We’re back with the second installment of Old Fashioned Month. As mentioned in the previous article, I’m highlighting Old Fashioned-style drinks every Friday for the entire month of October. We began with the classics, now we’re moving on to what I call tweaked versions. These drinks still use the traditional bourbon Old Fashioned as their base, but make minor tweaks to the recipe to change up the experience.
The first of these tweaks is pretty well-known and available at many a cocktail bar if you ask for it. The second is famous, but requires a key ingredient that most bars don’t stock. The third is an original of mine, which means it’s going to get you a blank look from even the best of mixologists, but that’s ok; it’s very easy to make at home!
The Demerara Old Fashioned
This is the simplest tweak you can make to an Old Fashioned: adjust the sweetener. While a normal old fashioned uses plain white sugar (or simple syrup made therefrom), it’s not hard to swap in basically anything sweet to do the same job. Demerara sugar is popular with bartenders because it’s less-refined. This gives it a golden color, large grains, and distinct toffee notes that pair tremendously well with bourbon. You could also ask if the bar has muscovado sugar, which is thick and damp due to its very high molasses content (or just buy some for your home use). Other sweeteners to consider: sorghum syrup, jaggery, agave nectar, honey, and maple syrup … but we’ll get to that last one in a bit. All of them bring their own twist and pair with the bourbon and bitters differently.
- 2.5 oz. Bourbon (Maker’s 46)
- .5 oz. Demerara Syrup OR 1 tsp. Demerara Sugar
- Heavy Dash Aromatic Bitters (I like Bittercube Cherry Bark Vanilla here)
- Orange Peel
Muddle the orange peel, sugar, and bitters at the bottom of a pint glass. Add bourbon and ice, and stir thoroughly. Strain into a chilled rocks glass over a single large ice cube. Garnish with a fresh orange twist.
Benton’s Old Fashioned
This drink became famous in the mid-00’s after it debuted at PDT, the famed New York speakeasy from which have come many amazing recipes. It quickly rose to being their top-selling drink, thanks to the surprising use of bacon-washed bourbon. “Fat washing” is a technique that involves mixing melted fat with liquor, letting it sit for about twelve hours, then putting the mixture into the freezer. The liquor won’t freeze, but the fat will solidify at the top, allowing you to easily skim it (straining the remainder once through cheesecloth is also a good idea). This takes out any greasy mouth-feel while leaving a good deal of flavor infused into the alcohol.
You can do this with any fat—butter, olive oil, etc—but bacon fat has one gigantic, obvious plus going for it: it tastes like bacon! The drink’s inventor, Don Lee, tried many bourbons before settling on Four Roses Yellow, which he believes takes to the bacon flavors better than most other options. Lee also used maple syrup as the sweetening agent, which makes sense when you think about it – both bourbon and bacon are well known for matching beautifully with maple flavors.
A lot of bars have since adopted this Old Fashioned variant, which is sometimes just called a “Bacon Old Fashioned”, but if you can’t find it at a local watering hole, it’s not hard to make at home. You want one ounce of fat per 750 ml bottle of bourbon, which means that half a standard package of bacon should yield more than enough fat (also: several strips of delicious bacon for you to eat). Strain out any solids from the fat before adding it to the bourbon, then follow the method described above for infusion.
- 2 oz. Bacon-Washed Bourbon (Four Roses Yellow)
- .25 oz. Grade B Maple Syrup
- 2 Dashes Angostura Bitters
Combine all ingredients in a pint glass over ice and stir thoroughly. Strain into a chilled rocks glass over a single large ice cube. Garnish with an orange peel, making sure to twist it over the drink and then run the peel along the edge of the glass for extra aromatics.
This is one of my own creations. I’m including this one under tweaks since it’s still mostly bourbon based, but here we’re introducing a secondary liquor for the first time. We’re also upping the flavor in a variety of ways: via cinnamon syrup, a high dose of bitters, and an absinthe rinse. This drink edges toward Sazerac territory, but I think it’s still closer to an Old Fashioned. I also think it’s delicious—it’s especially good for fall drinking—and recommend you give it a shot!
Making cinnamon simple syrup is easy: simmer some broken up cinnamon stick pieces in some simple syrup for about five minutes. That’s it! Straightforward, easy, and you can do it right before making the drink, using however much simple syrup you require. No need to make it in advance, though you can if you want – a single cinnamon stick is enough to flavor up to two cups of simple syrup, which will last for a month or two in the fridge … more if you add half an ounce of vodka per cup of finished syrup.
- 2 oz. Bourbon (Michter’s US*1)
- 1 oz. Applejack (Laird’s)
- .5 oz. Cinnamon Syrup
- 6 Dashes Aromatic Bitters (The Bitter Truth)
- Rinse Pastis (Pernod)
Rinse a chilled rocks glass with pastis and discard the excess. Combine other ingredients in a pint glass over ice and stir thoroughly. Strain over a single large ice cube in the rinsed glass. Garnish with an orange twist.
Items in parentheses are what I used when I made this recipe, and are included as suggestions.