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.