I had the good fortune of being at a cocktail party on Saturday night where mezcal was the featured spirit. A mezcal party? You know good things are going to happen and a good time will be had by all. While many mezcal libations were going around, the highlight of the night for me was a reintroduction to the Oaxaca Old Fashioned.
This cocktail has been written about a fair amount, so I am not trying to beat a dead horse. But I am sure that even a few committed mezcal fans have never tried one, and my mission is to continue to educate and inspire everyone in the mezcal spectrum (from expert to novice). So why not write about something fabulous even though some may be familiar?
This drink was originally developed by Phil Ward, when he was at Death and Co., before he opened Mayahuel, one of the best tequila/mezcal bars in the world. My friend, Steve Olson, was at said cocktail party as well. If you do not know of Steve, he is a renowned wine and spirits professional, with a deep (some may say insane, which I respect) passion for mezcal and tequila. While discussing the various cocktails that were being offered, Steve began talking about the magic of the Oaxaca Old Fashioned and how he felt it presented mezcal in a brilliant way. Though it was not “on the menu”, after some coaxing from the host, Steve stepped behind the bar to make a few.
Before we get to the results of Steve’s cocktail, here is a brief history of the original Old Fashioned. The first alleged use of the term “Old Fashioned” comes from a gentlemen’s club in Louisville, KY in the 1880’s. The recipe is said to have been invented by a bartender at that club, and popularized by a club member and bourbon distiller, Colonel James Pepper, who brought it to the Waldorf-Astoria bar in New York City. One of the earliest recipes, written in 1895, specifies the following: “Dissolve a small lump of sugar with a little water in a whiskey-glass; add two dashes Angostura bitter, a small piece of ice, a piece lemon-peel, one jigger whiskey. Mix with small bar-spoon and serve, leaving spoon in glass.” Among the several cool things here, I love the fact that they were using Angostura bitters in the late 1800’s! After looking it up, I find that Angostura bitters dates back to 1824, and even today the exact recipe is a mystery to all but a handful of people. Wow.
So now let’s see how the Old Old Fashioned is transformed into the New Old Fashioned, known as the Oaxaca Old Fashion. First, let’s look at the Phil Ward version:
.5 oz mezcal joven
2 Dashes Angostura Bitters
1 teaspoon agave nectar
1 orange twist (1 inch wide by 2 inches in length)
Fill a pint glass with ice. Add all of the ingredients except the garnish and stir well. Strain into an ice-filled double rocks glass and garnish with the orange twist.
Now, there is no doubt this is an great cocktail. By look, it has a nice elegant flair. By taste, amazing. For a tequila drinker who has had limited experience with mezcal, this is a great introduction to tequila’s papi.
However, on this night, I believe Steve elevated this cocktail to whole other level. Instead of a healthy dose of tequila to combine with the mezcal, he went for an all mezcal version. Here is his twist on the New Old Fashioned, which is commonly known as the Oaxaca Old Fashioned, but I will now call the Olson Old Fashioned (or OOF, for short!):
2 oz Ilegal Añejo
1 barspoon organic agave nectar
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
2 dashes Fees Gin Barrel Orange Bitters
In mixing glass put agave nectar, bitters, and Ilegal anejo, and give that a quick muddle or stir, then add large ice cubes and stir. Strain over fresh ice in an Old Fashioned, or OOF, glass. Express oils from orange peel over drink and drop the peel in.
Why did this elevate the drink for me? First, he went with all mezcal (not that I don’t love tequila). Second, the mezcal of choice was Ilegal Anejo which is sublime, as it is a subtle and wonderful expression of a slightly smoky mezcal. I love to drink the anejo neat, and I previously would have guessed that a cocktail would bury the beauty of this elixir. But not in this case! The additions to the anejo are small and refined and in no way, shape, or form do they obscure the fact that you are enjoying Ilegal Anejo – they simply enhance the experience. Recently, I have tried both Sacacuento Anejo and Agave De Cortes Extra Anejo, both of which are fabulous, and both of which would work brilliantly with this version.
My final note on this is that I just bought Bittermens Xocolatl Mole Bitters, which you can buy on Amazon, and I think this is what they are using at Mayahuel these days in their version. Steve suggested that this would work very well in the OOF as a substitute for the Angostura bitters. Great! Another reason to make this (not that I needed it).
At any rate, this great Saturday night turned into a hazy Sunday morning, and it was worth every bit of it. Thanks to Steve Olson for introducing me to a new arrow for my mezcal quiver.