The Real Reason Rye Whiskey Is Perfect For A Manhattan

Rye whiskey has been an American staple since the early days of the country. As master distiller — who the New York Times credits with much of Maker's Mark's success — Dave Pickerell wrote in "The Rise and Fall and Rise of Rye," with the utter rejection of British culture during the beginnings of the American Revolution came the development of this uniquely North American drink. Since the British were very involved in the molasses trade, enterprising colonists searched for a new way to make alcohol. An edible cereal grass, Pickerell explains rye is both easier to grow than corn and more winter hardy than barley, making it a natural candidate to replace the sticky stuff. Rye whiskey was the drink of choice for Americans from the end of the Civil War until Prohibition, with there at one time being between 14,000 to 20,000 independent distillers of rye whiskey in the United States.

It was during this peak in rye's popularity that a funny little drink known as the Manhattan was born. Spirit of New York Distillery Co. tells us that this concoction of whiskey, sweet vermouth, and bitters was supposedly created in the 1880s by Dr. Iain Marshall at the behest of Lady Randolph Churchill, mother of one Sir Winston Churchill. While the exact origins of this classic cocktail remain a mystery, the key three ingredients are the same. But there is a reason rye is so often the whiskey of choice when bartenders and home mixologists alike stir up a Manhattan.

Rye up your Manhattan

Cocktail Society explains that the recipe for the Manhattan has gone through several variations. An early printed edition called for adding gum syrup and Absinthe to the mix; These were scrapped in 1900. The type of whiskey used in a Manhattan has been in flux too: Naturally Canadian whisky was used during Prohibition, due to how easy it was to get compared to its then-illegal American or Irish counterparts. Bourbon was — and remains — a popular choice. But it's rye whiskey that serves up the best Manhattan.

Whiskey serves as the base of the cocktail, with a ratio of whiskey to vermouth anywhere from a 50/50 split to whiskey doubling the vermouth, but this will vary depending on taste (via Bar Talk and Cocktails). With so few ingredients, no matter what your preferred mix the whiskey will really stand out — and Serious Eats states that rye does just that. Being a stronger drink than your typical Bourbon, rye compliments the Manhattan's vermouth and bitters well while still maintaining its own presence. (The issue with Bourbon, the outlet explains, is that its flavor derives from a combination of corn and wheat, which don't exactly marry well with the other two ingredients.) This is all a matter of taste, of course, but if you were never quite sold on the Manhattan, we suggest you rye it up the next time you're out on the town.