There are few cocktails that capture my interest like the Old Fashioned. Simple, classic, delicious … all appropriate adjectives to describe it. But long before Mad Men’s Don Draper heralded its Twenty First Century revival, the Old Fashioned occupied glasses of the restless and thirsty since 1880 (and many mixologists and historians argue well before then).
Like a majority of cocktails, the Old Fashioned is part sweet, part bitter. The key is finding balance between the two and it all starts with the base spirit. While history tells us Old Fashioned cocktails were sometimes crafted with gin or brandy, modern iterations rely primarily on whiskey – specifically bourbon or straight rye whiskey. One is always welcome to craft their Old Fashioned with Scotch, Irish, or Japanese whiskey, just don’t serve it to me. I much prefer bourbon or rye; moreover, I prefer it with Jimmy Russell’s amber Kentucky elixir, Wild Turkey.
Which brings me to my first of three Old Fashioned cocktail recipes I’d like to share with you today, my personal “house Old Fashioned.”
Rare Bird 101 Old Fashioned
- 1 ounce Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon
- 1 ounce Wild Turkey 101 Rye
- ½ tsp simple syrup
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
- 2 dashes Preychaud’s bitters
In a rocks glass, combine ½ teaspoon simple syrup with 2 dashes Angostura bitters and 2 dashes Preychaud’s bitters; add 1 ounce Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon and 1 ounce Wild Turkey 101 Rye; fill the glass with ice (or a large ice cube/sphere) and stir; garnish with a lemon slice and a cocktail cherry.
What I like most about this recipe is that it showcases the harmony that can be achieved between bourbon and rye via cocktail. There’s a fair number of bourbon-rye (or “bourye”) whiskeys out there. Wild Turkey had its own several years ago with Forgiven. Unfortunately, bourbon and rye blends don’t work as well as people often expect (particularly with Wild Turkey). In other words, the sum isn’t always as great as the parts. Cocktails are another story, however. One has the luxury of sweet elements like sugar or simple syrup and various bitters to glue the sometimes opposing spirits together.
In the case of my house Old Fashioned, and with most of my cocktails, simple syrup is kept to a minimum. (I find both Wild Turkey 101 and Wild Turkey 101 Rye to be sweet enough neat.) As for the bitters, I prefer an even measure of Angostura and Preychaud’s. The Angostura provides the typical bitter aromatics, while the Preychaud’s contrasts with a touch of delicate fruitiness. Garnishing with a cocktail cherry and a ripe lemon slice enhances the overall sweet/zesty balance and helps to maintain flavor as the ice melts.
Pineapple Old Fashioned
- 2 ¼ ounces Wild Turkey Rye
- 3 teaspoons pineapple juice
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
In a rocks glass, combine 3 teaspoons pineapple juice with ½ teaspoon granulated sugar (stir until dissolved); add 2 dashes Angostura bitters and 2 ¼ ounces Wild Turkey Rye; fill the glass with ice and stir; garnish with a pineapple slice and a maraschino cherry.
Though I consider this cocktail more of a summertime treat, it has its place in the winter holiday season. Fruitcake and Pineapple Cake are each popular this time of year. So, why not enjoy a pineapple-based beverage? Hell, it might just make Uncle Larry’s same old yarns a bit more tolerable. And with an 81-proof spirit base, you might appreciate more than one. (Who am I kidding? Of course you will!) But seriously, the lower-proof rye works great in this combination. Think of it as a Pineapple Mimosa, but with whiskey instead of champagne. (Please don’t judge my logic.)
The Don Valdez
- 1 large coffee ice cube/sphere (unsweetened)
- 2 ounces Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon
- ½ teaspoon simple syrup
- 2 dashes black walnut bitters
- 1 dash Angostura bitters
Place one large unsweetened coffee ice cube/sphere in a rocks glass; pour 2 ounces Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon over the ice; add ½ teaspoon simple syrup, 2 dashes black walnut bitters, and 1 dash Angostura bitters; stir for 30 seconds; garnish with an expressed orange peel and a cocktail cherry.
While my house Old Fashioned is a regular favorite, given the right day a “Don Valdez” might just take its place. What’s a Don Valdez? It’s a play on words – a combination of the enigmatic Don Draper and coffee legend Juan Valdez. Essentially, a Don Valdez is an Old Fashioned cocktail with a coffee twist, though it’s important to note that the coffee is introduced solely in the form of ice.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about this recipe is how well the seemingly unconventional element (in this case coffee) works so well with the conventional ones. In fact, the only ingredient that truly stands out as unique is the coffee. While you can choose to make your ice out of whichever coffee blend or brew you wish, I find an unsweetened cold brew (such as Stok) works best. Also, I recommend using Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon over Wild Turkey Bourbon or Wild Turkey 101. I find Russell’s 110 proof is ideal, considering the half-minute of stirring needed to introduce the coffee to the spirit (it also keeps the drink spirit-forward). The black walnut bitters only accents the coffee’s flavor, while the Angostura reminds you that you’re sipping an Old Fashioned (not some trendy FrankenFrapp). When garnishing, be sure to express the orange peel, as the oil helps to offset the darker/nuttier notes imparted by the coffee and black walnut bitters.
And there you have it – three completely different, yet equally flavorful Old Fashioned cocktails. If you’re a traditionalist, stick with my house recipe. But, if you’re in search of a little adventure, give the Pineapple Old Fashioned or Don Valdez a shot. Call me biased, but I think you’ll love all three. Whatever you do, please don’t feel bound to these recipes. As with whiskey, the “perfect drink” is relative to the individual. You decide what works and what doesn’t. And if you find something that works better – a different method, element substitution, etc. – feel free to comment and share below. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Until then … Cheers!
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