For us to feature a cocktail at Drink Spirits, it has to be something really special. While we’ve quite enjoyed many of the original cocktails we’ve had on our journeys, very few have the ability to transcend the bar that they were created in. Many original cocktails are unnecessarily complicated, or use obscure ingredients or techniques which are hard to reproduce at home (which is also why you might wait a good amount of time for your drink to be made). We don’t blame the legions of very talented mixologists trying to innovate in a space where there are literally thousands of existing concoctions and libations. The unfortunate thing is that many of these mixologists tend to overlook the fact that a smart riff on an existing classic cocktail, or resurrecting a forgotten classic, can yield much better results than than trying to find a way for Mezcal, Fernet, and Campari to somehow co-exist in the same glass. Distilled spirits, especially gin and whiskey, have an immense amount of complexity and flavor on their own, and it doesn’t take much to turn those flavors into something that’s easy to drink, refreshing, and delicious.
The Old Fashioned cocktail dates back to the 1800s and is one of the most simple and straight forward cocktails. The Old Fashioned is fundamentally spirit (most often whiskey), sugar, water, and bitters. The most common variation on this drink is a post-prohibition riff that adds muddled fruit (most commonly orange slices and cherries) as well as soda water. The problem with the more modern interpretation is the textural assault of mushy maraschino cherries and pulverized orange in the drink, or the extreme over dilution from too much soda water.
While we often consider the Old Fashioned cocktail as a whiskey cocktail, the drink was also historically consumed with gin (the infamous “Pink Gin” cocktail is really a Gin Old Fashioned minus the sugar). Like the whiskey Old Fashioned, a gin Old Fashioned is ridiculously simple:
Old Fashioned Gin Cocktail
1 sugar cube
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 teaspoon water
2 ounces gin
Dissolve the sugar cube with the water in a rocks glass, add the bitters, gin, and ice. Stir and garnish with a lemon peel (which then makes it a Fancy Gin Cocktail).
The problem with this drink is that using the most common gin on the market today, London Dry Gin, makes the drink too dry, disrupting the natural balance of the drink. At the time that the gin Old Fashioned was popular (the late 1800s and early 1900s), the cocktail was used with Old Tom or Plymouth Gin, which bring different elements to the equation. The gin Old Fashioned is a perfect example of a classic drink ripe for a contemporary mixologist to use as the foundation of a modern interpretation.
Leo Robitschek, the brain child behind the extremely popular The NoMad and bar manager at Eleven Madison Park (one of New York’s 3 Michelin star restaurants), is one of the few bartenders to have several drinks featured here on Drink Spirits. His Verrazano Cocktail, created for the Maker’s Mark Eleven Madison Park Derby Party, is one of the best combinations of bourbon and mezcal we’ve had. Leo’s take on the Gin Old Fashioned was created for the relaunch of Tanqueray 10 and it’s one of the best we’ve ever had.
Tanqueray 10 Gin Old Fashioned
2.5 oz Tanqueray 10
.4 oz Black Pepper Simple
2 Dashes of Bitter Truth Celery Bitters
1 Dash of Bitter Truth Grapefruit Bitters
Combine all ingredients and stir. Strain into a rocks glass with fresh ice and garnish with lemon twist.
The Black Pepper Simple can be made by simmering sugar, black pepper, and water on the stove (see recipe here) or if you are adventurous, using an isi canister you can power infuse the pepper into the syrup:
Isi Infused Black Pepper Simple
50 g Black Pepper (Coarsely ground)
32 oz of Boiling Water
32 oz Demerara Sugar
Place 32 oz of water and the 50 g of black pepper in an isi canister. Charge the canister twice with nitrous oxide (cream charger). Allow it to sit for 5 minutes and vent. Open the top and allow the mixture to sit until it stops bubbling. Strain and add the sugar. Stir until all of the sugar is dissolved.
Leo’s Gin Old Fashioned is a perfect example of taking a very simple drink and using modern ingredients and techniques to turn it into something really special. It works both with the complex and labor intensive isi method and with the much simpler stovetop simmer, and the result is a drink which can easily be called a modern classic.