[This expansion is in response to a bar-tender's request for additional information]
Do you want to make a historically-authentic Rock and Rye?
Let’s take a look at historic sources for the majority consensus on what that drink was:
Notice Thomas Stuart’s plagiarism.
I serve Rock and Rye giving the whiskey and the syrup separately so that the drinker can mix it however sweet they like.
The drink seems pretty straightforward. Rye whiskey served with rock candy syrup is Rock and Rye. It was good treatment for a sore throat because the alcohol in the whiskey is both antiseptic and temporarily deadens nerve endings, temporarily killing the pain. The rock candy syrup, being the heaviest-possible suspension of sucrose in water, makes the drink viscous enough to coat the throat long enough to do its alcoholic work there better.
It is common today to find flavored rye whiskey liqueur, or flavored rye whiskey served with a stick of rock candy, called “Rock and Rye.” While they can be tasty and worthwhile, they are not the historic drink Rock and Rye. It is misleading to tell guests that such things are something traditional or time-honored. Those who truly do care about drink tradition should give such new concoctions names other than “Rock and Rye.”
The above is from the American Journal of Pharmacy, volume 67, in 1895. It indicates that rock candy syrup is the left-over syrup from the production of rock candy. As such, no sugar should be left to crystallize out of the syrup. In New York State, in 1873, a case was brought to court over an alleged deficiency found in barrels of rock candy syrup. The plaintiffs made clear that they had desired high quality rock candy syrup “that would not crystallize, or the sugar fall down.”
Around the same time, admonitions can be found advising to obtain “rock candy syrup from a rock candy manufacturer.”
Below is from the Western Druggist, Volume 17 in 1895:
Volume eleven of the Bulletin of Pharmacy in 1897, specifies that when cooking the syrup from which rock candy will be produced, no temperature higher than 112º Fahrenheit should be allowed.
The 112º Fahrenheit limit is kept to prevent the conversion of sucrose into invert glucose. Some amount of conversion from sucrose into glucose may be considered acceptable by some people making simple syrup, but it isn’t okay for the production of rock candy. If you want to produce rock candy, you’d best stick to low temperatures and pure sucrose and pure water — in super-saturation so that rock candy will form. Once all of the excess sugar has crystallized out, you will have rock candy syrup.
So, rock candy syrup and buttermilk have this in common: they were both traditionally the stuff left-over after the making of the named thing (rock candy or butter), but are now routinely divorced from those processes and are simply compounded independently.
Notice in some of the above sources that it seems to have became common for other types of syrup to be sold as rock candy syrup. Perhaps the growing difficulty in getting authentic rock candy syrup led to some bars serving an altogether different drink when asked for Rock and Rye. Such recipes as those below make up a tiny minority for published recipes for anything called Rock and Rye, but they do exist.
Note that the above drinks would not relieve a sore throat very well, being without the thick viscosity of actual rock candy syrup. One of the sources, William Boothby, was apparently spoken to so much about the Rock and Rye recipe in his 1891 book that he dramatically added to it for his 1908 book.
To this day, when shown that their methods are out of step, many bar-tenders will still assert that “either way is correct.”
But what about the syrup? Has authentic rock candy syrup become available again?
The above ingredients for Amoretti brand so-called ‘rock candy syrup’ show that, though it may be a heavy syrup, it is definitely not traditional rock candy syrup. Traditional rock candy syrup would not contain dextrose or fructose. Genuine rock candy syrup carefully contains only sucrose and water. Why it would need dextrose, fructose and “natural flavor” is a mystery to me!
So, what if you want to have traditional rock candy syrup? Some old sources state that one of the reasons for the production of so much imitation rock candy syrup is that making the real thing via rock candy production takes time. Unfortunately, that is true. But, if you don’t care how much rock candy you make, the time needed can be drastically shortened.
