Before Prohibition, rye was the quintessential American whiskey. George Washington distilled it, it was the base spirit of the most famous American cocktails ever invented and when Americans thought of whiskey, they thought rye. Today rye is making a comeback in the U.S., with microdistilleries that are resurrecting pre-Prohibition recipes. Made with at least 51 percent rye grain — as opposed to corn or wheat — rye whiskey has a spicier, more aggressive flavor than Canadian whiskey or bourbon that balances out certain cocktails perfectly.
5 Scofflaw Cocktail
In 1923, the Anti-Saloon League offered a $200 prize for a word that perfectly described someone who was “a lawless drinker of illegally made or illegally obtained liquor.” The winning word was “scofflaw.” It was meant to be an insult, but to the expatriates who frequented Harry’s New York Bar in Paris, the word became a badge of honor and was attached to one of the most delightful rye cocktails invented. Shake 1 1/2 ounces rye, 1 ounce dry vermouth, 3/4 ounces lemon juice, 3/4 ounces grenadine and a dash of orange bitters with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass, then drink as a tribute to scofflaws everywhere.
4 Remember the Maine
In 1898, “Remember the Maine!” became the rallying cry for the Spanish-American War after the American battleship Maine exploded in the harbor of Havana. The cocktail that borrows its name from the marshal muster is a combination of the Sazerac and the Manhattan. Coat the inside of a chilled cocktail glass with a splash of absinthe. In a mixing glass, stir 2 ounces rye, 1/4 ounce sweet vermouth, 1/4 ounce Cherry Heering and 2 dashes Angostura bitters with ice, then strain into the prepared glass. Finish by raising a toast to the Maine.
3 Ward 8
If the Manhattan is considered the quintessential New York cocktail, then the Ward 8 is the definitive Boston cocktail — possibly its only cocktail. According to legend, the Ward 8 was invented to celebrate the election of Martin “The Mahatma” Lomasney in 1898 in Boston’s 8th ward, now Roxbury and the South End. You need rye and grenadine to create this drink, but the other ingredients vary wildly. “Esquire” magazine suggests shaking 2 ounces rye with 3/4 ounces lemon and orange juice and 1 teaspoon grenadine with ice, then straining into an Old Fashioned glass.
The Sazerac may be one of the first cocktails ever invented. Even the word “cocktail” may be derived from the egg-shaped cups this drink was originally served in by famous New Orleans bartender Antoine Amedie Peychaud in the early 19th century. The name comes from Sazerac whiskey, which still produces six-year-old and 18-year-old ryes. Swirl a splash of absinthe into a chilled old-fashioned glass. Then stir 2 ounces Sazerac, 1/4 ounce simple syrup and four dashes of Peychaud’s bitters in a separate glass with ice. Strain into the old-fashioned glass and rub a lemon twist on the rim of the glass before serving.
As with many great cocktails, the origins of the Manhattan are murky. The most popular legend is that it was created for an 1874 party in the Manhattan Club in New York hosted by Jennie Jerome, the future Lady Churchill and mother to Prime Minister Winston. Historians have debunked this tale, but either way, the Manhattan was definitely invented in the mid-19th century and was originally made with rye whiskey. Simply stir 2 ounces rye with 1 ounce sweet vermouth, one dash Angostura bitters and one dash orange bitters with ice, then strain into a cocktail or coupe glass for a perfectly balanced, authentic Manhattan.