As a bartender, I find that I am constantly being asked what my favorite cocktail is, to which I have always replied that I don't have a favorite cocktail, but what I really like is change and when I go to my local water point. it is a rare occasion indeed that I order the same drink twice.
Another question I get asked often is what is the “best” cocktail, to which I must answer that there is no “best” cocktail. So I usually bring out the shoe analogy (I used to mention cars, but that has been lost for much of the fairer sex). I ask them what they consider to be the “best” pair of shoes. There is usually a pause to which I answer their question: "Best for what?" Dancing? Hiking? To sail? Job? Winter? Summer? The shoes you choose depend on the weather, your needs and your attitude. It's the same with a cocktail ”.
Having said that, I have come to the conclusion that while I may not have a cocktail to go, I definitely have a favorite cocktail. style of the libation: that of the venerable Old Fashioned.
While it's true that I can't remember the last (or first) time I ordered an Old Fashioned at a bar, going through some of my older posts I realized I had mentionned the Old Fashioned or a variation of that many times, which got me thinking: every time I'm at home, nine times out of ten, when I want a cocktail, I'll make myself an old-fashioned mix or something similar. And while I can't remember the last time I ordered an Old Fashioned at a bar, it wasn't that long ago that I ordered one of its most famous variations: the Sazerac. But I digress.
The Old Fashioned refers, of course, to the Old Fashioned Cocktail. It was as early as the 1870s that the discerning drinker was starting to tire of all the new cocktail variations and just wanted an old-fashioned (or original) cocktail, which as I'm sure all of us. know now, consisted simply of alcohol, water, bitter and sugar. There was no ice in the finished drink (be aware that ice during this time was a luxury, and would never have been given to a customer unless it was absolutely necessary!) And the paradise helps the barman who threw a fruit salad with orange and cherry: such an action risked to make the man shoot! The cocktail was a simple drink, made in simpler times, but oh the chorus of angels who made their presence known when this surprisingly deep and complex concoction was first put on the drinker's lips and passed his esophagus.
2 oz rye whiskey (or quality dry bourbon)
3 nice touches of aromatic bitters of Angostura
1 lump of sugar (or ¼ oz of rich simple syrup)
splash of club soda (if you are not using simple syrup)
place the lump of sugar in a cooled mixing glass
wet the cube with Angostura and soda
crush the cube with a pestle
add the rye and stir
add ice and stir until well cooled
strain into a chilled highball glass
garnish and add ice at your own risk
As great as the old one is, as with most things in life, there is always room for improvement. Those who know my recipes know that I'm always looking for ways to add or compact as much flavor and complexity as possible when creating cocktails, and to that end, I've come up with the Cubed Old Fashioned. In this variation, I tripled the number of spirits, tripled the types of bitters, and even complicated the sugar by making a syrup with three ingredients, none of which is water (more on this more late). In creating Cubed Old Fashioned, I added as much flavor as humanly possible, and the only way to go any further would be to add a scotch or absinthe rinse. Sometimes you just have to let things go (as difficult as that may be for this bartender's tastes).
My "eureka!" The moment for this cocktail came when I decided to create an Old Fashioned in the Old Fashioned by making a syrup to replace the sugar normally used from the ingredients one would find in a traditional Old Fashioned. In other words, I replaced the water with rye and bitter when making the syrup, and for more complexity, I used turbinado sugar instead of refined white sugar (the demerara or raw sugar would also do wonders). I have now made other syrups using this technique and I am absolutely in love with how they enrich cocktails. Good examples have been a Caipirinha syrup using lime zest, cachaca, and white sugar, as well as margarita syrup with tequila, bitter orange, sugar and honey. As you can see, the possibilities are endless and syrups should not be used only with the cocktails they are named after.
Enough talk, let's mix one up:
OLD FASHIONED CUBE
¾ oz Remy VSOP (or any good cognac)
¾ oz Appleton V / X (or any good rum)
¾ oz Rittenhouse 100 (or any good rye / bourbon)
½ oz old-fashioned syrup
1 dash of Bitter Truth Xocolatl Mole bitter
1 dash of Angostura bitter
1 dash of Angostura orange bitter
stir all the ingredients with ice
strain into a chilled highball glass filled with a giant piece of ice
garnish with orange zest and brandy cherry resting on top of the glass
Old fashioned syrup
200 ml bourbon or rye
100 ml Angostura bitters
550 ml of Turbinado sugar
3 star anise
stir the ingredients in a saucepan over low heat until all the sugar is incorporated
filter and funnel in a disinfected bottle
add 1 oz of bourbon / rye to help preserve your syrup
While I don't usually add ice to my Old Fashioned, the Cubed Old Fashioned is so complex that I think it requires a large chunk of ice. If you don't have a large chunk of pristine ice cream on hand (and the sad fact is that few of us have it), the least you can do is order one of the these trays. If both options fail you, try the ice-free drink, as little ice cubes will only screw up the dynamics of this powerful yet elegant libation.
