Drinks

Rock Steady

Meet rock and rye, the newest old spirit to hit shelves
Rock and Rye Cocktail
Photo: Lizzie Munro/Tasting Table

They say that everything old is new again, and if the recent resurgence of rock and rye on liquor store shelves is any indication . . . they're right. A mix of rock (sugar) and rye (whiskey), this newly trendy cocktail-in-a-bottle has seriously old-school roots.

Beginning in circa-1800s saloons, barkeeps commonly brewed their own versions of rock and rye, sweetening rye whiskey with rock candy and other flavorings. In the early 1900s—even before Prohibition encouraged sly tipplers to seek out prescriptions for "medicinal" flasks—bottled versions of the cordial toed the line between hooch and homeopathic remedy.

In modern times, the product had all but faded into obscurity, but recently, three new bottled versions of rock and rye have emerged, in addition to some of the dusties you still can find lingering on less-trafficked shelves. Here are the labels to keep an eye out for:

Mister Katz's Rock & Rye ($28)
Made with Brooklyn-distilled "youthful" rye whiskey (read: aged less than a year) infused with rock sugar, cinnamon and tart New York cherries, this is an easy sipper (at 32.5 percent ABV, it's not overly strong) reminiscent of an old-fashioned. The "Mister" is Allen Katz, co-founder of New York Distilling Company and veteran bartender, so it's no surprise that this spirit resembles a well-crafted cocktail.

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Reilly's Rock & Rye Ginger ($25)
Made with 10-year-old rye as its base, this is the oldest whiskey of the three. The alcohol level clocks in at a moderate 33 percent, and it has a relatively light feel, similar to Irish whiskey, rather than more robust American rye (though it's also the sweetest of the R&Rs). Its defining characteristic: a pop of ginger spice on the warming finish.

Slow & Low Rock and Rye ($22)
The strongest of the R&Rs at 42 percent proof, this version is made with 6-year-old straight rye whiskey, plus raw honey, three kinds of citrus peel and horehound (a once-popular ingredient in cough drops) for a pleasantly herbal-vanilla note. It comes packaged in a widemouthed bottle "for faster delivery" (read: chugging).

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