I also love that rye cocktails can be as simple or as complex as you like—just dress it up with sugar and bitters, or mix in all sorts of liqueurs, aromatized wines, and fresh juices. Got a bottle of rye and wondering how to use it? Keep reading for 23 of our favorite cocktails, including both simple classics, like the Old Fashioned and the Manhattan, and drinks made with less common ingredients, like cacao nibs, chicory, or even balsamic vinegar. (Of course, we also have you covered if you want some other whiskey drink recipes.)
Old Fashioned Cocktails for a Crowd
My favorite cocktail of all time is also one of the simplest. At its core, an Old Fashioned is just whiskey (bourbon works, but I like it with rye) with a little sweetener and a few dashes of Angostura bitters. Making a big-batch version for a party is super easy—rather than stirring each drink, you'll add a little water to the bottle to dilute the whole recipe, then chill it.
Salted Roasted Peanut Old Fashioned in a Bottle
Inspired by ballpark peanuts, this fancy Old Fashioned is made with peanut-infused rye and just a touch of salt. Don't be intimidated by the infusion—it only takes about 24 hours. Packaging the cocktail in soda bottles (as opposed to just making it in a pitcher) doesn't really change the flavor, but you'll look pretty cool showing up to a party with a six-pack of hand-bottled cocktails.
Manhattan Cocktails for a Crowd
If you like spirituous drinks, but you want something a little softer than an Old Fashioned, a classic Manhattan will do the trick. Rye's spice is amplified with Angostura bitters, and high-quality sweet vermouth adds juicy berry notes. Note: If your bottle of vermouth is more than a month old, toss it and start fresh.
The Brooklyn Cocktail
This Manhattan variation keeps the 2:1 ratio of rye and vermouth, but swaps sweet vermouth for dry and compensates with a little maraschino liqueur and Amer Picon, a French aperitif. Can't find the Picon? Try a sweeter-style Italian amaro, like Ramazzotti, or just shake in some extra bitters.
The Negroni, made with equal parts gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari, is very popular these days. I get the appeal, but to be honest, it's a little much for me. I prefer the Boulevardier, which replaces the gin with spicy rye—a single substitution that makes a huge difference, giving the drink a rich complexity.
The Vieux Carré, named after the French Quarter, is one of the signature drinks of New Orleans. It's a strong cocktail, based on equal parts rye, cognac, and sweet vermouth. The drink is spiced with Angostura and Peychaud's Bitters, and smoothed out with herbal, honeyed Bénédictine.
You can't talk New Orleans cocktails without mentioning the Sazerac, a boozy drink that's heavy on the rye, with a few dashes of Peychaud's Bitters. The most important part: a rinse of Herbsaint, an anise liqueur, or a similarly flavored option like Pernod or absinthe.
Dreams Never End
We love rye for its bite, but sometimes you want to soften it up a bit. This cocktail starts with rye, then gets depth from Carpano Antica and sweetness from a homemade pear syrup. Just a barspoon of Fernet Branca gives the drink an herbal note that plays well with the sweet-spicy flavors.
Speaking of Fernet: You may have heard that bartenders will drink it by the shot, which became something of a fad a while back, perhaps as a way of proving how tough they were or to scare away outsiders. Fernet is intense stuff, bitter and herbal, cardamom-y and minty. If you're not ready to down an ounce straight up, try balancing it out with rye and sugar. You end up with a rich, not-too-bitter cocktail.
If the Toronto is still too strong for you, this variation is a good place to start. Cynar (pronounced chee-NAHR) is a bittersweet and vegetal Italian digestivo. Its bracing flavor makes it a good substitute for Fernet, but it's a bit less aggressive, and delicious with a little whiskey.
The Chocolate Rye
For this cocktail, we infuse rye with all the flavors you'd find in a box of assorted chocolates: cacao nibs, ginger, cinnamon, and more. The infused whiskey gets mixed with nutty oloroso sherry; the sweet, rich syrup from a jar of Luxardo cherries; and floral, not-too-tart Meyer lemon juice. It's the perfect after-dinner sipper.
Up to Date
Despite the name, this cocktail is actually about a century old. It combines equal parts rye and sherry with a little orangey Grand Marnier and a couple of dashes of Angostura bitters. When it comes to the sherry, you have options—Fino or Manzanilla will make the drink lighter and drier, while Amontillado or oloroso will give you a more Manhattan-like richness.
A lot of whiskey drinks tend toward the deep and boozy, but this one is bright and tart, highlighting the spiciness of good rye. The whiskey is mixed with an assertive ginger syrup, and tart lime juice makes the whole thing refreshing.
Buena Vista Fizz
Think of this cocktail as a spin on breakfast, including the coffee and citrus. The drink starts with equal parts Jameson and a chicory-infused rye, then adds a flavorful espresso syrup, lemon juice, and orange juice. We won't judge if you start early and drink 'em all morning.
This fruity cocktail pairs tart pink grapefruit juice with overproof rye and sweet Lillet Rouge or Carpano Antica (the latter adds a richness to the drink that we especially like). With a little lemon juice and a few dashes of grapefruit bitters, this drink is as much about celebrating citrus as it is about the whiskey.
Swapping out a Boulevardier's sweet vermouth for dry vermouth gives you an Old Pal. It's a good drink, but an intense one. For something that's more of a crowd-pleaser, try the New Friend, a variation that replaces the Campari with juicy Aperol and the vermouth with crisp, slightly bitter Cocchi Americano.
New York Shrub
Balsamic vinegar might sound like an odd cocktail ingredient, but it pairs wonderfully with whiskey. For this drink, we reduce it into a thick, tangy syrup, then shake it with rye, lemon juice, and simple syrup. Don't feel the need to break out the fancy balsamic here—a decent under-$10 bottle works just fine.
Mott and Mulberry
If you've never had Amaro Abano, think of its mentholated, clove-heavy flavor as sitting somewhere between Averna and Fernet. Mixed with apple cider and rye, it makes for the ultimate spiced cider. The cocktail is brightened up with lemon juice and gets a rich sweetness from a simple syrup made with Demerara sugar.
Adding egg white to a shaken cocktail gives it thick, frothy body. It works especially well with this rye cocktail, made rich with Grand Marnier and grenadine. The mellow whiskey flavors are rounded out by a sweet fruitiness, and a few dashes of absinthe contribute just a hint of anise flavor.
Hot Ward 8 Cocktail
A regular Ward 8 is made with lemon and orange juices, but for this steaming-hot version, we use an oleo-saccharum—a syrup made by muddling lemon and orange peels with sugar. It's intensely citrusy, which is perfect for standing up to a mixture of rye, tangy pomegranate juice, curaçao, and bitters.
Of course, you can always just pour some whiskey in your cider, but this combination is far better. It's a spin on the Boulevardier, with a little extra rye to punch through the mix of hot cider, bracing Campari, and sweet vermouth.
You might be surprised at how easy it is to find Bénédictine—the herbal, honey-laced, slightly musky liqueur that's wonderful with brown spirits—in today's cocktails. This drink requires it, and not much else: It's just rye, Bénédictine, and fresh lemon.
The Filibuster is basically a whiskey sour, with maple syrup adding a nice woodsy sweetness. A little Angostura on top adds a cinnamony-spicy scent.
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