Here’s Rye in your Eye

Explore the diversity of rye cocktails by sampling the following concoctions

If any spirit can be said to have ridden the craft-cocktail wave of the 21st century in style, it’s rye whiskey. A key component of pre-Prohibition classics, the reboot of rye as a spirits category has mirrored the boom of the craft-cocktail scene since the early 2000s. Also, rye whiskey generally does not require as much time in the barrel to achieve great results like bourbon or malt whiskey do, meaning it can be a great bargain for bartenders and home-bar connoisseurs alike. “We’ve had a solid artisanal rye selection since we opened,” says HSL bar manager Clif Reagle, who likes rye whiskey for both its approachability and depth of flavor for the price. “I think rye is more interesting to mix within cocktails than, say, bourbon,” Reagle says, noting that the very pronounced flavors come through even when used in combination with other spirits. He says some ryes can be very herbaceous, while others are malty or have more spicy notes, such as cinnamon.

The Drink: Four Whiskey Flight
The Maker: High West Distillery
High West Saloon,
703 Park Ave., Park City

Sure, the drink menus at all three High West Saloon locations sport a slew of craft cocktails. But to get to the root of understanding rye whiskey’s complexity, you can’t go wrong with a 2-ounce tasting flight, whether it be at the original bar and restaurant in Park City, at the distillery’s beautiful refectory in Wanship, or at Salt Lake International Airport. Yes, the airport. A great introduction to the Utah brand’s lineup, the High West 101 flight includes four ½-ounce pours (totaling 2-ounces of product) of its Silver Western Oat, Double Rye!, Son of Bourye and popular Campfire blend, which the ever-knowledgeable bartenders are happy to walk you through for tasting notes. My favorite, though, is the High West “Reserve” flight, featuring the complexity of Rendezvous Rye, award-winning Midwinter Night’s Dram, American Prairie Reserve and Campfire blend. What’s the best way to face a snowy day flight delay? A flight of great whiskey.

The Drink: Piedmont Sour
The Maker: Kelson Westervelt
Stanza Italian Bistro & Wine Bar
454 E. 300 South

Piedmont Sour
1½ ounces rye whiskey
¾ ounce fresh lemon juice
¾ ounce simple syrup
½ ounce Carpano Antica
½ ounce Tiamo Barbera

To a cocktail shaker with ice add all ingredients except for the wine. Shake until chilled and well combined. Strain into a coupe glass, and slowly add the Tiamo Barbera or other dry red wine. Garnish with a Luxardo cherry.

An SLC favorite for upscale Italian fare, it’s always a pleasure to see Stanza’s bartenders embracing northern Italian ingredients to make standout cocktails like the Piedmont Sour. Bartender Kelson Westervelt says, “It’s a bright New York Sour variant, using a gold standard Italian vermouth and great wine,” which provide both a velvety base note in the Carpano Antica and the traditional “floater” of a bright, acidic wine like Tiamo Barbera to balance the rye whiskey’s sweet spice. Westervelt enjoys playing around with different ryes to see how the drink subtly changes. In my case, he shook it up with High West Double Rye! whiskey, but he’s also a fan of Sugar House Distillery’s rye, which he recommends in another cocktail on the menu, the San Francisco Treat.

The Drink: I’m Your Huckleberry
The Maker: Josh Novaski
Drynks Guide, by the Utah chapter of the US Bartenders Guild

I’m Your Huckleberry
1 ounce rye whiskey
1 ounce dark rum
¾ ounce lime juice
¾ ounce carménère (red wine)
½ ounce simple syrup
¼ ounce ruby port
¼ ounce allspice dram
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice, shake until well chilled. Strain into an old-fashioned glass with large ice cubes. Garnish with three huckleberries.

Bartender Josh Novaski is the first to admit that this is not a Cocktails 101 example of mixology, as it has some unusual ingredients. “This recipe did turn out a bit long-winded” he says, but the resulting cocktail is exactly what he shoots for when developing a drink: refreshing, spicy and complex. He especially loves it as a cold-weather cocktail with classic warm flavors. Although it has been off the High West menu for several years, it was enough of a bar favorite that he submitted it for the soon-to-be released US Bartenders Guild Utah chapter’s Drynks Guide.

The Drink: Classic Rye Manhattan
The Maker: Clif Reagle
HSL Restaurant
418 E. 200 South, SLC

Classic Rye Manhattan
1½ ounces rye whiskey
½ ounce Vittore sweet vermouth
3 drops saline
2 dashes Angostura bitters

To a mixing glass with fresh, pure ice, add all ingredients. Stir until well chilled; strain into a coupe or Nick & Nora glass. Garnish with an artisan cherry.

Did you know that back in the day, each of New York’s boroughs had their own signature cocktail? HSL Bar Manager Clif Reagle shares that bit of cocktail ephemera as he stirs up his version of a classic Manhattan using local grain-to-glass Sugar House Distillery rye whiskey and special-order French vermouth. Case in point: You’ll sometimes spot The Brooklyn—also made with rye but with maraschino liqueur instead of vermouth—on craft-cocktail menus. But Reagle acknowledges that the Manhattan reigns supreme in public imagination. “People order what they know,” he says. He also asserts that what sets a great Manhattan apart from merely a good one is using quality booze; as a rule, the fewer ingredients in a drink, the less noise there is to hide behind. “It’s all about balance,” he says. “If you’re using a higher-proof rye, you may need to stir a little longer.”

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