If I'm having whiskey, my first choice is rye. I love its spicy flavor on its own and the way its taste can cut through a mixed drink, whether you're working with budget bottles (I'm partial to Redemption) or fancier options.
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 more unusual pairings, like cacao nibs, chicory, or even balsamic vinegar.
Old Fashioned Cocktails for a Crowd
It feels wrong to start this list with anything other than the simplest, most iconic rye cocktail around: the Old Fashioned. With nothing but whiskey, simple syrup, and a few dashes of bitters, the drink really lets the spirit shine. This party-ready recipe scales the Old Fashioned up, adding a little water so you don't have to individually stir each drink with ice to dilute.
Salted Roasted Peanut Old Fashioned in a Bottle
I don't know if you can improve on a classic Old Fashioned, but you can use it as a jumping-off point to make other delicious drinks. This recipe looks a lot like our standard batched version of the cocktail, but we give it a savory edge by infusing the rye with peanuts.
Manhattan Cocktails for a Crowd
The Manhattan—a juicy mix of rye and sweet vermouth—is right up there with the Old Fashioned in the cocktail pantheon. We make ours with a 2:1 ratio of whiskey to vermouth, and, as with our batched Old Fashioned, add a few ounces of water for dilution. Rye's spice is amplified by 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
The Brooklyn is also made with a 2:1 ratio of rye to vermouth—the difference is that it uses dry vermouth instead of sweet. We make up for that lost sweetness with a little maraschino liqueur and use the French aperitif Amer Picon in place of bitters (though you can replace it with orange or Angostura bitters if you can't find it).
Old Timber (Rye Cocktail With Fernet)
This woodsy cocktail pairs rye with fernet and triple sec. Don't reach for your bottle of Fernet-Branca here—the minty, medicinal flavor won't work in the drink. Instead, use this as an opportunity to expand your horizons and pick up a bottle of cinnamon-forward, Czech-style fernet.
This cocktail is made with rye whiskey and sweet vermouth, but the star is really the Barolo Chinato. Somewhere between vermouth and amaro, this complex Italian digestivo is chocolatey, spiced, and bittersweet. To bring out the spirit's citrus notes we finish the drink with an orange twist.
Cranberry in a Can (Batched Rye-Cranberry Shrub Cocktail)
This tangy-sweet cocktail has everything you want in a holiday drink: festive color from cranberry juice, warm spice from cinnamon, and a strong kick from rye. Most important of all, though, it’s easy to churn out in a big batch for serving at a New Year’s get-together. Make the champagne vinegar and cranberry shrub up to a week in advance, then simply mix it with the whiskey when you’re ready to serve. A generous amount of crushed ice in each glass is crucial for dilution; use a zip-top bag and rolling pin if you don’t have a Lewis bag.
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.
Palpable Apathy (Braulio Boulevardier Cocktail)
This variation on the Boulevardier replaces the Campari with Braulio, a minty, juniper-forward amaro. It lends an almost menthol-like note to the drink that will appeal to fans of Fernet-Branca. After mixing together the three spirits we finish with a single drop of lemon bitters and a lemon twist.
Midnight Stroll (Rye, Campari, and Ramazzotti Cocktail)
The Midnight Stroll takes the Boulevardier in a totally different direction, bringing the bitterness back into Negroni territory by replacing the sweet vermouth with cinnamon—and cardamom-scented Amaro Ramazzotti. We also add a little orange liqueur—it's worth seeking out Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao instead of using a sweeter variety like Grand Marnier.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.