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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Sazerac

Sazerac cocktail
Sazerac cocktail

One of the oldest cocktail recipes, the Sazerac is very simple: rye, sugar, Absinthe & Peychaud’s bitters. The bitters are very important here: it has to be Peychaud’s, otherwise you are not making a Sazerac. The correct recipe uses a large slice of lemon peel. Tonight, I am out of lemons, so have substituted a slice of orange peel; I quite like this, and find the flavours more mellow, and very similar to an Old-Fashioned. The lemon gives the drink more zip, but this evening I prefer it this way.

Proportions (using a jigger/pony measure):

1 jigger of rye (Canadian Club in this version)

1 small sugar cube or a pony of simple syrup

3 drops of Extreme d’Absente Absinthe bitters or a small quantity of Absinthe

4 drops of Peychaud’s bitters

Glass: Old Fashioned glass

Chill the glass. Muddle the sugar cube with the Extreme d’Absente bitters (if you are using regular Absinthe, then rinse the chilled glass with a few drops of the Absinthe and drain) in your mixing glass.  Stir the whiskey together with the Peychaud’s bitters and ice into the sugar mix and strain into the chilled Old Fashioned glass. Garnish with a large slice of lemon peel (or orange, depending on the state of your fruit bowl).

Historical note: Louisiana’s Legislature adopted the Sazerac as New Orlean’s official cocktail on 23rd June 2008.

Update: I forgot to credit the redoubtable legendary barman, Brian Silva, for making the first Sazerac I tasted when he ran the cocktail bar at Rules Restaurant. He noticed I had been drinking a Manhattan previously, and suggested I might like to try the Sazerac as an alternative. He mixed it the ‘correct’ way – chilling the glass with ice, then rinsing it with a quantity of Absinthe, before building the rest of the drink. The results were sublime.

Further update: Brian Silva now runs the bar at Balthazar in London, and has written a book, which is highly recommended. You can read about his excellent career in an article in the Rake magazine.