It's Rye Time

Everything you need to know about bourbon's cooler cousin.

Way back in the day, rye whiskey was the spirit of choice for American men. George Washington distilled it at Mount Vernon and by the time of his death in 1799, he was producing 11,000 gallons a year. Then it all but disappeared after Prohibition. Bourbon became the brown liquor most likely to be found clinking in your rocks glass. But they're both whiskey, so what's the difference? A rye whiskey must contain a "mash bill" that is at least 51 percent rye (bourbon's mash is more corn-based) and aged in charred new oak barrels. The rye grain, once considered a weed, adds a certain spiciness, just like in bread. The resulting liquor is typically bolder and more potent than bourbon, which may be why bartenders are pouring more and more of it these days. The depth and character makes rye an ideal match for classic cocktails or, of course, drinking neat. Here are a few drinks to consider along with bottles worth adding to your home bar for your own rye renaissance.

Essential Rye Cocktails


Rye is the perfect bracing pairing for the distinct herbal flavorings of sweet vermouth and the bite of Angostura bitters.

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The Sazerac

Known as one of the world's oldest cocktails, this Absinthe-tinged tipple was basically an elixir concocted by a New Orleans pharmacist.

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Old Pal

A sidestep from the popular negroni, this deliciously bracing drink blends Campari's sharp citrus flavor with rye's signature spice.

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Bottles to Try

Templeton Small Batch Rye

Still crafted by hand in small batches, this Prohibition-era recipe is surprisingly smooth. The taste is delightfully oaky with a touch of brown sugar and cinnamon.

$34.99 at
Total Wine

Rittenhouse Bottled-in-Bond Straight Rye

Made with a mash bill of 51 percent rye (dubbed "barely legal"), this sweeter style is more drinkable than bottles made almost entirely from pure rye, which tend to be extremely spicy.

$25.99 at
Flatiron Wine & Spirits

High West Double Rye

This is actually a bold and spicy mix of two rye whiskeys (one 2-year-old and one 16-year-old) with kicks of cinnamon and clove, and a soft underbelly of salted caramel.

$36.99 at
Mel & Rose

Sazerac Straight Rye

The namesake of the Sazerac cocktail, this easy-drinking rye has the slight touch of cherry sweetness (not unlike a bourbon) mixed with the smoky spice of charred wood.

$28.98 at
The Wine Club