New Rye Cocktails
March 23, 2023 –––––– Aaron Goldfarb
The New Rye Cocktails
The 21st century’s cocktail culture has had a fellow traveler—rye whiskey. In fact, it can be argued that rye, with its bold flavors that stand up so well in mixed drinks, has been the catalyst for the entire cocktail boom. In any case, rye mixology certainly encapsulates America’s ongoing whiskey renaissance, from its very beginnings to the current day.
“When I grew up in the business there were not many choices [for rye],” says Mike Vacheresse, who has been bartending for over three decades and is the current owner of Travel Bar in the Carroll Gardens neighborhood of Brooklyn.
Today, with eager mixologists whipping up new recipes for cocktail classics of a bygone era, the call has gone out for all sorts of rye whiskeys. Most American distillers are now making rye, and bars offer a long list of them. Travel Bar, for example, offers 61 different ryes. Many are best as neat pours, but their versatility as a cocktail ingredient is what attracts so many bartenders.
Rye’s flavor profile varies greatly, offering notes that lean toward baking spices and dark fruits, or flavors that are more herbal and mentholated. This means it can work in a range of cocktails: shaken or stirred, bold and spirituous, or light and refreshing. Rye can be the star of the show, but it can also be a potent supporting player—leading many modern bartenders to look beyond typical rye cocktails and begin experimenting with new ways to use it.
Vacheresse offers a variety of rye cocktails at Travel Bar. Most interesting—and complicated—is the Feeling Single, Seeing Double. He starts by soaking one pound of dried cherries in four bottles of a 95% Indiana rye for a fortnight. Served chilled in a coupe along with a cherry liqueur-infused ice cube, it allows the rye to really shine, while remaining light and sippable. It’s the perfect nightcap after an evening of sampling neat.
More surprising has been the discovery of how well rye plays with mezcal, Mexico’s smoky agave spirit. Lucinda Sterling, a long-time New York City bartender who’s currently a managing partner at Middle Branch and Seaborne, pairs the two spirits beautifully in her On the Road cocktail, which also includes an almond-flavored crème liqueur, cherry bitters, and agave syrup to create an Old Fashioned-like drink.
Amaro has become a particularly popular pairing for rye. These bitter, often Italian- based liqueurs offer a wide range of flavors and impressive levels of complexity. One could argue that rye is among the few spirits that can go toe-to-toe with them.
At Lucky Rooster Kitchen + Bar in Hilton Head, South Carolina, bar manager Monica Collins matches a 100% rye with two different amari—a local one from the Carolinas that offers earthy notes, and an Italian, bergamot orange-based one lends more citrus flavors. “The result is balanced, rye-forward, a little sweet, slightly spicy, and bitter—perfect for a digestif cocktail,” says Collins, who dubbed the cocktail the Slightly Sweet & Bitter Piglet.
These modern rye cocktails aren’t strictly for post-prandial sipping—they also work as aperitifs, or even with a meal, having found much favor among culinary-inclined bartenders who are willing to pair rye with pear shrubs, jackfruit, or even hoisin sauce—fermented soybean paste most typically employed as a glaze for meat.
Chris Morris, bartender at Kau Ba Saigon Kitchen in Houston, says, “As rye itself continues to evolve, as more and more distillers look to progress the category, it should only follow that bartenders will be taking these newer expressions and exploring the boundaries with cocktails as well.”
5 New Rye Cocktails to Try
Feeling Single, Seeing Double
Mike Vacheresse, Travel Bar, Brooklyn
- 2 oz. cherry-infused Stellum rye (or other 95% rye; recipe below)
- 1 cherry liqueur-infused ice cube (recipe below)
Shake cherry-infused rye with ice, then strain into a coupe. Place one skewered cherry liqueur-infused ice cube into glass.
- 4 oz. dried cherries
- 1 750 ml bottle Stellum rye (or other 95% rye)
Soak 4 ounces of dried cherries with a full bottle of rye in a sealed glass container at room temperature for 2 weeks. Remove cherries and reserve for ice (see below). Strain and bottle cherry-infused rye and store in the refrigerator for up to a month.
Cherry-Infused Ice Cubes
- 4 oz. rye-infused dried cherries
- ½ oz. Rapa Giovanni cherry liqueur
- Water to fill ice cube trays
Place one rye-soaked cherry in each one-inch square of a silicone ice cube tray. Add ½ ounce Rapa Giovanni cherry liqueur and enough water to fill the rest of the ice cube mold, add a bamboo or wooden cocktail skewer, then freeze. Store cubes in a silicone mold or remove and keep in an airtight bag or container. Cubes should keep for at least a month.
Slightly Sweet & Bitter Piglet
Monica Collins, Lucky Rooster Kitchen + Bar, Hilton Head Island, S.C.
- 1¾ oz. WhistlePig Piggyback rye (or other 100% rye)
- ½ oz. bianco vermouth
- ½ oz. rosso vermouth
- ½ oz. Eda Rhyne Amaro Flora
- ½ oz. Italicus Rosolio di Bergamotto
Combine all ingredients, shake with ice, and strain into a coupe. Garnish with a dehydrated blood orange wheel.
On the Road
Lucinda Sterling, Middle Branch and Seaborne, New York City
- 1½ oz. Town Branch rye (or other Kentucky-style rye)
- ½ oz. mezcal joven
- ½ oz. Crème de Noyaux
- 2 dashes cherry bitters
- 1 barspoon agave nectar
- Orange wedge for garnish
Combine ingredients in a mixing glass with ice. Stir and strain into a rocks glass with ice. Garnish with an orange wedge.
Ben Dough, Zig Zag Café, Seattle
- 2 oz. straight rye
- ½ oz. manzanilla sherry
- ½ oz. pear shrub
- ½ oz. fresh-squeezed lemon juice
- ¼ oz. simple syrup
- 1 egg white
Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker, dry shake, then add ice and shake again. Strain into a Nick & Nora glass.
Boys Don’t Rye
Chris Morris, Kau Ba Saigon Kitchen, Houston
- 1½ oz. jackfruit-infused Old Overholt bottled in bond rye (or other bonded rye, recipe below)
- ½ oz. grenadine
- ½ oz. fresh-squeezed orange juice
- ½ oz. fresh-squeezed lemon juice
- 1 barspoon St. Elizabeth allspice dram
- 1 barspoon hoisin sauce
- 2 turns of fresh-cracked black pepper
- ½ oz. Laphroaig 10 year old (as float)
- Dehydrated lemon wheel for garnish
Add grenadine to the bottom of a Collins glass, then fill with crushed ice. Add the remaining ingredients to a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake and then strain into the glass. Use a barspoon to integrate the grenadine and establish a gentle gradient. Float Laphroaig 10 year old on top and garnish with a dehydrated lemon wheel.
Jackfruit-Infused Old Overholt Bottled in Bond Rye
- 2⁄3 cup thinly sliced jackfruit (fresh or canned)
- 1 liter Old Overholt bottled in bond rye (or other bonded rye)
Add sliced jackfruit and 1 liter of Old Overholt bottled in bond rye to a large glass container. Seal and store at room temperature. Allow to infuse for 3 days, shaking once a day. Strain and discard jackfruit. Store in refrigerator for up to a month