The See-Thru Old Fashioned

Clearly, creating an Old Fashioned that looks like a Martini has its challenges

I was trying yet another spin-off of the Old Fashioned, this time using the lovely and potent Luxardo Maraschino liqueur and Angostura orange bitters to complement the rye. Not bad, as these riffs go, with some nice lathework by the maraschino and bitters smoothing the rye’s rough edges.

Sipping, I was moved to contemplation.

Say, [I mused], hadn’t I bought a bottle of unaged rye not long ago? And wouldn’t it be odd and [maybe] wonderful to use that clear liquor with the translucent Luxardo and the colorless orange bitters to make … a perfectly transparent Old Fashioned?

I had turned yet another suspect idea into a fool’s errand.

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The See-Through Old Fashioned, made with unaged rye, drinks hot.

Let me make one thing perfectly clear

I was working with a bottle of High West Silver Whiskey OMG Pure Rye. It is not aged. Hell, it’s not even barrelled. In the bottle it is as clear as Fiji water.

I was encouraged by the prose on the label, which promised I could coax a range of aromas and flavors from the stuff: plum, Meyer lemon, clove, rosemary, and berries to name a few.

Easy to write on a label, not so easy for a middle-aged, hard working palate to sense. If there even was much to sense, as anyone who’s read a few yards of labelese should doubt.

Citrus? Easy, if slight. Cloves? Actually, maybe. Rosemary? Vanilla? Um, maybe a tiny bit? Geez, now I was talking myself into tasting this stuff.

Anyhow, the most distinctive thing about this silver whiskey was its rye bite, as strong as a Doberman’s. [The “OMG” in the product’s name supposedly refers to “Old Monongahela,” a wayback type of rye dating from the Whiskey Rebellion. It could easily apply to the rye’s teeth.]

Which would make sense. The mash is 80% rye, the High West label avers. And, as an overproof bottling, OMG drinks hot with ethyl.

So anyway I now had the bite and some of the flavor details of a decent rye.

I added a half ounce of Luxardo and some orange bitters, stirred, and expressed some lemon oil from a lip of garnish, which I promptly tossed out.

Regarding the bitters: Angostura orange bitters are completely clear. Those who think I’m cheating with the see-thru thing should toss a few dashes onto a crisp white shirt. No stain!

Full transparency: Tasting notes

So did I have a new-to-the-world Old Fashioned?

OMG, NFW.

I did have something, however: A cocktail with the edginess of rye, the fragrant cherry of the Luxardo, the cheerful touch of orange.

This took a while to perfect. No, scratch that. It took a while to make it enjoyable.

The beauty of a traditional Old Fashioned is that backbone of mellow wood, strong enough to stand up to nearly anying a cocktaileur might throw at it.

The silver stuff is tougher to negotiate, more dependent on its modifiers to make it drinkable.

What the drinks needs is some wood. I suppose I could barrel it in one of those football-sized casks, but that would I think defeat the purpose here.

Fact is [repeat after me: “duh”] anything that’s unaged has no solid brown flavors, nothing nailing it to the floor.

The clear winner

Here was the best I could do. I consider it a work-in-progress.

  • 2 oz High West Silver Whiskey OMG Rye
  • 1/8 to 1/4 oz Luxardo maraschino liqueur
  • 3 dashes Angostura orange bitters
    • Other brands of orange bitters are orange-brown and, strictly speaking, cheating.

Put it all in a mixing glass 2/3 filled with ice.

Stir 50 times. I’m serious. Dilution was the only way with this limited ingredient list to de-burr the high-proof rye without risking a gooey Luxardo overload.

Express the oil from an inch of lemon peel, run it around the rim, and toss it.

Savor the delicate pomelo, the sage, the green apple notes, the graham…OMG WTF, just drink the thing. It’s not bad and kind of interesting. It looks cool.

If I can say that about myself on any given weeknight, I’d be proud.

nb After all this tweakery, I decided to dash the recipe above with Fee Bros. Barrel Aged Bitters instead of orange. Strictly speaking, a big cheat. But: Boom. There was my wood. The drink took on only the slightest dusky hue. And it’s way better than the orange version. You can still fool others, if not yourself, with this deceitful variation. You can still see right through it. You still look cool.

