The Bourbon Women and Bourbon Brotherhood invited me to put together a presentation “A Cocktail for All Palates” for their She Sips He Sips blind tasting event. Of course, what better cocktail to use than the old fashioned! It’s a simple cocktail with three components, spirits, sugar and bitters, but hundreds (if not thousands) of variations are possible. I came up with three cocktails, one traditional, but bold, another sweet and a third nutty.
For the Bold Old (above), I kept close to a traditional old fashioned recipe, but I wanted to add a few things to it to make it a little more aggressive. I started with a high proof spirit, and at 110 proof, Pikesville Rye definitely fits the bill. It’s a well-rounded, complex rye, and one with a great mouth-feel.
I wanted to build the cocktail around it but make it a little more upfront. Specifically, I wanted to use hot or spicy bitters. I found the perfect match in Hella Bitters Smoked Chili bitters. As soon as I taste-tested these bitters, I knew they were going to be a perfect match for the Pikesville Rye whiskey. Instead of competing with the complexity and flavors in the rye, they build on it. The smoke adds a little more of the barrel into the cocktail. It’s a smoke that reminds me of how it smells on the cooperage floor near the barrel-charring stations. It’s got smoke, but not an overwhelming amount.
In addition to the smoke, the bitters also bring some heat to the cocktail. In the way that cayenne is used in Mexican hot chocolate, the bitters increase the heat on the mouthfeel and extend the finish without adding a lot of flavor other than smoke to the cocktail, leaving the whiskey as the star.
For the sugar, I used a demerara syrup with a 1:1 ratio of water to demerara or turbinado/raw sugar. I wanted a sweetness that had a little caramel in its flavor, but not one that would overwhelm the drink as a whole. Demarara fit the bill.
To finish the drink we’ll look to a freshly charred cinnamon stick. The heat activates the cinnamon oils in the stick and the char on the stick accentuates the smoke in the bitters, tying the drink together.
The Bold Old
2 oz Pikesville Rye
½ oz demerara syrup
3-4 dashes Hella Bitters Smoked Chili Bitters
Garnish: Charred cinnamon stick
Combine ingredients in a mixing glass and fill with ice. Stir and strain into a rocks glass with ice. Garnish with a charred cinnamon stick.
For the second old fashioned, I wanted a cocktail that had nutty flavors that would match well with a bourbon. I started with Larceny bourbon, a much lower proof than Pikesville, but one that would blend well with the nutty flavors I was thinking of. For the syrup, we’re adding a home-made pecan syrup that is amazing on pancakes and waffles when not being used in a cocktail. To increase the nutty flavors, I’ve added a little Rivulet Pecan Liqueur, one of my favorite nut liqueurs.
For the bitters, to match the nutty theme, I wanted to add Fee Brothers Black Walnut bitters. The bitters bring a lovely punch to the drink, but do tend to make it a little dark. To brighten up the cocktail I added just a little of Barkeep Apple Bitters. Just a dash helped bring the cocktail back into balance.
1 ½ oz Larceny
½ oz Rivulet pecan liqueur
½ oz pecan syrup*
2 dashes Fee Brothers Black Walnut bitters
1 dash Barkeep Organic Apple bitters
Garnish: Toasted Pecan
Combine ingredients in a mixing glass and fill with ice. Stir and strain into a rocks glass with ice. Garnish with a toasted pecan or three.
*Pecan Syrup: Heat 1 cup water, add 1 cup sugar and 1 cup chopped toasted pecans. Steep for 30 min to an hour. Run through a blender, then strain through a metal sieve and coffee filter/cheesecloth.
For the third old fashioned (above) I wanted to step away from the higher proof, aggressive Bold Old and the nutty flavor of the Nutter OF to a cocktail that was sweet and easy to drink. We started with Elijah Craig Small Batch and matched it with Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur. The Domaine de Canton is sweet but has that little burn of the ginger to it, matching well with the Elijah Craig.
We have the bourbon and some ginger liqueur, but I wanted a sugar in the drink that would fit well with both of those. The answer was a honey syrup. Made with a 1:1 ratio, the syrup is a perfect complement of the flavors that taste so good in honeyed ginger tea or a hot toddy made with a slice of ginger. For the bitters, I wanted to emphasize the ginger bitters, and decided to go with Hella Bitters Ginger Bitters. They have a great ginger burn and stand out against the sweetness of the honey syrup. For the garnish, what could be better than a little piece of candied ginger? And when you’re finished with the drink, you get a little bourbon-soaked piece of ginger to nibble on.
And the name, well, who’s the most famous ginger I know?
1 ½ oz Elijah Craig Small Batch
½ oz Domaine de Canton Ginger liqueur
½ oz honey syrup
3-4 dashes Hella Bitters Ginger Bitters
Garnish: slice of candied ginger
Combine ingredients in a mixing glass and fill with ice. Stir and strain into a rocks glass with ice. Garnish with a small slice of candied ginger.
Heather Wibbels is a cocktail enthusiast who spends her time thinking about cocktails, researching cocktails and making cocktails. Mostly whiskey cocktails, given her Kentucky location.