Bring one part (by volume) distilled water to a temperature as close as possible to, but not higher than, 112º Fahrenheit. An induction cook-top (like this one) that can be set at exactly 110º Fahrenheit could be really useful. Add three parts (by volume) pure, refined sugar (sucrose). Stir over the same heat (never exceeding it!) until the sugar is dissolved. It may take some time. Pour the syrup into mason jars. If you want to harvest the rock candy instead of discarding it (stuck to the inside of the jar), suspend a string in the mason jar to which the rock candy will form. Once no more rock candy forms inside the syrup, pour it from the mason jar into a syrup bottle. This syrup will contain the highest possible amount of sugar in a stable solution. It will be the closest thing to genuine and traditional rock candy syrup that you will have ever had.
[For more information about Curaçao liqueur, in general, see the earlier posting on the subject.]
I have read the assertion that Curaçao liqueur “would have originally” been made of brandy. I don’t know who first hypothesized this. People have certainly repeated it enough that it has stuck in my craw.
I have never seen the originally-brandy-based hypothesis backed up by any historic formula or historic description indicating such. So, I have looked for myself.
There are nineteenth-century instructions to make something called “Curaçao” that is made only by macerating the orange peel in brandy without ever distilling it again. But, such recipes are always found in cookbooks or guides meant for home use, or in more-professional-seeming books that almost always title the recipes something like “Curaçao, without distillation” or “Curaçao, imitation.” Below is one source from 1863 that gives both types of methods, presented with what was considered in that book, and across the industry, the best way to make Curaçao liqueur.
Note: there is no brandy! Below is an old recipe that does include brandy:
Note: there is no distillation! Note also that the author considers the formula to produce an “imitation” of Curaçao liqueur. Perhaps the same, make-it-yourself, type of Curaçao recipe found in Christian Schulz’ book that was appended to Jerry Thomas’ famous book has been mistaken for standard, quality procedure in the distilling industry of the day. The presence of brandy in a recipe for a relatively-quick, imitation product like the one above, or that of Christian Schulz, should not confuse anyone into thinking that it was present in high-quality, industry-standard, Curaçao liqueur of the day.
Aside from the probability that the idea of Curaçao liqueur being originally made of brandy is based on such dubious sources as mentioned above, the assumption is surely made by people who don’t fully understand a specific type of distillation.
The Germans have for centuries distilled spirits from ingredients that do not ferment naturally. They macerate such ingredients in grain spirit, and then re-distill in a pot-still to make a spirit flavored more of the un-fermented material than of the original spirit base. They call this sort of a spirit a geist. Absinthe is a geist. Gin is a geist. In fact, the Germans seem to have distilled a juniper-only geist at Steinhagen, near the Netherlands border, long before anyone on the other side ever made genever. Either way, the Netherlanders have been making geist-like spirits [historically using good German grain] for longer than Curaçao liqueur has been around and it would have been natural — probably the first method tried — for them, the owners of the island of Curaçao, to make liquor from orange peel in the geist way. I must add here that the peels are dried on the island of Curaçao and then shipped to the Netherlands where the liqueur was surely first made. The French quickly followed suit. There is one Curaçao liqueur that is actually made on the island — the Senior brand. But that is a relatively new development. They have only been around for about sixty years. Except for this, the liqueur has always traditionally been made in Europe.
See the below formulae and instructions that use the best of ingredients, but no brandy, and distill the product — as all high-quality producers, such as Cointreau, have always done. Even Grand Marnier distills a Curaçao spirit without brandy that they then blend with Cognac brandy into their famous orange-flavored brandy liqueur.
Curaçao liqueur gets its orange peel flavor by way of maceration of the peel in alcohol, and then re-distilling it at relatively low proof (between 130 and 140 — usually in a pot still) to allow plenty of flavor from the orange peel through. Bitter orange peel is, in the process, to Curaçao liqueur what juniper berries are to gin. If one were to use brandy to extract the orange peel flavor and aroma, the secondary distillation would remove all of the brown color, and the barrel-or-woody flavor, that one expects from nearly any brandy (other than Pisco brandy). Also, brandy is typically nowhere near the strength (86%, or 172-proof, in the formulae above) to macerate out enough flavor from the orange peel to make a strongly-enough flavored spirit after the secondary distillation. So, if anyone ever did make a distilled Curaçao liqueur using brandy as the macerating alcohol, it certainly did not taste much like brandy, nor like the Curaçao orange peel. The brandy and the orange peel both would have been wasted.
