*As originally published in the Weekly Dig.
by Pink Lady
LUPEC ladies love our whiskey. And our whisky. (No, it’s not a typo: the spelling tells reflects the nationality of the spirit.) And we know, with its myriad rules nuances, the category can be confusing for the cocktail neophyte. In light of this, we offer you a whisk(e)y primer in several parts, turning our attention this week to rye.
Whiskey, in broad strokes, is grain spirit aged long enough in oak to take on characteristics of the barrel. Rye whiskey takes its name from main ingredient, rye, which by law must compose 51% of the grain in the mashbill. Rye is aged in charred, new American oak barrels like its corn-based cousins, bourbon and Tennessee whiskey, but has a lighter, and more peppery character. When considering the basic differences, think bread; as DrinkBoy.com founder Robert Hess says, “I’d never have a Rueben sandwich on cornbread.”
Rye whiskey was the favored spirit of colonial America, and was first made stateside by Scots-Irish immigrants who imported the grain. Despite the harsh Northeastern climate, hardy rye flourished, making it a perfect go-to ingredient for early American hooch.
Prohibition took a nasty toll on the American whiskey industry, and rye in particular had a tough time bouncing back. Even mainstream brands were difficult to find until recently. As cocktail nerds learned that classics like the Manhattan were originally prepared with rye, the spirit has surged back to in popularity. Brands like Old Overholt, Jim Beam and Sazerac are more common on back bars, and new interpretations of the category, like (ri)1 have even arrived, marketed as “ultra premium” brands positioned to win over vodka drinkers.
Rye also happens to be the base spirit for many New Orleans classics, which we are copiously imbibing at Tales of the Cocktail at present. Should you like to do the same, try one of these.
COCKTAIL A LA LOUISIANE
.75 oz. rye whiskey
.75 oz. Benedictine
.75 oz. sweet vermouth
3 dashes Herbsaint
3 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
Stir with cracked ice and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry.