To be brief and simplistic: Whiskey is made from grain. Rye whiskey is, just as you suspect, a chief-rye grain spirit which began a long historical journey to this post in Ireland and Scotland (surely the reason it could be found in the hand of my elegant British Grandfather) and would be produced in these great colonies when rye became a plentiful grain and issues with taxation and government interference made it an effective production component on these shores. To make a long, long story short, along came the Prohibition (boo! hiss! boo!) and bam! Rye was a tough go.
But the Canadian's continued producing Canadian whiskey which is a mixed-grain spirit often confused with and substituted for rye (American Rye Whiskey).
These days, rye is either very difficult to find in a good form or far too easy to find in a poor one. Jim Beam is the brand you will find at the occasional package store which stocks rye and if you wanted to try this peppery, bouncy, spicy rye whiskey then, for $15 or whatever little they ask, why not? It is, at the very least, a place to begin.
Of late though, Beam Global means to change the virtually non-existent following of rye with the release of an (oh, how it pains me to utter this unfortunate bit of tasteless nouveau riche declasse branding), "Ultra Premium" rye whiskey which will (even more painfully) go by "(rî)1".
Hard to say if the intended consumer here is a new one to rye (contacting the company for answers yielded no response from the marketing group): Someone imbibing conspicuously vs. an connoisseur of fine spirits or an seasoned Elegantologist? One can only wait and hope my spirits guy tips me off. My husband drinks good whiskey (carefully, respectfully, and gently as well as responsibly) and I have to wonder what he and his whiskey-drinking pals would say of a product named in this fashion and needing to post the "ultra premium" verbage so predominately in the branding launch and labelling. Since Josh is very busy with this Naval business, I hopped over to his bar and looked over all the labels. Just as I suspected, they are all understated, elegant, and appealing in an heirloom-like fashion. It is not looking good for labels full of pretentious wordy-words!
Now that I have called your attention to rye and even Beam's website curiously and confusingly encourages mixing their ultra premium stuff, it is time I move you on to the drink mixtures of note for rye whiskey. In my reading, I crossed several internet recipes which use Canadian whiskey for the Manhattan and still others with bourbon. Heavens, no! And other offenses likely derived from days of rye's complete inaccessibility. Witness. Note. Heed:
"When properly built, the Manhattan is the only cocktail that can slug it out toe-to-toe with the martini. It's bold and fortifying, yet as relaxing as a deep massage. J.P. Morgan used to have one at the close of each trading day. It's that kind of drink.
"When properly built" -- there's the problem. For a real Manhattan, you need rye whiskey. No amount of fiddling with the vermouth and bitters can save this drink if you've got bourbon in the foundations; it's just too sticky-sweet. But with rye, this venerable creation -- its roots stretch back to the old Manhattan Club, in 1874 -- is as close to divine perfection as a cocktail can be. The harmony between the bitters, the sweet vermouth, and the sharp, musky whiskey rivals even that existing between gin and tonic water.
All things change, and immortality is not in the grasp of man or his creations. For many a year, it seemed that the virtual disappearance of rye meant that the real Manhattan had gone the way of the Aztecs. Luckily, that's not the end of the story. The wave of high living that washed us out of the last century has brought with it a renewed interest in fine, funky old things like cigars, big-band jazz, and rye whiskey. Sure, sometimes this gets carried to extremes, but if that means that nobody will ever again pour a bourbon Manhattan, we'll gladly put up with all the dips#%!s in "Make Mine with Rye" T-shirts. "
-The Wondrich Take, Esquire.com
2 parts American rye whiskey
1 part sweet vermouth
1 dash bitters
Garnish with cherry or orange twist.
This discussion would not be complete if to your rye understanding was not added the venerable Sazerac which also properly requires rye whiskey.
As for serving rye, there was once glass called a Manhattan but since the drink is not in high vogue, the glass is not found in every household. Use a cocktail or martini glass instead. If the whiskey is to be served neat and you have a glassware stocked bar, you could ask your guest if he or she prefers a tumbler or single malt snifter or just default to the snifter: Some believe the nose of the spirit is enhanced by the wide bottom and slimmed neck. Here are two shapes I find alluring from one of my favorite elegant gentlemen's web retailers, onthefly.com:
Ravenswood Tumbler, Set of four, $90
Ravenswood Single Malt Snifter, Set of four, $90
As for ordering a Manhattan or traditional rye mixed drink, be clear: Though a few bartenders may look at you as you had just called them a moron, make no assumptions: Manhattan, American rye, please. Discussions on garnish can evidently cause blood to be shed on some sites when mentioned by fellow mixology bloggers, so I will tell you that there is disagreement on the maraschino cherry and the orange twist. My Grandfather's was always served with a cherry, however. All those who really mix seem to agree that maraschino cherry juice is an absolute no-freaking-no here and the same goes for pre-mixing the cocktail.
As for a Rye and Ginger, there is gratefully less controversy: 1 oz American rye in a tumbler, add good ginger ale. My Grandfather had mastered elegance right down to the tumbler in his palm, as you can see.