I’m always amazed when people tell me they love bourbon but never drink rye. After all, these two cocktail cousins are so closely related that it can be difficult to tell them apart, depending on the mashbill.
A quick math lesson: If a whiskey is made up of 51% corn and 49% rye, it’s a bourbon. If you reverse those numbers, it’s a rye. Granted, most mashbills use much higher percentages for each, but the flavor profiles are often quite similar. There are spicy bourbons and plenty of sweet-ish ryes.
In general, I suppose I drink more bourbon in the summer and rye in the winter—but where’s the fun is that? A great rye cocktail works all year.
13 of the Best Rye Cocktails to Make Right Now
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OLD FORESTER RYE SAZERAC
“Old Forester Rye makes a perfect base for the classic Sazerac due to its high proof and distinctive tasting notes. The proprietary mashbill, with its generous portion of malted barley (20%), establishes elements of magnolia, anise, and lemon—making for a cohesive landscape to build this classic cocktail upon.” —Jackie Zykan, master taster at Old Forester
2 oz. Old Forester rye
0.5 oz. simple syrup
6 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
1 barspoon absinthe
Method: Rinse a chilled old-fashioned glass with the absinthe, add crushed ice, and set it aside. Stir the remaining ingredients over ice and set it aside. Discard the ice and any excess absinthe from the prepared glass, and strain the drink into the glass. Add the lemon peel for garnish.
KILBEGGAN SMALL BATCH RYE OLD FASHIONED
“Kilbeggan Small Batch Rye is made up of malted and unmalted barley as well as thirty percent rye. So its rye content is smaller in comparison to U.S rye whiskeys—and because if this, it allows for the green apple, ginger, and clove notes from the barley to stand up in an Old Fashioned. The soft rye spice is discoverable in every sip and a simple sprig of rosemary makes for the perfect garnish.” —Michael Egan, U.S. Brand Ambassador at Kilbeggan Distilling Co.
2 parts Kilbeggan Small Batch Rye Irish Whiskey
2 dashes aromatic bitters
1 bar spoon of simple syrup or cinnamon syrup
Sprig of rosemary
Method: Combine ingredients in a mixing glass, add ice, and stir briefly. Serve over a large ice cube and garnish with a sprig of rosemary.
“The Flip Flop is a whole egg cocktail. And it’s always a great cold-weather drink. The egg delivers great texture and depth and gives the bartender the ability to add more decadent ingredients.” —Brendan Bartley, head bartender and beverage director at Bathtub Gin
1 oz. rye whisky
0.5 oz. Averna amaro
1 quail egg
0.75 oz. simple syrup
Method: Crack egg into shaker. Add all other ingredients to shaker. Shake all ingredients vigorously. Add ice and repeat shake. Double strain ingredients into a chilled stemmed glass. Grate cinnamon on top.
YE OLDE MANHATTAN
“Our Ye Olde Manhattan is a riff on the world’s most famous whiskey cocktail. We drive a number of classic cocktails, so we wanted to create something similar but unique to us. It is very soft, elegant: a light style of Manhattan. We add our own small embellishments such as Otto’s vermouth, Madeira wine, Frangelico, and a few dashes of sandalwood bitters. It still shows all of the hallmarks of a classic Manhattan, but it is very unique to the townhouse. Madeira is an interesting addition because it has such a long history in the United States, hence the name ‘Ye Olde.’ It was particularly popular in South Carolina as it was one of the first fortified wines to come into the country. I thought it would be nice to pay homage to that because it is an ingredient you don’t see very often in cocktails. It adds an oxidized nuttiness to the finished drink. And Madeira can be found in most high-end wine shops.” —Naren Young, bar director at The Fat Radish Popup at The Orchard Townhouse
2 oz. Old Overholt rye
0.5 oz. Otto’s vermouth
0.5 oz. Madeira wine
0.25 oz. Frangelico
3 dashes sandalwood bitters
Method: Stir and strain into a rocks glass and garnish with 3 skewered cherries.
APPLE PIE SPRITZ
“The Apple Pie Spritz is a great cocktail. The spicy notes from the Redemption rye mixed with the fresh apple cider create the ultimate mix of flavors topped off with some Josh Cellars prosecco for a little added fizz.” —Matt Klette, brand ambassador at Redemption Rye
1 part Redemption Rye
2 parts apple cider
1 dash Angostura bitters
Josh Cellars Prosecco, to top
Lemon twist, for garnish
Method: Add ingredients other than prosecco to flute and lightly stir to mix ingredients. Top with prosecco and garnish with expressed lemon peel.
“We are deep into sweater weather, where all I want to do is cuddle with a boozy contemplative cocktail. This riff on an Old Fashioned is just that: a perfect nightcap to curl up and think over.” —Ivy Mix, author of Spirits of Latin America and cofounder at Leyenda, New York City
1.5 parts El Tesoro añejo tequila
0.5 part Knob Creek rye
0.25 part moscatel sherry
1 tsp. macadamia nut orgeat
1 dash aromatic bitters
2 drops mole bitters
Maldon smoked sea salt, for garnish
Melted Jacques Torres Midnight Chocolate, for garnish
Method: Stir, pour into a rocks glass that has been painted with Jacques Torres Midnight chocolate with a half rim of maldon smoked sea salt—over a large clear cube.
