoying your drink from thousands of miles away.
The Bananarac isn’t so far from the traditional Sazerac recipe, keeping the absinthe rinse, the rye whiskey and bitters. The major difference: It uses a touch of Giffard Banane du Brésil, a banana liqueur that’s not too fruity, but does give an essence of the tropical fruit. Sure, the Bananarac is slightly off-kilter, but it’s a fun take on a classic. Besides, how many chances are there to use banana liqueur in a legitimate cocktail?
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How can you not love a drink called the Old Pal? Just like your best friend, this cocktail is always there for you, provided you’ve got some rye whiskey, dry vermouth and Campari on hand. This three-ingredient sipper is basically a lighter version of the Boulevardier, which calls for sweet vermouth, and is made in equal parts. And while it doesn’t enjoy the popularity of its sibling, the Old Pal is a worthy choice for all occasions.
This Manhattan relative is another rye-based cocktail stemming from the early 20th century. It originated at the old Waldorf hotel in New York City, hence the name, and complements the rye with sweet vermouth, bitters and a rush of absinthe to rinse the glass. The hotel was demolished in 1929, but the drink lives on today thanks to Dale DeGroff, the craft cocktail pioneer who adapted the old recipe for the modern age.
New Orleans drinking culture wouldn’t be what it is without a few of the classic cocktails that city is known for, including the Ramos Gin Fizz, the Sazerac and, of course, the Vieux Carré. Created at NOLA’s Carousel Bar in the Hotel Monteleone, the richly flavored drink melds the flavors of rye with cognac, sweet vermouth, Bénédictine and bitters. Taste it once, and you’ll understand why it’s a classic. Taste it again, and you just might find a new favorite cocktail.