Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Classic Rye Cocktails, #3: Rye and Ginger

Maybe you think that a drink with vermouth is too fussy. Perhaps you believe that putting absinthe into a cocktail turns it into an antique.

Then this is the rye whiskey cocktail for you.

Rye and ginger. It's easy. It's clean and crisp. It's tasty. It's a classic.

As the dark shadow of Prohibition settled over the land, Americans turned to new cocktails that took into account the difficulty of finding good whiskey. They needed to keep things simple, lest the police knock down the door while you were stirring a fancy concoction in a pitcher. Noisy ice crashing around in a cocktail shaker might attract undue attention. Andrew Volstead, a St. Olaf College graduate and congressman from Minnesota who led the fight to make alcoholic beverages illegal (along with the real author of the related legislation, Wayne Wheeler of the Anti-Saloon League) had ruined things for everyone.

But though the forces of temperance tried to stifle democracy, true patriots adapted. They started making their own. They imported inferior whiskeys. They labeled their existing stores of rye as "for medicinal purpose only."

But within a year, none of these options seemed to work. It became impossible to get "the good stuff." Rye and water, rye on the rocks, rye served neat--all these classics became unpalatable.

Desperate times called for desperate measures. And rye drinkers turned to ginger ales and ginger beers. The soft drink industry was taking off. Ginger ale was cheap. The dry ginger taste worked well with the spicy rye. In Straight Up or On the Rocks: The Story of the American Cocktail, William Grimes claims that "'rye and ginger' became so popular in the 1920s and 1930s that sales of ginger ale nearly doubled." The fact that bars and speakeasies could stay in business by serving soft drinks to mix with the illicit alcohol brought by their patrons didn't hurt.

You can still tell if a bar in urban America primarily serves working-class customers by the bartender's reaction when you order a rye and ginger. If they start making the drink without batting an eye, you're home. Take up a bar stool, and toast your peers, many of whom will be drinking mass-produced beer. Tell them they can do better than that swill. This is the rye cocktail for the average American, the hard working backbone of our nation.

On the other hand, if the bartender hesitates or asks for further information, get thee to a different bar. If necessary, head back to your house or apartment and whip one up for yourself.

The recipe is as follows:

2 oz rye whiskey
6-8 oz ginger ale or ginger beer

Pour the whiskey in a tall glass. Fill about 3/4 full with the ginger ale or beer. Add ice. Enjoy.

NOTE: Use a boutique ginger beer or a strong ginger ale like Vernors (available across the Midwest--one of the oldest soft drinks in America). Experiment with different ginger ales and find one that you like.

NOTE: This is a good rye cocktail for those who are wary. If your friend asks for a "7 and 7" or "Jack and Coke" or one of the other sweet whiskey cocktails that are best avoided, serve them this instead. They'll thank you later.


DrDaRyL said...

Another nice drink, especially in the summer when you're looking for a tall cold glass to hold against your forehead. Simple, cold, patriotic; what could be better? Thanks Rye Drinker, cheers.

SwampApe said...

Rye and Ginger, two of my favorite things . . .

DrDaRyL said...

I don't think you're talking about the same Ginger we are... at least I hope you're not.

So when do we get your taste-test ranking of the best Ryes on the market today?

A rye-drinker said...

In a couple of weeks.

DrDaRyL said...

So I broke with my recent Mojito habit (yes, a colonialist's drink, but my wife loves them, and I don't argue [much] with her) and made a Rendezvous Rye and Ginger each of the last two nights. Drank one while watching the first presidential debate. Very nice, but didn't improve my patriotism or enthusiasm. Drank the other last night watching Casablanca with my daughters. Seemed to fit film noir and Rick's Cafe Americain. Tonight, I have the Bob Dylan bio-flick "I'm Not There." So what do I drink?

A rye-drinker said...

Rye, straight.

Chris said...

Rye and ginger may well suffer from an excessive number of ingredients. Despite it erring in the direction of superfluous complexity, we tried it tonight with Templeton Rye and Reed’s Extra Ginger Brew. It was a good rye and ginger mix. We mixed 2 oz rye with 8 oz ginger. This recipe is also excellent without the ginger.

As for the Templeton Rye, it is a good mixer. I like the historical connection to Al Capone and agree that it is “the good stuff”.

lars christiansen said...

Had this for the first time this past Friday at happy hour. Delicious! We used Reed's ginger beer, Old Overholt, and rocks.

Too easy to drink!

jason said...

I live in Michigan and it rains Vernors here. I thought this would be good drink. I was way wrong. This was perfect drink simplicity. I'm hunting for a spicier ginger ale or ginger beer to try this with. This will be my winter drink.

rikrdo said...

I like this in the sum, sum, summertime and when I do partake............a squeeze of lime is added to the mix

rikrdo said...

I like these in the sum, sum, summertime and when I do partake........a squeeze of lime is also added.

Jay Moore said...

Old thread for an (seemingly) old drink. Just started drinking Rye. Bought a bottle of Jim Beam Rye and had ginger ale at home. Mixed a drink and THEN started researching. Must be a natural.