CLASSIC COCKTAILS are a national craze, and the 80th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition (Dec. 5) is garnishing history like a candied cherry.
So, now seems like the right time to belly up to the bar for a glass of rye. The quintessential American whiskey (George Washington even distilled it at Mount Vernon) was more popular than bourbon prior to the 1920s, but Prohibition sank hundreds of distillers and nearly wiped out rye altogether. But a revival is stirring. Over the last several years, dozens of brands have come to market, including Masterson’s, Michter’s, Bulleit, George Dickel and Angel’s Envy. And it was Knob Creek’s rye that earned a Double Gold Medal at the prestigious 2012 San Francisco World Spirits Competition.
Awards aside, for savvy cocktail drinkers and bartenders, it’s all about taste. Straight rye, made from a mash of at least 51 percent rye — bourbon is 51 percent corn — generally is spicier and more dry. “Rye has much more character, and in today’s bartending climate, that’s key,” explains Jeff Burkhart, a San Francisco-based cocktail historian and author of Twenty Years Behind Bars. “The original Manhattan called for it, and now, 100 years later, it has returned to its roots.”