Of all the rum joints in the world….the Casablanca cocktail

Why would a rum drink be called the Casablanca? It doesn’t matter. Just make it

This version of a drink called the Casablanca is an outlier: No competing exotic backstories, disputed claims of authorship, layers of footnotes, etc. Nobody appears to take credit for this drink.

They should. It’s really good.

I thumbed across it in the encyclopedic but completely undistinguished The Ultimate Bar Book by Mittie Hellmich, which provides no detail about provenance. Neither does any online or print reference I could find.

One would assume this drink is somehow linked to the classic 1942 movie of the same name. This appears unlikely.

  • In the film, Humphrey Bogart’s Rick Blaine drinks Scotch.
  • He refers to his Moroccan watering hole as a “gin joint.” [Says Rick famously to Ilsa: “Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.”]
  • I haven’t seen the movie enough to say for certain that no rum is served at Rick’s American Cafe, but the carfare between North Africa and the Caribbean alone, you’d think, would be a limiting factor.
The Casablanca cocktail recipe Craig Stoltz Measured Spirit cocktail blog
The Casablanca cocktail appears to have nothing to do with the classic movie. Who cares? It’s a delightful craft cocktail-ish spin on the Daiquiri .

A Measured Spirit Surmise™: In Spanish, “casa blanca” means “white house.” Spanish is spoken throughout the Caribbean, cradle of rum. Rum was originally made on sugar plantations, where presumably The Big House was white.

Don’t pause to ponder. Just make this drink: Continue reading “Of all the rum joints in the world….the Casablanca cocktail”

Introducing: A Walk on the Wild (South)side

Wild peppermint puts a badass twist on the gentle classic

My son, an environmental scientist, was doing whatever it is environmental scientists do somewhere in the wilds of mid-state Virginia. He came across a cluster of wild peppermint. This he would know as mentha canadensis.

Because he is a loving son, he brought back a handful for his dad to do something drinky with.

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Wild peppermint, aka Mentha canadensis: The badass of the mint family.

So what would I do?

I looked, I turned it around in my hand, admired its handsome scuzz. I washed it. I gave a leaf a good smack and sniffed it. Less mint, more “weed.” I bit an edge. Peppery [duh], firm. Again, weedy.

So what would I do with such a unruly bit of foliage?

Working deviously against type, I decided to desecrate one of the most sophisticated mint drinks I know: The Southside. Continue reading “Introducing: A Walk on the Wild (South)side”

Introducing: The Ginger Orange Flame

An original variation of a classic. But you must never call it any sort of Old Fashioned

A Measured Spirit Ginger Orange Flame cocktail
An “Improved Whiskey Cocktail,” maybe. But don’t call it an Old Fashioned. Even though it sort of is.

When a bar has a lousy cocktail list — swizzly vodka things, cranberry akai hoo-ha, something-tinis, etc. — I often scan the bottles along the back wall to see what I might be able to put together.

In this for worse or better I’ve been emboldened by Robert Simonson, whose wonderful book The Old Fashioned explains that this classic ur-cocktail is built along the original cocktail formula: booze, sugar, bitters, and “water,” which is to say ice.

The result, around the 1860s, was served by among others the ur-bartender Professor Jerry Thomas [him again] as the “Whiskey Cocktail.”

Almost immediately it spawned variations, as barkeeps scanned their own shelves to see how they could push things forward. The variations first added different kinds of sweeteners — curacao, maraschino.Then all hell broke loose.

These were often referred to as “Improved Whiskey Cocktails.”

Purists were horrified, Simonson reports, sending some of them back to the unadorned…wait for it…”old fashioned” cocktail.

As Simonson points out, this did not thwart the “rebels.” Over nearly 150 years a few great variations of the Old Fashioned and many bad ones have emerged, with every kind of booze, sweetener, bitters, and garnish imaginable.

The book curates some of the best variations — “Improved Old Fashioneds,” you might call them.

New, if not “improved”

And so I am perched on a barstool at a neighborhood joint, where I’ve worked through the short list of cocktails with little enthusiasm. Spying Old West Double Rye and Domain de Canton ginger liquor along the back wall, I think booze, sweetener, bitters….

