According to our bottle of it, Rye Whiskey was once the predominant brown spirit in the US, and the base of many classic cocktails. But, Prohibition changed all that “and the spirit of Rye was oft forgotten by many.”
My impression is that, actually, the entire ability to make a cocktail of any quality was forgot by many. Replaced for years either by overly ginned martinis or tutti fruity funhouse drinks.
I can’t actually say for certain because first I wasn’t exactly around for most of the lost decades, and when I arrived on the scene I wasn’t allowed to drink for some time. And then, not all that far into my personal era of being able to legally drink (which has been fairly dominated by craft beers and red wines, if I may please present myself as a total snob), classic cocktails had a resurgence.
I have a feeling none of you need me to point out the rise in popularity of classic cocktails – and the concomitant increase in respect for bartenders, oh sorry, mixologists – over the last 7 or so years. It’s everywhere. The classic cocktail is quite revived, folks, energetic enough to be dancing a springy Charleston. And, while I am still not much of a cocktail person, I say give me an excuse to wear a cloche and put Joel in a fedora, and I will be all over it.
One place that has truly been able to pique my interest in cocktails (rather than my focus on the appropriate accompanying attire) is Barbara Lynch’s bar, Drink, on the edge of South Boston. It’s most of the way underground, giving it a satisfying this-may-be-illlicit speakeasy type of feel. The bartenders are excruciatingly hip, with snappy vests and tattoo sleeves. But they’re also remarkably obliging and willing to walk through the finer points of spirits and bitters with you in an effort to determine just the cocktail for your taste preferences.
From my extensive experience of going there three times now, I have formed an authoritative opinion about cocktails, which I shall boldly state. A good cocktail is like a haiku, deceptively simple and painstakingly crafted, leading to a final product that is both beautiful and evocative. See, doesn’t that sound wise? I also feel that a good cocktail should in general contain either Campari or Vermouth, perhaps both.
This cocktail, the Mamie Taylor, is a notable exception to the latter rule. It is made with Rye Whiskey, which brings us back to where we started. The Mamie Taylor, reportedly named after an opera diva for whom it was first made, could even be considered classic-er than classic. It was quite popular at the very, very beginning of the 20th century (like pre Downton Abbey era, even!). It remained popular for some time, but eventually it fell off the radar and even now remains relatively unknown.
Which is a crying shame because it’s a delicious sparkling refresher. The Mamie Taylor is supposed to be made with Scotch Whiskey, imbuing it with a curling tendril of smokey flavor, but at Drink they make it with Rye, and that is how I prefer it. Rye imparts a little more fruity spice, which makes it a perfect spirit for cozying up next to super spicy ginger beer. And ginger beer is what makes the drink. Seek out the spiciest ginger beer you can find because the more burning ginger kick, the better.
A heavy handed squeeze of lime fills the trio out, sweetly singing a soprano line above the sensual crooning over the other two ingredients.
The whiskey is warm and dark for winter nights, the ginger beer light and refreshing for steamy summer evenings. So, dust off your fedora because this is a drink you can pull out any time of year. I intend to make its era now.
The Mamie Taylor (makes 1 drink)
- 2 oz. rye whiskey
- .75-1 oz. fresh squeezed lime juice
- really good, spicy ginger beer
- lime wedges to garnish
- Mix the whiskey and lime juice in a highball glass. Add ice, then top off with ginger beer and stir. Garnish with a lime wedge. Voila! Easy and delicious!