“This is our take on a Manhattan, featuring a bit of Cynar instead of straight sweet vermouth. For me, the Cynar gives it a depth of flavor that is otherwise missing in a Manhattan. It’s got a bit more spice, a bit more bitterness to balance the sweetness from the vermouth, and the cocktail cherries are a delicious treat after you finish the drink!” —Gavin Humes, food and beverage director at Scratch Restaurants
2 oz. Rye whiskey
0.5 oz. Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth
0.5 oz. Cynar
Method: Add all ingredients into a mixing glass with ice. Stir until chilled. Strain into a coupe. Finish with cocktail cherries.
BULLEIT PROOF OLD FASHIONED
“A drink that is as bold as its name would suggest, the Bulleit Proof Old Fashioned bases itself on the Bulleit Rye Whiskey—a spicy rye whiskey. Building upon it are easily available ingredients that serve to enhance the drink and turn it into something incredible. An apple-infused syrup grants some sweetness and freshness; a (muddled) sliced orange adds a citrus flavor; and black walnut bitters grant the drink a more grounded, nutty profile—to stabilize everything into a masterpiece that is smooth and bears a notable smokiness at the end.” —Donny Largotta, beverage director at The Chester at The Gansevoort Hotel (Meatpacking)
2 oz. Bulleit rye
1 sliced orange, muddled
0.5 oz. apple-infused syrup
2 dashes black walnut bitters
Apple slice, for garnish
Rosemary sprig, for garnish
Maraschino cherries, for garnish
Method: Stirred and strain over 1 large ice cube in a rocks glass. Garnished with a skewer of maraschino cherries, apple slice, and rosemary sprigs.
BOOTLEGGER’S WARD 8
“This recipe was born out of the Prohibition and the original recipe calls for Grenadine. (But to give it our own twist, we use pomegranate molasses.) Then, add the fresh orange juice, simple syrup, and some fresh lime juice. As a base ingredient, we use the Templeton Rye 4 Year, which was charred in American oak barrels and gives it a good flavor. Shake it up and serve!” —Goran Remes, former bartender at Rye House, New York City
2 oz. Templeton 4-Year Rye
0.5 oz. lime juice
0.5 oz. orange juice
0.5 oz. simple syrup
Bar spoon Pomegranate Molasses
Method: Shake and strain into a coupe. Garnish with a brandy cherry.
EIGHT O’CLOCK HOWELL
“Last April, every night at 8:00 p.m, the howling would begin. It was a way for Denver residents to honor our healthcare workers during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic. The 8:00-hour was the scheduled shift change at most Denver-area hospitals and this was Denver’s way to recognize and thank them. So, we made the Eight O’Clock Howell simple to make for all the new home bartenders that were creating cocktails during lockdown. Just four easy-to-find ingredients and standard cocktail-making equipment. The howling in Denver stopped a while ago, but we’re still drinking this. Turns out, this cocktail works great this season too! The grain-forward flavors of our San Luis Valley Rye shine in this simple but bold cocktail.” —Steve Kurowski, marketing director at Laws Whiskey House
2 oz. San Luis Valley rye
0.5 oz. Cocchi Americano
0.25 oz. Dolin sweet vermouth
2 dashes orange bitters
Maraschino cherry, for garnish
Method: Mix all ingredients in a mixing glass filled with ice. Stir and strain into a coupe or martini glass. Garnish with maraschino cherry.
“I love to add Mr. Black to classic cocktails because it provides depth and delivers a great coffee twist to your cocktail creation. One of my favorite examples is the Cold Fashioned: Instead of the regular recipe where you use sugar, try using Mr. Black with your favorite rye whiskey—and you have an old fashioned with a kick, the perfect drink for the season.” —Martin Hudak, global coffee ambassador at Mr Black
1 oz. Rye whiskey
1 oz. Mr. Black Cold Brew Coffee Liqueur
2 dashes orange bitters
Method: Stir and serve on the rocks. Garnish with orange slice or peel.
MANHATTAN IN FALL
“The Manhattan In Fall is a bit less whiskey forward compared to the original Manhattan recipe. Amaro brings a very herbal and earthy tone to the cocktail—and its dark color gives the cocktail a unique hue.” —Juan Fernandez, beverage director at The Ballantyne, A Luxury Collection Hotel, Charlotte, NC
2 oz. Rye whiskey
1 drop Crude Sycophant orange and fig bitters
Method: Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice, stir, strain into martini or coupe glass. Garnish with a brandied cherry.
SHADOW & LIGHT
“It is a wonderful time for warm spices, orchard fruit, and smooth whiskey. As a pioneer in the early days of film, the director Dorothy Arzner knew all about the inseparable connection between light and darkness, as well as the emotional impact it had on the audience. Her namesake rye, from Francis Ford Coppola’s line of ‘Great Women Spirits,’ forms the foundation of this nuanced cocktail, which cools the body with apple cider and lemon, while it warms the soul with amaro and chai tea syrup.” —Mark Tubridy, bartender at The 21 Club and cocktail consultant/educator
1.5 oz. Dorothy Arzner Rye
0.5 oz. Amaro Montenegro
1.5 oz. apple cider
0.75 oz. lemon juice
0.75 oz. chai tea syrup*
*Chai Tea Syrup: Bring 1 cup of water to a rolling boil. Remove from heat, add 4 Chai tea bags (or loose-leaf Chai), and steep for 5 minutes. Remove the bags (or strain out the leaves) and pour tea into a saucepan over low-medium heat. Stir in 1 cup of sugar until it dissolves completely and then remove syrup from heat and let cool before bottling and refrigerating. (Yields 1.5 cups.)
Method: Combine all ingredients in a mixing tin; add ice, shake vigorously, and strain into a highball glass over fresh ice. Garnish with star anise and three fanned apple slices.