I ask Sasha for a shot of the rye, half an ounce of Domaine de Canton. He tastes with a straw, scratches his chin, reaches for the orange bitters and applies them generously. Increases the dose of rye a bit. He flames an orange peel.

And you know what? It actually works. In fact, it’s really good.

There’s enough double rye to keep the bite, but the ginger liqueur softens the burn and brings a bit of its own spicy tang. The orange adds a citrus-y vibe, its volume turned up by the flamed orange.

Over several visits we work on the proportions. We’ve landed here for now.

The Ginger Orange Flame

  • 2.25 oz Old West Double Rye
    • A pricey bottle for home use at $40. Rittenhouse, about half the price, substitutes nicely; the 100-proof version does so even better
  • .40-ish oz Domain de Canton ginger liqueur
    • $30 to $40 a bottle
  • 4 [!] dashes Regan’s orange bitters
    • I know, that’s a lot. Somehow it’s less of a drink with fewer dashes. $6. Cheap! 
  • Flamed orange peel garnish

This is a boozy drink. Have two and you’re verging into Uber territory. It drinks smooth and has enough complexity to be interesting. It’s a sparky drink more than a contemplative one.

In a moment of weakness [perhaps he’d been drinking] Sasha said he’d put the drink on the menu as “Craig’s Old Fashioned.” This would be a first — a semi-original of mine appearing on a cocktail menu, where other humans might actually pay money for it.

With the high-quality hooch, it would have to be a $10+ drink, high for a neighborhood joint. So it needs a compelling name. A drink called the “Ginger Orange Flame” would sell way better, with its hints of pyrotechnics and, perhaps, romance.

Plus, by refusing to call it any kind of “Old Fashioned,” I think Robert Simonson would approve.

Of the name, at least.

The Ginger Orange Flame, like so many riffs on the classic, may be an acquired taste.

Mixology of the mouth: The Sidecar

A sugared rim adds elegance, texture, and forward sweetness to the classic Sidecar — which is why you need to mess with the recipe.

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Demerara sugar adds a certain “whole grain crunch” to the classic Sidecar.

Regular readers of this blog — both of them — may note that controlling sweetness is a sort of crusade of mine. A perfectly balanced drink rides that delicate edge where tart and sweet and booze all contribute equally, none getting too much attention.

Which brings me to the Sidecar, a pre- [or during-] Prohibition [-ish] drink that in most contemporary renditions is mixed 2:1:1 — 1.5 oz cognac, .75 oz lemon juice, .75 oz Cointreau.

Harry Braddock’s [him again] 1930 The Savoy Cocktail Book has it at .5/.25/.25 [more evidence of the giantism that’s gallumphed into cocktaildom over the past few drinking generations.]

The Sidecar is a wonderful, and yes, perfectly balanced, drink —  solid, simple, satisfying, the color of parchment. Classic, as they say.

Just add sugar…to the rim

Somewhere along the way — let’s call it 1934 just for sport — the drink picked up a sugared rim. The great Dale DeGroff, in his 2008 The Essential Cocktail, recommends the 2:1:1 ratio along with the sugar rim, explaining that the flourish is an adaptation of Jerry Thomas’ [him again] Brandy Crusta [page 52 of his Bartender’s Guide, for those following along via knockoff reprint].

And so with the contemporary Sidecar we have a classically balanced drink — with an added garnish that tips it, for me, into an unwholesome sweetness.

And so it’s tinker time again. Continue reading “Mixology of the mouth: The Sidecar”

Old Peppersass, made new

In which I dare to perform rehab on a creative re-imagining of the Moscow Mule by Cocktail Courier. And manage, against all odds and much failed experience, to pull it off.

Think of Cocktail Courier as a Blue Apron for drinks: All the ingredients for a new drink, including the booze, delivered right to your door by a cheerful, if slightly curious, FedEx driver.

The drinks are originals dreamed up by members of ShakeStir, an online hang for professional barfolk. Members compete to create new drinks for Cocktail Courier.

This month’s winner: Old Peppersass,  an original spin on the Moscow Mule imagined by Paul Tanguay of the esteemed Tippling Bros. in NYC. Continue reading “Old Peppersass, made new”