Just what the doctor ordered

cheers hochstadters-slow-and-low-rock-and-rye-whiskeyShould you encounter, in your travels, a collection of Damon Runyon short stories, may we commend to your attention a tale titled “The Three Wise Guys”? The story has a Christmas theme, which makes it nice and seasonal. It also has one of Runyon’s classic O. Henry endings, which makes it especially endearing.

But we’re not focusing today on the story’s literary merits. We’re focusing on its opening lines, which are as follows:

“One cold winter afternoon I am standing at the bar in Good Time Charley’s little drum on West 49th Street, partaking of a mixture of rock candy and rye whiskey … I am feeling as if maybe I have a touch of grippe coming on, and Good Time Charley tells me that there is nothing in this world as good for a touch of grippe as rock candy and rye whiskey, as it assassinates the germs at once.”

As the tale is fictional, we gave no thought to the medicinal value or, for that matter, the very existence of rye whiskey and rock candy. And there the matter might have ended but for a discovery we made on Thanksgiving Day.

We were in Providence for a family gathering and, as it was a somewhat large family gathering, the many guests cheerfully contributed one thing and another to the festive table: pies, rolls, wine and, from out of no where … wait for it …a bottle of Hochstadter’s Slow and Low Rock & Rye. We stared in awe. And suddenly we believed in unicorns.

It seems that a well-traveled young nephew had discovered Hochstadter’s Slow and Low Rock & Rye in Poughkeepsie and thought the wider world should know of it. As we are often eager to try something new and as we just recovering from a very large touch of the grippe, we extended our glass.

Wow! Cough syrup was never like this.

Hochstadter’s Slow and Low Rock & Rye is a concoction of 84 proof rye whiskey, rock candy and citrus peel. It is the grandpappy of the drink we know today as the Old Fashioned. A century ago, you could pick up a bottle at your local pharmacy, as it was widely prescribed for the treatment of coughs and colds. And history will note that the incidence of coughs and colds in need of the curative powers of rock & rye broke all records during Prohibition.

A report in Time magazine back in 1952 indicates that the medical community maintained its regard for the old time remedy: “Dr. Thomas G. Ward is a persistent man. Virology expert at Johns Hopkins University, he has spent the better part of the past three years looking for a cure for the common cold. In Chicago last week, at a conference of the Common Cold Foundation, he was obliged to report that he is still on the old, cold trail. ‘Personally,’ he said, ‘my favorite treatment is old Maryland rock-and-rye’.”

In an effort to assassinate the last of our cold germs, we mixed a healthy slug of R&R with warm water, which cut down on the sweetness and added to the comfort.

Ahhhh. Just what the doctor ordered. Now if we can just get our Medicare to cover it.


Stephen Fay

Stephen Fay

Managing Editor at The Ellsworth American
Stephen Fay, managing editor of The Ellsworth American since 1996, is a third-generation Californian. Starting out as a news reporter in 1974, he has been an editor since 1976, working in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont before settling in Ellsworth with his wife and two daughters. [email protected]
Stephen Fay

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