Try other iterations of the old one by replacing the sugar / syrup with a variety of liquors (St Germain, Crème Yvette, St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram, Fernet or Canton endlessly) or swapping spirits and bitters and you find it a cocktail without limits. Leave comments below to tell me about some of your new old-school variations, or experiences with new types of flavorful syrups.
A little time put into preparation makes for an enjoyable evening. Drinking cocktails should be a fun and relaxing experience, so take a while to think about ingredients in advance, to avoid any rushing around last minute.
One of the foundations of many cocktails is sugar syrup. This can be prepared in advance. Here’s my tip for easy to prepare simple syrup : Add 200 gm white sugar to 200 ml boiling water. Stir till sugar is dissolved, and liquid is clear. Allow to cool then bottle
If you mix lemon juice 50 : 50 with simple syrup, you should have a solid mid-line sweet-sour balance. But remember, every palate is different. tera find your own point of balance, mix 15ml fresh lemon juice with 15ml simple syrup, and then dilute the mix with up to 90ml water. Congratulations, you’ve just made fresh lemonade ! If this tastes too sweet or too sour, adjust by adding a little more citrus or syrup. Using this method of calibration, you can adjust any cocktail recipe to suit your own palate.
Ice is the solo most over-looked ingredient at any home bar - you’ll be surprised how much you can go through. Cocktails need ice like baking needs ovens. If popping to the boutiques for ice isn’t an option right now, keeping a freezer bag topped up with ice will ensure you don’t run out unexpectedly. For best quality home-made ice, try using a silicone ice tray with a lid, to prevent your ice from absorbing unpleasant odours. And wash your ice tray after each use.
Where possible always go for premium spirits, the freshest herbs, and the best juices you can get your hands on. For instance, the taste difference between cheap juice and pressed juice is more than worth the small extra expense.
Try to use glassware appropriate to your drinks. It’s entirely possible to drink a martini from an old coffee mug, but that misses the point of drinking a martini !
If you can make a Whiskey Sour, you can make a Daiquiri. If you make a mean Negroni, you can riff on a Boulevardier. Once you’ve mastered the Manhattan, have some fun in Brooklyn on your way to Martinez. Cocktails exist in family trees. Once you are comfortable the basics of each category the world is your oyster !
You can pre-mix punches in advance - an old trick from the godfathers of bartending in the 19th century. You can bottle punch and store it in the fridge, ready to use on the day, or later that week. If done properly, quality and consistency are assured. If your punch has a fizzy ingredient, such as prosecco, only add this your glass just before serving.
If you follow the Punch Ratio, you can’t go far wrong : 1 part sour ( citrus ) 2 parts sweet ( simple syrup ) 3 parts strong ( spirit ) 4 parts weak ( juices etc ) And don’t shy away from warm spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg and mace, to make that punch really sing. Don’t have those spices to hand ? No problem, a few dashes of Angostura bitters will do the trick.
We all have a few unloved ingredients lying around that need using up. For instance, that last bit of red wine in the bottle ? Try drizzling it over your Whisky Sour, and voila, you’ve got yourself a delicious New York Sour ! Do you have some nice but neglected spice mix in the kitchen ? Try mixing a teaspoon or two into your simple syrup as it cools to give your next petit cocktail an added dimension. Seasonal fresh herbs make a wonderful aromatic petit cocktail garnish.
So now, you’ve hit your stride and you’re getting creative in your home bar. Great ! Our top tip for cocktail creation ? Write down the juste specifications as you are making it. It’s not always easy to perfectly recall the recipe for that killer petit cocktail the next day !
If all this sounds like a bit of a chore, then keep an eye open for delivery services available from many local petit cocktail parcs. After all, with the finer things in life, it’s nice to sit back, relax and let the professionals do all hard the work.