Stoughton’s bitters were famous and in-demand before Angostura aromatic bitters were even created. Even long after other famous bitters entered history, Stoughton’s bitters were still preferred by some as the bitters of choice for the Whiskey Cocktail, and others, into the early twentieth century.
The above instructions were given in the text as being from a U.S. Navy captain. If you want to make and taste what he considered to be the perfect Whiskey Cocktail, you will need some Stoughton’s bitters. Unfortunately, anything being sold today as “Stoughton” bitters is so inferior in quality that they cannot possibly be anything like the product of such former repute. But, there is always hope of coming up with something better on your own. For that an understanding of what Stoughton’s bitters were is necessary.
Firstly, like in the case of Boonekamp bitters, Stoughton’s bitters seemed to have been named for a physician that legendarily prescribed the formula without ever marketing the bitters as a trademarked item.
A British book, The Compleat Housewife from 1758 indicates to make Stoughton’s elixir only with brandy, gentian, Seville (bitter) orange peel and, for red color, cochineal.
Here are some formulae for Stoughon’s bitters as suggested by various sources throughout the nineteenth century:
There are many other formulae from the same time period that can be found. They also range from simple to complex. I have included three that are simpler and one that is complex. The complex one can be seen as a bit of an outlier for Stoughton’s bitters, but I wanted to show that there was considerable variety.
Virtually all pre-prohibition formulae for Stoughton’s bitters have the bitter principal containing both gentian and orange peel. Some have other bitter ingredients and some do not. All of them are colored by a reddening ingredient such as red sanders (a.k.a. red sandalwood or red saunders), cochineal, saffron, or camwood (a.k.a. African sandalwood). This is consistent with the navy captain suggesting that his Whiskey Cocktail with Stoughton’s bitters should be “tinted slightly with red.”
Considering all of this, I think that the minimal reliable description of Stoughton’s bitters would be bitters based on gentian and orange peel that should yield a hint of reddish color to mixed drinks.
In fact, that is pretty much what famous English physician, William Cullen, stated in his 1789 book, Materia Medica. In 1819, the Cyclopaedia published by Abraham Rees agreed with Cullen:
This establishes that from very early on, Stoughton’s bitters were thought of as gentian and orange peel bitters.
Since any product that though one can purchase today labeled as “Stoughton Bitters” is surely nothing like the historic bitters in either flavor or color, what is one to do?
Note the following ingredient list from a U.S. bottle of Angostura aromatic bitters:
Since gentian is listed prior to “natural flavorings,” it is clear that there is more gentian used in making Angostura aromatic bitters than all of the the other botanical ingredients combined.
Angostura aromatic bitters can therefore be described as primarily a gentian bitters — one that is also famous for its ability to tint drinks red or pink.
So, with the slightest effort can be mixed:
I call this mixture of bitters Stoughton-esque because there are probably some minority ingredients in the above products that would not have been in a classic Stoughton’s bitters. Yet, I am convinced that making these Stoughton-esque bitters will probably yield something very close to the historic bitters with a minimum of work.
I settled on the parts shown above because I like the product that way. I also liked the result of using three parts Angostura aromatic and two parts Angostura orange bitters. You could mix the two in different proportions. But I think that the early medicinal instruction that Stoughton’s bitters were gentian bitters improved by the addition of orange peel, taken with the survey of historic formulae for Stoughton’s bitters, clearly indicates that the primary ingredient should be gentian. Therefore I would recommend always using more gentian-rich Angostura aromatic bitters in your Stoughton-esque bitters than Angostura orange bitters. Remember that there are other ingredients in Angostura aromatic bitters and so using equal amounts of the two bitters would put the gentian behind the orange. It should also be noted that I can not recommend the use of any other brand of orange bitters at this time.
This project is easy to to do, and the result is nice. Then you can make a Whiskey Cocktail the way our good captain liked it.
Many bottles of liquor come to the NipJoint that will not be replaced. Some are redundant, others just aren’t quite good enough to make space for. None of the bottles are total junk, and some are pretty good. For example, there is no Bacardi, but there is Chivas Regal 18-year. These bottles must be used.