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.
Some days you gotta make what you have on hand. There was an unfortunate purchase of an extremely large bag of lemons and limes, I dehydrated many for garnishes, but as a result, I've got lots of sours to make.
I read about a new technique to create a fruit simple syrup and wanted to try that as well. Instead of heating the fruit and letting it steep in a warm simple syrup on the stove, I sliced up fresh strawberries, covered them in sugar, muddled them a bit and left them in the fridge over night. One cheesecloth strain later and I've got a lovely, fresh-strawberry-tasting cocktail.
2 oz Angel's Envy
3/4 oz lemon juice
1 oz strawberry syrup
10 drops grapefruit bitters
1 egg white
Dried lemon for garnish
Combine all ingredients in a shaker without ice. Dry shake for 30 seconds to work up that foam. Add ice and shake until well-chilled. Double strain into a coupe glass, and garnish with a dried lemon wheel.
Blood Oranges appear this time of year, and before I fell in love with creating cocktails, I never knew what to do with them. Now, the possibilities seem endless. The deep red color of their juice is sweet, although some look almost black when you cut them up.
I tried several versions of this, but until I started to add lemon juice back into the cocktail, it didn’t have that classic sweet-sour balance that a good whiskey sour has. To dress it up, you can add different bitters to it, but keep them light and sweet, not anything too earthy or deep.
To get that lovely foam and soft mouth feel, the egg white is a must. If you worried about using raw egg-white, you can use pasteurized eggs that come in a carton. Some people are sticklers for raw egg white, but there are times I’ll choose the easy option over something a little more complicated. Using the egg white changes the flavors, mutes them a bit, makes them meld together, and makes the drink taste completely different.
I do advocate, however, always making sours with fresh juice. Actually, if it’s possible, make all cocktails with fresh juice. I do suggesting you strain the juice before putting it in the cocktail shaker, even if you are using an egg white.
Bloody Orange Sour
1 oz Blood Orange juice
1/2 oz lemon juice
2 oz bourbon
1 oz simple
2 dashes orange bitters
3/4 oz egg white
Garnish: Orange wheel
Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Seal the shaker and shaker for about 30 – 45 seconds to froth up the egg white. Crack the seal, add ice and shake again for 15-20 seconds. Double strain to a chilled coupe glass express an orange peel over the foam. Garnish with an orange wheel.
It’s a Friday, I have a new bottle of PAMA liqueur and I felt like experimenting. I wanted something light, with a little whiskey in it and not too sweet. I came up with a cocktail that’s a combination of bourbon, PAMA and champagne with a little dash of black walnut bitters to add a nutty note.
If you prefer a sweeter champagne cocktail, use a champagne or sparkling wine that’s sweeter. The PAMA, a pomegranate liqueur, isn’t overly sweet. It has a slight sour taste to it, like fresh pomegranate juice.
So you have The Pilfer, when you need to sneak a little out of the bottles without being noticed:
1/2 oz Larceny bourbon
1/2 oz Pama liqueur
1 dash Black walnut bitters
Amarena cocktail cherry
Add the bourbon, PAMA and bitters to a mixing glass with ice and stir briefly. Straing into a champagne glass and top with champagne or your choice of sparkling wine. Garnish with a sweet cocktail cherry and watch the bubbles rise from the cherry to the top of the glass.
Cheers to Fri-yay!
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.