Ensconced in the idyllic Massachusetts countryside, this historic tavern offers a one of a kind setting and some creative herbal cocktails fresh from the garden.
Overall Rating: 4.5
“I stopped one night at tavern…about forty miles from Boston, and as I was cold and wet, I sat down at a good fire in the bar-room to dry my greatcoat and saddle bags, till a fire could be made up in my chamber. There presently came in, one after another, half a dozen, or half a score of substantial yeomen of the neighborhood, who, sitting down to the fire after lighting their pipes, began a lively conversation on politics. As I believed I was unknown to all of them, I sat in total silence to hear them.”
– John Adams, at the Cornish Tavern (now Rye) in 1794
My GPS must be off, I thought, as I turned down a dirt road on my way to Rye Tavern in Plymouth, Massachusetts. It’s about a mile on an unpaved stretch of Old Sandwich Road, the oldest public road in the US, before you reach an idyllic clearing and the stately Rye Tavern. In operation since the 18th century, Rye would be worth the visit if they just sold water – bordered by a herb garden and lush forest, the restaurant imbues a sense of colonial history, natural splendor, and unpretentious country class.
But Rye Tavern isn’t just an out of the way watering hole resting on its historical vibe – no, they feature probably the best outdoor bar I’ve ever visited. Exquisitely stationed within amongst the sage and trees, the comfortable and spacious bar swept me off my feet and made drinking there a truly fun and memorable experience. Service was excellent.
So it’s got some pretty views you might say, but does it bring the goods? Well, honestly, I would have been fine drinking PBR here, but I was happy to discover that the cocktails mirror the stately setting: the eight drinks make effective use of local herbs, simple but clever ingredients, and refreshing fruit sensations. I thought three out of the eight were standouts. My favorite drink was the “Blackberry Lazy Tea” with Lazy 8 vodka, blackberry and sage syrup, soda water, and fresh lemon. Peaking at just the right level of sweet, this superbly well-balanced drink offers a great citrus and blackberry taste. Blackberry often comes off a little too bitter in cocktails, but it’s infused mildly here, and it gives off this energetic little buzz as you sip. The perfect drink for a sunny afternoon among the trees.
I started my forest jaunt with the “Rye Garden” with Hendrick’s gin, St. Germain’s, cucumber, and white pepper. By the look of it, the Rye Garden appears to be a sedate herbal sipper, but looks are deceiving: this is a gin show, with a heavy floral punch on the nose that dominates the rest of the drink. The other ingredients, particularly the elderflower, do make an appearance, but this is a straight forward cocktail. I did like a kiss of pepper in the after drink, which gives it a little, unique spicy cut on the back end. Good.
Kept the garden party going with “Baratheon’s Bane” with Knockabout gin, Lillet Blanc, Raspberry Barleywine syrup, and fresh blackberries. I have to say this was a very interesting combination, with the ingredients clashing, not synching, but still resulting in a mostly pleasant taste. The sweet raspberry is one of the standout ingredients, but it doesn’t follow through evenly throughout the sip. The gin/blanc mix comes out a bit too bitter for my taste, so this is just ok. Then a standout, the “Grand Larceny” with Larceny bourbon, grapefruit sculpin syrup, fresh basil, and fresh sage. This is not for everyone, heavily herbal with a robust layer of basil and grassy sage. But I loved the risk and the unique taste, which runs earthy and powerful, the bourbon and grapefruit in the background. Take a chance on this one.
Next up was the “Storm Over Sugar Island” with Boston rum, coffee rum, coconut rum, and ginger beer. I’ve always found Dark and Stormy’s a little boring, so I was happy to discover this one, which adds zest in the form of a coffee and sweet coconut hue. It’s very sweet, which isn’t problem for my sweet tooth, but others might blanche at the heavy sugar load and slightly candy-ish aftertaste. I recalled a complex Jack and coke when I drank it. Good. Then, a standout fresh from the garden, the “Caledonian Lemonade” with Barr Hill vodka, fresh (very) strawberries, and fresh lemon. This is simple done right, I loved how the strawberry just erupts, offering up this herbal and super sweet flavor perfect in a garden sipper. Relaxing and citrusly-inclined, I loved it.
For the last two drinks on Rye’s list, I switched to their small indoor bar, cozy and furnished in dark wood. First up was the “George Costanza” with Tres Agaves tequila, cointreau, agave lime syrup, and cranberry. There’s a kiss of cran and cointreau, but the rich and heavy agave syrup and tequila carry the day here, powering a smokey punch up front that doesn’t let up. Strong, very strong. The finale was the “Pre-Prohibition Old Fashioned” with High-Rye Bourbon, simple syrup, and pink peppercorn infused bitters. This OF variant is sweeter and lighter than usual, with a slight bourbon touch and additional sweetness. Not bad. Sadly, the drink marked my last cocktail at the wonderful Rye Tavern – if you are in the area, you simply have to go!