‘Mister’ Allen Katz was inspired by his father’s old-fashioned Friday night cocktails for his retro bottled Rock&Rye

Spirits expert Allen Katz hanging out at the New York Distillery Company. (courtesy)
Spirits expert Allen Katz hanging out at the New York Distillery Company. (courtesy)


When spirits expert Allen Katz was growing up amidst an extended family in Baltimore, Friday night dinner was a must. It was also a time the adults put back a few.

“My sister and I never had a curfew but we always had dinner together as a family, particular Shabbat dinner on Friday evening,” Katz told The Times of Israel. “Both sets of grandmothers, my aunt, uncle and cousins would come to our house to celebrate. There was always an aperitif. For one grandmother, Dubbonnet. For the other, Campari.”

But while the kids played, and the cooking was coming to a close, his father called for something stronger before everyone sat down at the table. These many years later, his iconic sweet short glass of Rock and Rye is the inspiration for his son’s take on a retro cocktail enjoying a resurgence.

At the New York Distilling Company, Allen Katz now produces his original recipe, Mister Katz’s Rock & Rye, in annual batches of 5,000 cases. Retailing at $27 a bottle, this distinctly American liquor is marketed in the United Kingdom, Western Europe and the United States.

Mister Katz's Rock & Rye was developed by Allen Katz and inspired by his father. (courtesy)
Mister Katz’s Rock & Rye was developed by Allen Katz and inspired by his father. (courtesy)

American-born Katz introduced the product last November, and since then, demand has grown as the popularity of the cocktail has grown across the industry.

Since it opened its exposed brick walled distillery and Shanty tavern in 2011, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the distillery has developed a number of other high-quality, original craft spirits with equally charming and distinct branding. Dorothy Parker is the company’s “American Gin,” whereas Chief Gowanus is a “New-Netherland Gin.” Perry’s Tot is “Navy Strength Gin,” the first of its type to be reintroduced to American bars after an absence of more than 100 years. Each one fits into the company’s approach of making spirits that are “purposefully different.”

Next up? The company’s American “Ragtime Rye,” is its first straight whiskey release and has been aging for more than three years. It debuts next month.

A consultant for the creative field of cocktail development for leading beverage brands, Katz is theDirector of Mixology & Spirits for Southern Wine & Spirits of New York.

Among his long list of credentials, Katz has also earned top billing as a featured sommelier at wine festivals in Naples, Florida and Sun Valley, Idaho. He lectures on spirits and mixology at a number of locations and also makes appearances as a speaker at events with such enticing titles as Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans, and the Manhattan Cocktail Classic. At the National Restaurant Association’s annual convention in Chicago, he has spoken on such topics as America’s “beverage heritage.”

Back in the 1700s, for instance, Brooklyn’s earliest distilleries appeared. More than 50,000 illicit stills operated across the city’s five boroughs with a gallon of hooch priced at $6 at local hardware stores.

The New York Distilling Company's 'Shanty' is a full-service bar with a saloon feel. (courtesy)
The New York Distilling Company’s ‘Shanty’ is a full-service bar with a saloon feel. (courtesy)


Enter Rock and Rye. This once forgotten American classic was a barroom staple in the late 19th and early 20th century days before Prohibition. Saloons simply added rock candy to rock rye to make it what Katz calls “more approachable.”

In fact, in 1884, a French immigrant named Charles Jacquin, whose namesake company, Charles Jacquin et Cie, describes itself as one of the oldest producers of cordials and liqueurs in the US, released a bottled version of Rock and Rye. Over time, bartenders would add their own signature accents, such as citrus peels and spices.

But by mid-century, the drink had largely faded from public consciousness. As rye whiskey has grown in popularity, however, the rock candy concoction has remerged, with NYDC ranking among the first to revive Rock and Rye from scratch.

The New York Distillery's Rock&Rye marries 'youthful rye whiskey and rock candy sugar with sour cherries, cinnamon, and a wisp of citrus.' (courtesy)
The New York Distillery’s Rock&Rye marries ‘youthful rye whiskey and rock candy sugar with sour cherries, cinnamon, and a wisp of citrus.’ (courtesy)

Intrigued by rye, Katz had planned the release of the product for more than a decade.

“The world of rye whiskey is still mysterious,” says Katz. “It’s still being discovered by a wonderful audience enamored with its history and style.”

Katz marries NYDC’s year-old aged rye whiskey –sourced exclusively from farmers upstate — with rock candy sugar. He adds more flavor by combing sour cherries, cinnamon, and a wisp of dried orange peel. It works on its own, as what Katz calls the mainstay of a cocktail, or as a modifier with other spirits. Some call it an “old-fashioned” in a bottle.

With assistance from branding guru Milton Glaser, the look and label of Mister Katz’s embodies the history and romance of the spirit. Its packaging retells the story of a Mister Katz, an amalgamation of three generations: Allen Katz, his father and grandfather.

Like any decent man of his era, this Mister Katz “grew up on the B&O railroad” and enjoyed “the ponies, chewing tobacco, malts at the drugstore, and an evening’s treat of Rock & Rye.”

In a certain era, many treated sore throats, chest colds, toothaches, insomnia and more with a rye toddy. These days, it’s more likely to make an appearance in hipster Brooklyn.

Cave Creek cocktail by Shanty mixologist Nate Dumas

1 ¼ oz Mister Katz’s Rock & Rye
1 oz Glenlivet 12-Year Scotch Whisky
¾ oz Fresh Lemon Juice
½ oz Real Grenadine
¼ oz Campari

Shake ingredients over ice and strain into a Tom Collins glass filled with fresh ice. Garnish with a lemon twist and serve with a straw.

As reported by The Times of Israel