Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Making Your Own Rock and Rye whiskey

My dad used to talk about Rock-and-Rye all the time.
"You can't find it in liquor stores anymore," he would say, "I've asked the sales clerks and they all look at me crazy. I found one older guy who knew what I was talking about, but he told me no one makes it anymore."

So I knew that making him a batch of home-made Rock-and-Rye, would be the perfect gift for Father's Day.

That older guy at the liquor store wasn't entirely correct. You still can buy a product labeled Rock-and-Rye at some stores. Two liqueur brands, Mr. Boston and Jacquin’s, continue to make syrupy liqueur versions, (a rock-and-rye cordial, if you will) but they are a far cry from the honest-to-goodness thing. The syrup version may have supplanted the original version because of Rock-and-Rye's historical reputation as a cough suppressant.
Real Rock-and-Rye should be a sweet and stiff drink and, as the name states, is basically American Rye whiskey mixed with rock candy. Why rock candy specifically you may ask? Well, so that you can give it to your four-year-old when they have a cough. Oh wait, strike that. You must use rock candy instead of simple syrup as the sweetener, because the water in the simple syrup reduces the proof of the final concoction.

Rye whiskey with rock candy is probably pretty good on its own, but after a few searches on the net, I read that citrus and cherry were also traditional ingredients. So I set to work on trying my first batch of Rock-and-Rye, and my Dad would be the test subject, err... lucky recipient.

1 750 bottle of American Rye Whiskey ( I used Old Overholt)
2 1-quart canning jars
1 orange
1 lemon
pieces of rock candy
4 brandied or fresh cherries
(Good God! Don't use those fake day-glo maraschino cherries)
2 small cubes of pineapple if you have them in you kitchen. I did.

Place 2 or 3 pieces of rock sugar in each of the jars. You can experiment with the amount of sugar, based on how sweet you like your drinks. My dad isn't a huge fan of really sweet drinks, so I used 2 three-inch pieces in each jar. Slice the lemon and orange into thick slices, discarding the point ends to juice later, and throw 2 or 3 or each into each jar. Toss in two cherries and the pineapple cube if you have them. Fill the jar with the whiskey. The 750 bottle should be enough to cover all the fruit in both jars. It is important that the fruit be covered.
Let sit a day, and then gently shake the jar once or twice to mix the sugary whiskey with the not so sugary at the top. Taste and see how it is coming along. Within a day or two, the rock sugar will be completely dissolved on the bottom. As you serve the drink, top off the jar with more fresh whiskey and sugar, keeping the fruit covered at all times. If the fruit starts to discolor, it can be removed and replaced. The alcohol level is high enough that it will prevent spoilage of the fruit.

LeNell Smothers, a New York City bartender, and former liquor store owner, has her own recipe that calls for, among the standard ingredients, fresh cherries, dried apricots, pineapple, and horehound, a bitter herb that is thought to suppress coughs.

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