Rock & Rye
by John Delach
Rock & Rye was unknown to me until I came across a piece in the Dining & Wine section of The New York Times titled: Rock and Rye Returns to the Mix. As the Times is want to do, the piece was unique, quite informative, but it brought my blood to a boil as only the NY Times can do. (But more about that later.)
That same day, I shared this discovery with my son at lunch in a typical NYC Irish Pub, The Perfect Pint. Mike’s reaction surprised me as he noted, “Yeah, Dad, I have heard that before. It came from a show or movie where one of the actors asks a bartender, “Give me a double rock & rye.”
Mike was bang on. A simple search revealed it’s a line from the movie, Animal House. The boys from Delta Tau Chi fraternity were on the loose with girls from Dickinson. They’d taken these girls to see Otis Day and the Knights perform at Dexter Lake Club and sing, Shout. When they arrive at the club, Donald “Boone” Schoenstein asked the barkeeper for: “A double Rock & Rye and seven Carlings.”
What is Rock & Rye and what is the fuss all about? I found several explanations. For example, “Not a straight rye, but a bar room relic. Historically, rock candy (and occasionally fruit) was added to take away some of the dryness associated with rye whiskey.” Seems polite, no?
Here’s another explanation more to the point, “Rock & Rye emerged when saloons added rock candy to young rye to make it more approachable.” Translation…how do you make cheap whiskey drinkable!
Rock & Rye became popular in the mid-19th Century which grew as a wonderful myth developed that it was a medicinal cure for whatever ailed you. Men who wanted to make a stop at the bar for a relaxing libation on the way home from work, on the way to work to ease their pain, to avoid the Mrs. and the kids or going to church on Sunday, etc; embraced this concoction and defiantly proclaimed: “Doctors orders!”
They may have convinced themselves that their logic was unimpeachable, but their behavior may have been a noticeable factor in drys forcing the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment and the Volstead Act that brought prohibition across the land of US.
But, once the land of the free and the home of the brave retuned again to being wet, Rock & Rye disappeared from of the mainstream although a few brands re-surfaced. Odd brands became available like Mr. Boston’s Rock & Rye, Hochstadters, Slow and Low Rock & Rye, Jacquins Rock & Rye with choice fruits liqueur and Leroux Kosher Rock & Rye. Their proof ranged from the low 80s to the mid-90s and they were priced from the mid-teens to the $60 range.
Robert Simonson’s piece in the Times noted Allen Katz of the New York Distilling Company is leading a new renaissance in Brooklyn. Mr. Katz has just released his, “long-in-development Mister Katz Rock & Rye.”
The formula includes citrus and cinnamon. “Mr. Katz uses a youthful rye, no older than one year, as his base and sets his alcohol level at a relatively low 32.5 percent in hopes that it will be considered as a cocktail mixer.”
My anger with Mr. Simonson was not with the content of his piece, it was the ingredients listed for a cocktail called, Cave Creek, that he adopted from a recipe from a Brooklyn bar called, The Shanty, (Mr. Katz’s home base):
1¼ oz. Mister Katz’s Rock & Rye
1 ounce Glenlivet 12-Year Scotch whiskey
¾ oz fresh lime juice
½ oz high quality grenadine
¼ oz Compari
Orange twist, for garnish
Have you spotted what pissed me off? Ah, the pretentiousness of the paper of record. What you see above is a glass of crap save one ingredient; the Glenlivet. Now I ask, “Who in their right mind would pour a ‘top-shelf’ single malt, aged, fine Scotch into the above concoction?”
Whoever did should be drawn and quartered. Only the elitist, self-important Times would even consider such a sacrilege. It would appear that Clan MacGregor does not exist in their rarified universe: “A pox on them.”