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Whitehall's No. 10 Courtesy of Whitehall
When it comes to cocktails, it doesn’t get much simpler than the old fashioned: spirit (typically rye or bourbon), bitters, sweetener and citrus. The uncomplicated nature of the drink makes it a fantastic blank canvas for bartenders. “The old fashioned is arguably one of the oldest cocktails,” says John McCarthy, the beverage director of New York City’s Scotch-centric Highlands and gin-focused Whitehall. “What’s great is that you can change all the elements and just mix and match.” McCarthy created three riffs on the old fashioned for his fall menus.
At Highlands, the warming 1588 combines smoky Macallan 15 Single Malt Scotch, rich Brugal 1888 rum, dark agave syrup, housemade orange bitters and orange zest. At Whitehall McCarthy features two updates: the fruity No. 11 made with vanilla-infused bourbon, Angostura bitters and a tart cherry syrup and, his most divergent take on the classic, the No. 10, a gin old fashioned using rose-scented Nolet’s gin, orange bitters, honey syrup and orange peel. Of the No. 10, McCarthy says: “It’s all about being floral without being perfume-y like lavender, and boozy without being astringent.” Nolet's also adds flavors of peach and raspberry, but they don’t make the drink sweet. "You can sip on the No. 10 and feel tough,” he says.
McCarthy sees the old fashioned as a meeting point in the evolution of men and women’s drinking habits. “Men are more willing to have a cocktail now and women are drinking a lot more straight liquor on the rocks.” he says. “The guys are allowing something new in their life and the girls aren’t afraid to order a more savory, stronger, stiffer cocktail.”
The Hawthorne; Boston
At mixolgist Jackson Cannon’s cocktail den, head bartender Katie Emmerson taps the bar’s own barrel of Bols Barrel Aged Genever for the Dutch Oven. The rich genever gin is mixed with sugar, Peychaud’s bitters, orange bitters and St. George Absinthe. The drink is served over a sphere of ice in a chilled double old fashioned glass (a large tumbler) and finished with a spritz of grapefruit oil.
Rum Club; Portland
For the Rum Club's dark and spicy take on an old fashioned, owner Michael Shea uses two rums: bold Jamaican-style Smith & Cross with banana flavors and 100 proof, and more refined, nutmeg-scented Bacardi 8. He mixes the Bacardi with Demerara sugar syrup, three types of bitters&madash;herbaceous Angostura, Reagan’s Orange and spicy, chocolatey Bitterman’s Xocolatl Mole—and muddled orange peel. Instead of stirring in the navy-strength Smith & Cross, Shea pours it on at the end as a float. “Adding it over the finished drink allows for a blast of funky tropical rum in the nose with every sip,” he says.
The Gage; Chicago
The Fall Old Fashioned at this gastropub blends spicy 100-proof Rittenhouse Rye with bourbon barrel-aged Blis maple syrup mixed with cherry-and-orange infused water and Angostura bitters. It's served over spherical ice with a wide swath of orange peel.
Txoko; San Francisco
Inspired by renowned Japanese mixologist Kazuo Uyeda, Txoko bartender Jason Brown only strays from the classic cocktail recipe in one way, by focusing on the citrus. He stirs Old Grand-Dad bourbon, Angostura bitters and sugar with ice then strains it into an old fashioned glass containing ice and fresh slices of lemon, lime and orange. The cocktail is garnished with a small spoon so that guests can extract the oil and juice of any or all of the fruits.