Old School

I follow several Instagram accounts where the drink photography is really good, and these often lead to drinks I haven’t tried before. A happy discovery on Friday was an image of an Old School from the Dragonfly bar in Hong Kong, which sounded very interesting indeed: no proportions were given, but looking at the combination, it appeared to be a Sazerac/Manhattan variant, so I re-built their drink on that basis.

The result is really quite something – there’s a lot going here, in some really subtle proportions, and the bar has created a modern take on the classic Sazerac. The combination an amaro and a fernet in one drink could be really quite an eye-opener, but they have used very small quantities of each, and the amaro, Montenegro, is at the sweeter end of the amaro style (and also one of my favourites – so I had a bottle to hand). For the fernet, I was lucky to still have a small amount of the Britannica fernet sample that Asterley Bros sent me last month; it’s a really excellent new version of this rich and bitter drink & well worth a bottle of your time. A little trial-and-error, and I came up with something really quite smooth and delicious. If you want to be closer to the Sazerac roots, use a rye rather than a bourbon; I used bourbon & it seemed to sit well with the amaro/fernet bitterness. It’s your choice to choose the base spirit, so see what works best for you. The Lillet is the one thing I would keep as a invariable ingredient though; it has a special flavour.

My version of the Old School:

50ml bourbon

15ml Lillet Blanc

10ml Amaro Montenegro

A bar spoon of fernet – Britannica for choice

Absinthe rinse

Chill an Old Fashioned glass. Stir the spirits together over ice until well cooled. Rinse the glass with a small quantity of absinthe, so that the bottom third is coated, then drain. Strain the spirit mixture into the glass and garnish with a large slice of lemon zest, expressing the oils onto the surface before dropping the zest into the drink. I served this straight up, and it seemed to suit the drink, but if you like yours with another large ice block, have at it.

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Vecchio Stile

IMG_6562After the Manhattan (see dozens of posts, passim), my very next favourite drink is the Old Fashioned: this classic mix of whiskey, bitters & sugar is so simple, yet can having a seeming infinite variety through the choice of the whiskey and bitters: use a rye, and the cocktail becomes drier and spicier, use a bourbon, and it becomes sweeter and softer.

This time, I added a small quantity of my favourite amaro, Montenegro, to balance the sweetness of a bourbon-based whiskey a little further than the bitters alone; even just a quarter of an ounce of this amaro adds another edge to the drink. It’s quite a different take on an Old Fashioned, so absolutely deserves to have its own name; it becomes the Vecchio Stile.

The bitters are very important: here I have used Dr Elmegirab’s Orinoco bitters. Their solid bitter hit & spice base are pretty much a perfect foil for the Montenegro.

Method:

2 ozs of bourbon (Bulleit is highly recommended)

1/4 oz Amaro Montenegro

1/2 tsp sugar

Dashes of Orinoco bitters

Muddle the sugar and bitters together, with a dash of water, in an old-fashioned glass. Add a large ice block to the glass and let chill a while.

Stir the Montenegro and bourbon together over ice, then strain into the chilled glass, with a last stir to combine the alcohols, bitters & sugar. Garnish with orange peel.

 

 

 

Suburban

Suburban, made with bourbon, tawny port & dark rum
Suburban, made with bourbon, tawny port & dark rum

Wondering what to do with my opened bottle of port from Christmas, and looking for drinks to use it in, the discovery of the Suburban came as a happy surprise. It is a very, very good drink indeed & definitely worth trying.

Port may not appear too often on modern cocktail lists, but its inclusion in British mixed drinks is as old as the drink itself: punch was often made with port or another fortified wine, along with brandy, and served at Christmas. Taylors, one of the older port houses still features a recipe on their website.

The Suburban then is an unusual creature, using port but coming from an American source: the drink appears in the Waldorf-Astoria bar book, and the name comes from a horse race of the same name, the Suburban classic. This late C19th appearance puts it into the ‘classic’ category of drinks, and I would say it certainly was. The drink is a solid mix of bourbon (or rye, if you prefer), port & dark rum with plenty of bitters and he result is a cross between a Manhattan and an Old-Fashioned, but a very grown-up hybrid of the two. It’s a cocktail to be approached with care, drunk in a panelled room, lit by a roaring fire.

I am following Richard Godwin’s suggestion in his excellent drinks book, The Spirits, and using tawny port. This is lighter, more flavourful, than ruby or vintage port, and does not overpower the drink with excessive sweetness.

Proportions:

40ml of bourbon (Buffalo Trace here)

20ml of tawny port (Graham’s 10y.o. tawny here)

20ml of dark rum (Havana Club 7y.o. here)

Good dashes of Angostura bitters

Good dashes of orange bitters (Fee’s, here)

Glass: Old-Fashioned

Stir ingredients over ices, then strain into an Old-Fashioned glass with fresh ice. Garnish with large slice of orange zest.

 

Bitters (3)

The first batch of House bitters is bottled.
The first batch of House bitters is bottled.

The bitters I have made from the ‘House’ recipe in Brad Parson’s Bitters book are now bottled and ready to use.

I was really pleased by the way my first attempt turned out: the sour cherries in the recipe have given the bitters a fantastic fruity kick, with vanilla and star anise notes from the spices. I would like to make the recipe a little stronger next time; perhaps I need to find a stronger alcohol base for the extraction in future.

I have bottled the bitters in some herbal remedy bottles that I picked up on my shopping trip to Baldwin’s, and these not only give the bitters a professional touch, but also make them easier to use. The design of the label is taken from the Periodic Table, and I took the idea of ‘Bt’ element name from the original ‘BTP House bitters’ recipe, in homage to Brad Parsons.

3-4 drops at a time of the bitters adds a fantastic depth of flavour to my drinks, and I have successfully used this recipe in my Manhattan and Old-Fashioned cocktails recently.

I am now thinking about the flavours I want to use in the next batch – perhaps using traditional English flavourings like sloes or similar.

Old-fashioned: Bourbon

20z Old-fashioned with bourbon
20z Old-fashioned with bourbon

One of the most basic of all cocktails, the Old-fashioned is also one of the finest because of its simplicity: a mix of sugar, bitters and spirits, served over ice with a large slice of citrus zest. Here I have used my Bulleit bourbon & Peychaud’s for the bitters, as the orange flavour suits the zest garnish to my mind.

Proportions (using a jigger/pony measure):

1 jigger of bourbon

3 drops bitters.

Sugar cube

Glass: Small tumbler or old-fashioned glass.

Shake bitters onto a sugar cube & muddle in the glass until the sugar is crushed. Add a few drops of water if liked to dissolve the sugar. Add ice cubes, then pour bourbon over the ice, and stir, leaving the spoon in the glass. Garnish with a large slice of orange zest.

Historical note:
The Old-fashioned seems to be one of the oldest drinks recipes: around 1860, a simple recipe of bitters, sugar & spirits was being called ‘old-fashioned’ as it had been around thirty years by then. The bourbon version seems to have sprung from the Pendennis Club, who passed the recipe to New York, some time around the end of the C19th.