A rather old-timey flavor that I've seen pop up here and there lately is Rock & Rye. I've occasionally seen bottles of it collecting dust on a liquor rack bottom shelf. If you're from Detroit, or a Juggalo (you know who you are), then your more common association is with Faygo's Rock & Rye flavor soda.
This largely forgotten potion goes back to well before Prohibition. Even ardent followers of the temperance movement had a bottle in their medicine cabinet despite the high alcohol content.
But just what is rock and rye?
Since you're reading a cocktail column, you might assume that the rye is rye whiskey. You would be correct.
The rock, however, is a little harder to discern. It's simpler than you might think: It's good old rock candy. Barkeeps across the nation would make their own rock and rye by mixing together rye whiskey, rock candy, and some citrus. After it sat on the back bar for a few days, they had a strong cordial that was ready to cure whatever ailed someone.
The pre-made bottom shelf versions should stay there. They just don't taste right. A few small-batch spirits makers have started to make perfectly serviceable versions of the venerable old brew. While there's nothing wrong with these (I'll admit the labels look pretty cool), it's a snap to make your own at home. All you have to do is mix together rye with some sugar, citrus, and spices. You can even leave the spices out if you want. But, I find that cinnamon adds a nice note. Horehound is a common herbal addition. It acts as a cough suppressant, so it's a natural choice for what was once a health tonic. Horehound can be a challenge to find locally; if you have a friendly local herbalist nearby, they're your best bet.
Almost every recipe I've seen for bottled rock and rye specify rock candy as the sweetener of choice. That's silly. Rock candy is just crystallized sugar. While I'm all for honoring history, there's no reason to use rock candy when plain old granulated sugar will serve the exact same purpose and cost a lot less.
If you don't want to commit to making a large quantity of rock and rye, it's easy to whip up an instant single-serving batch. While it's not quite the same as a big batch (thanks to the essential oils in the citrus zest and the extractive powers of alcohol), it will get you most of the way there with a minimum of fuss.
Bottled Rock & Rye 1 750-ml bottle rye whiskey scant 1/2 cup sugar (3 ounces by weight) 1/2 lemon, thinly sliced 1 orange, thinly sliced Optional spices: 1 4-inch cinnamon stick 1 teaspoon dried horehound
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Put optional spices in a tea ball or straining bag. Mix everything together in an airtight container, pressing citrus to release the juices. Remove spices after 24 hours. Strain out orange and lemon slices after 3 days. Keep mixture in refrigerator to prolong shelf life.
Quick and Dirty Rock & Rye 1-1/2 ounces rye whiskey 1/4 ounce rich simple syrup (or 1/3 ounce regular simple syrup) 1/4 ounce orange juice Splash of lemon juice (the juice from a wedge should be just enough)
Mix everything in a glass. Add an ice cube or two if desired.