A few years ago, when I first started ordering rye whiskeys, the bartender would, as often as not, pull out a dusty bottle of Old Overholt. More often than not, he or she would bear a quizzical and concerned look as if to say "do you know what you're asking for?" Rye was seen as something for that alcoholic old man one sees perched at the corner of every dive bar in America.
But thanks to the growing trend in favor of artisan spirits and quality cocktails, ryes are finding new popularity - and a new generation of appreciators. Many good bars and restaurants in San Francisco now feature a list of interesting small batch ryes. For a good introduction to these whiskeys and for tasting notes on many of the best examples, I highly recommend Eric Asimov's article in the New York Times, published last November.
In general, ryes tend to be lighter and spicier than bourbons and work well in place of bourbon in most recipes (I particularly like a rye Old Fashioned). Two classic cocktails, however, were originally made with rye, and I prefer them that way. Even better, they both call for bitters!
-- The Manhattan
*2 ounce rye whiskey
*1/2 ounce sweet vermouth
*1 dash Angostura bitters
1. Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker and fill shaker with ice.
2. Strain into a cocktail glass.
3. Garnish with a fresh cherry that has been soaked in brandy or whiskey. You can also add a lemon twist.
-- The Sazerac
*1 sugar cube
*3 - 4 dashes Peychaud's bitters
*2 ounces rye whiskey
*1/4 teaspoon anise liqueur
(the drink was originally made with Absinthe, but Herbsaint, a New Orleans brand, is now traditional. You can also use Pernod, Absente, or another pastis)
*Strip of lemon peel
1. In a cocktail shaker, moisten the sugar cube with just enough water to saturate it, then crush. Add a hand full of ice, then add the whiskey and bitters. Stir or shake gently for about 30 seconds or until the drink is cold.
2. Add the Herbsaint to an old fashioned glass and swirl it around to coat the sides and bottom of the glass. Discard the excess.
3. Strain drink into the Herbsaint coated glass and twist the lemon peel over it. Rub the twist over the rim of the glass, then add as garnish.