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.

The Cocktail-o-Matic

A long-forgotten 1950s product applies “modern” technologies to re-invent the ink-on-paper cocktail recipe book. You can figure out how this one ends

The 1950s were the flowering of American modernity — an aesthetic sensibility, tugged along by a newly affluent middle class, devoted to clean lines, simple forms, and a sense of an urgent new century unfolding.

The 1950s were also some really stupid times.

Witness the Bar Guide.

Bar Guide Measured Spirit cocktail recipes Craig Stoltz blog
The Bar Guide: A 1950s technology breakthrough that failed spectacularly to make paper-bound cocktail recipe books obsolete. Pictured at right: #79, the XYZ cocktail.

The Bar Guide is a shiny plastic device the size of a Canasta deck that updates the cocktail recipe book with “hep” modern technologies like plastic, newfangled printing methods, and a cool thumb wheel with traction grooves.

Its chief accomplishment appears to be transforming something that works quite well into something that’s confusing, hard to use, and easy to break.

And this was way before the Barnes & Noble “Nook GlowLight Plus.”

I’m thinking of a number between 1 and 80

Located at the heart of the Bar Guide is a paper scroll bearing 80 numbered cocktail recipes, each condensed to the size of a fortune cookie.

Continue reading “The Cocktail-o-Matic”

Math + alcohol = x + why?

Some simple mathematical formulas can produce fine, solid cocktails. They can also produce undrinkable plonk.

Mixing drinks that don’t taste like they were wrung out of a wet t-shirt from a spring break dance party can be tough for rookie drinksmakers. This I know from hard, unpleasant experience. For this I apologize to all affected parties over the years.

And so I appreciate attempts like this one, from a recent issue of bon appetit magazine, to convey some practical fundamentals of mixology to a lay audience. It’s a simple graphic that illustrates how to assemble a basic sour cocktail from, well, just about anything you have around.

Follow a formula — 2 oz base/1.5 oz modifiers equally split between sweet and sour —  and it’s hard to mess up too badly, no matter what’s in the bottles. The results are solid, if unspectacular. Good bones, as they say.

Sour wheel A Measured Spirit Craig Stoltz

Continue reading “Math + alcohol = x + why?”

Cocktails, built to federal standards

“I’m from the federal government, and I’m here to help you mix a drink.”

I’ve picked up some curious artifacts in my reckless cocktail expeditioning. One of the most curious curios so far is this: A 1974 engineering diagram issued by the U.S. Forest Service documenting proper techniques for constructing a cocktail.
Continue reading “Cocktails, built to federal standards”