Rock 'n' Rye

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Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 0 minutes
Servings: 12

Bartender Michael Lazar explains, “In the nineteenth century it was commonplace for a bar to keep a jar of Rock 'n' Rye behind the bar to be served as a primitive cough syrup. The 'active ingredient' is the herb horehound, a relative of mint. Even today you can by old-time cough drops made with horehound.” Dried horehound can be purchased from shops that specialize in herbs or online. You can also find horehound tea bags at some grocery stores; use 1 or 2 bags for this recipe, depending on their size. Rock sugar can be found at most Asian grocers. Look for pure white crystals, not yellow ones, which are sulfured. At Hard Water, Lazar serves the drink in a double old-fashioned glass over a large hand-cut ice cube, but it can also be served as a shot or “hot toddy style,” with hot water and lemon juice added.


  • 1 Tbs. horehound
  • 1 bottle (750 ml) rye whiskey
  • 1 Valencia orange
  • 1 blood orange
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 Meyer lemon
  • 1/2 vanilla bean
  • 3 oz. (90 g) white rock sugar, or 1/3 cup (3 oz./90 g) granulated sugar
  • Strip of lemon zest for garnish


Cut a 6-inch (15-cm) square of 2-ply cheesecloth. Put the horehound in the center of the cheesecloth square and tie closed with kitchen twine. Place the horehound sachet in the bottom of a 2-quart (2-l) container with a tight-fitting lid. Add the rye to the container and steep for 10 to 15 minutes. Taste; if the flavor of horehound seems weak, continue steeping for 5 minutes more. Remove the horehound sachet from the container and discard.

Meanwhile, wash all the oranges and lemons and cut them into slices about 1/8 inch (3 mm) thick. Discard the end slices. Using the tip of a sharp knife, cut several long slits in the vanilla bean.

Add the rock sugar to the infused rye but do not stir. Add the citrus slices and the vanilla bean to the rye. Cover the container with the lid and place in a cool place for 48 hours.

During this time, the sugar should entirely dissolve. If is has not done so at the end of 48 hours, stir the mixture to dissolve the remaining sugar. Strain the liquid and discard the citrus and vanilla bean.

To serve, pour about 2 oz. of the rye mixture over a large ice cube in a double-fashioned glass. Garnish with the strip of lemon zest and serve. Makes about 12 drinks.

Michael Lazar, bartender, Hard Water, San Francisco, CA

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