With the cooler weather upon us we are officially in whiskey season, and what better way to celebrate than a fall rye whiskey cocktail. While I love whiskey year-round, fall and winter are the seasons more people gravitate towards whiskey. I suspect it’s that warm “Kentucky Hug” you get with a great finish on a glass of whiskey.
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Rye Whiskey in Fall Cocktails
Instead of reaching for bourbon for this cocktail, I wanted to play with the flavors of rye. Some ryes taste so like bourbon it’s hard to tell them apart except for the more rounded mouthfeel of the rye whiskey. Ryes with a 51% rye mash bill are particularly hard for me to identify in a blind tasting against a high rye bourbon whiskey. For this fall rye whiskey cocktail, I went with Wilderness Trail rye – one of my favorites.
Rye, to me is spicier, with a lovely peppery kick at the end of the finish. The mouthfeel coats the whole inside of the mouth – not just the back of the throat or sides. That full mouthfeel on a great rye is one reason I continue to expand my rye whiskey collection. Wilderness Trail uses a 56% rye, 33% corn, 11% malted barley mash bill for their spirit and keeps to a low barrel entry proof at 100 to 105 proof. The low barrel entry proof is one of the reasons it’s so good, even at just 4 years old.
On the nose this rye is sweet, peppery, with touch of grain. The higher malted barley content makes me think of a sweet Speyside Scotch, but the nose also has a good bit of oak and baking spices as well. As far as flavors, I get that lovely rye grain, spicy pepper, and a strong note of cinnamon as well as a dried fruit and citrus.
As a category of spirit, American straight rye whiskey, under many of the same restrictions as bourbon in the US, balances a sweetness from the mash bill with the spicier, peppery notes from the rye. By law, the mash bill must contain 51% rye, bottled at no lower than 80 proof, aged in new charred oak containers and go into the barrel at no more than 125 proof. Look familiar? It’s the same as bourbon, just with a different minimum grain.
Canadian ryes are so varied I am sure you can find an excellent fit here. Look for something with a good balance of spice and sweetness, but one that can blend well with more complex flavors we’ll be adding with the amaro.
Fall Whiskey Cocktails Need Amaro
If you’re not familiar with amaro, it’s a bitter liqueur with Italian roots. It’s made from a base of alcohol infused with different herbs, flowers, roots, barks, and spices. It’s a low alcohol spirit – from 15% to 40% alcohol by volume and it’s often imbibed on its own, over ice, or in a spritz.
There are hundreds of Amari (plural of amaro), each with its own secret and proprietary infusion methods and ingredients. Remember that while they are bitter, they are also sweet, and each Amaro is unique in its flavor and aromas.
For this fall rye whiskey cocktail I’m focused on Montenegro Amaro. It’s a sweet, floral, bitter liqueur with notes of licorice, cherry, and orange. It’s not as full of chocolate or coffee notes as many other Amari, so it’s a perfect match here to go with the peppery baking spices of the Wilderness Trail rye.
Chai Spice-Infused Simple Syrup
While Montenegro Amaro is sweet on itself, I needed a bridge between the rye’s baking spices and pepper and the floral, licorice flavors of Amaro. A chai spice-infused simple syrup was just what I needed.
For more information on making simple syrups and the recipe for this creation, go here. I reduced 2 cans of Regatta Craft Mixers’ ginger beer by half. Then I added chai spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, peppercorn, anise, and allspice to the reduction while it cooked down. I added a little sugar to make it a bit thicker and had a perfect infusion on my hands.
The chai’s star anise, cinnamon and pepper tied the Montenegro directly to the Wilderness Trail. While you can make the fall rye whiskey cocktail without the syrup, the flavors marry in a way more complex and intriguing with it.
How to Make this a Batch Fall Rye Whiskey Cocktail
Because this fall rye whiskey cocktail has only three ingredients it’s an easy cocktail to batch. Simply convert each of the ounce measurements to cups and you’ll have 8 cocktails to sip on or share.
- 1.5 cups rye whiskey (I used Wilderness Trail)
- 1 cup Montenegro Amaro
- ½ cup Chai spice-infused Simple syrup
- ¼ to 1/3 cup water
Combine ingredients in a quart mason jar or pitcher and stir. Keep refrigerated. Before serving, I put it in the freezer for 30-45 minutes for it to get cold.
One of the things I love about fall is the easy garnish – in this case a dried orange, cinnamon stick, and star anise. And if you’d like, you can light them on fire for more of a smoked vibe.
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You probably already have these, but you may need them, too:
Fall Rye Whiskey Cocktail – But I’m Not Bitter
- 1.5 oz Wilderness Trail Rye whiskey
- 1 oz Montenegro Amaro
- 1/2 oz chai spice-infused simple syrup from reduced Regatta Craft Mixers Ginger Beer
- Garnish: dried orange slice cinnamon stick, star anise
- Combine ingredients in a mixing glass and add ice. Stir until chilled and well-combined. Strain into a rocks glass with one large cube. Garnish with orange slice, cinnamon stick, and star anise.