Whether shut inside in the dead of winter or looking to cool down outdoors during the dog days of summer, you really can’t go wrong with a rye whiskey cocktail. Mixing rye whiskey with everything from soda and citrus to vermouth and liqueur is an ideal option due to the whiskey style’s dry and piquant flavor.
There is now more rye on the market than ever and, with a little guidance, you’ll have no trouble navigating the selection in your local liquor store. The next time you find yourself craving a Whiskey Smash, an Old Fashioned or mixing with a little soda, go for one of these workhorse rye whiskeys. They each have an ideal balance of heft and mix-ability at under $50 a piece.
Looking to pre-Prohibition rye whiskey as its inspiration, Virginia-based distillery Catoctin Creek makes its standard rye entirely from rye grain. It’s a tricky process as rye grain is particularly difficult to work with, but it’s worth the added effort, particularly for us drinkers. At 80 proof, this rye is both easy to drink on its own and a welcome foundation for spirit-forward cocktails.
Enhance the sweeter toffee notes and spry citrusy quality of the whiskey by sweetening an Old Fashioned with a touch of honey syrup (1:1 ratio of honey to water). Garnish with a lemon rind.
At less than $20 a bottle, Old Overholt has long been a go-to mixing rye whiskey for home bartenders. With its highly approachable character, it also serves as a great entry point for inexperienced rye drinkers. The brand has been around since Abraham Overholt began distilling in Pennsylvania more than a century ago. Today the straight rye whiskey is distilled in Kentucky at the Jim Beam Distillery in Clermont. There, the rye whiskey ages for three years and is bottled at 80 proof.
The unmistakable rye aroma and flavor, plus a touch of sweetness makes it a solid go-to in easy, refreshing drinks. Try topping it with ginger ale or shaking it with lemon juice and simple syrup for a Whiskey Sour.
Depending on how you’ll use rye in your home bar, you may want to splurge on a slightly pricier bottle. This stunner from Vermont distillery WhistlePig is made from 100% rye grain and aged for six years. The resulting 96.5 proof whiskey is yet another example of late distiller Dave Pickerell’s mastery of this challenging grain. He, along with WhistlePig Master Blender Pete Lynch, created PiggyBack for bartenders looking for an easy-to-handle, distinctive mixing rye whiskey. Its rich and deliciously spiced personality is well served neat or mixed.
Go for a classic Manhattan that will allow the spice and chocolate notes to shine.
If you’re looking to add a mixing rye whiskey to your home bar arsenal that has more of a spicy punch, George Dickel Rye is a great option. It’s made by contract distiller MGP in Indiana, and contains a mash bill of 95% rye and 5% malted barley. That high-rye mash bill and subsequent five-year aging process lend spicy and herbaceous notes, coupled with rich dried fruit flavors.
George Dickel Rye works well in simple mixed drinks as well as spirit-forward cocktails like Old Fashioneds and Manhattans. Have some herbs on hand? Work with the whiskey’s inherent aroma and flavor and garnish with an orange twist and a sprig of rosemary.
As its name suggests, this High West offering is a blend of two ryes aged at least two years. One is made by the aforementioned MGP and the other is distilled by High West in Park City, Utah. It seems a safe assumption that the resulting rye is greater than the sum of its parts, thanks to an intensely rich and spicy aroma that’s backed up by a full flavor that includes punchy notes of cinnamon, anise and a hint of vanilla.
It’s a great rye to sip over ice if you like a bit of bite and, at 92 proof, it stands up to all varieties of mixers. It’s particularly well suited to a Black Manhattan, which replaces vermouth with amaro, like Averna or Cynar.
Ready to start mixing rye whiskey?
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