The Old-Fashioned is new again, as the following bartenders demonstrate with four innovative drinks created in partnership with Elijah Craig Old-Fashioned Week®. Celebrating bar professionals across the country, this year’s event will benefit the Southern Smoke Foundation: a relief organization dedicated to assisting those in the food and beverage industry.
To salute the quintessential cocktail, Stephanie Andrews, Alec Bales, Caer Maiko and Jake Powell are sharing their own variations on the bourbon-based template. The results are inspired, often deeply personal takes, and they prove that this classic cocktail is simultaneously iconic and open to interpretation.
Are you a restaurant or bar professional interested in getting involved with Elijah Craig Old-Fashioned Week®? Sign up here.
Photo: Anna Naphtali
Hometown: Chicago, Illinois
Current city: Charlotte, North Carolina
Current bar affiliations: Billy Sunday and Spindle Bar
Title: General manager, “glorified barback”
Describe the Old-Fashioned in three words: delicious, boozy, craveable
For most of her career, Stephanie Andrews was based in Chicago, working at molecular-minded The Aviary before joining amaro bar Billy Sunday in 2015. She eventually relocated to Charlotte, North Carolina, to open a second location. Giving back is part of the philosophy at Billy Sunday, Andrews notes, with the bar hosting a range of events, from Pups on the Patio, which supports local animal shelters, to fundraisers that benefit local organizations in the LGBTQ community. Andrews herself acts as a mentor through the LEE Initiative, in the Women Culinary and Spirits Program.
Her cocktail, 4 Day Weekend, is a whimsical Old-Fashioned inspired by classic summer flavors: BBQ, mustard and grilled peaches. A “BBQ spritz”—a misting of brat-infused bourbon—reflects the conceptual aesthetic of The Aviary, and Billy Sunday’s delight in all things bitter is realized by bespoke bitters made with tea and honey mustard. Still, Andrews views her approach to the Old-Fashioned as “pretty straightforward.” Indeed, while each ingredient is fairly elaborate, it’s clear that the basic outline of the Old-Fashioned remains intact.
Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon provides the drink’s backbone. “It has a lot of different layers going on, and it brings a lot of roundness,” she says. “The proof is right in the middle, which is really nice. It allows us to use it as something to build on.” Specifically, Andrews pairs the flavor of grilled peach with the bourbon’s natural spice, while black tea adds an herbaceous quality.
“You don’t need to fix what isn’t broken,” Andrews explains. “With the Old-Fashioned, you can take the basic bitters, water, spirits and sugar, and create something [unique]. It’s a really great place to be creative in such a simple, straightforward way.”
Photo: Angie Webb
Hometown: Tucker, Georgia
Current city: Atlanta, Georgia
Current bar affiliation: Ticonderoga Club
Title: Head bartender
Describe the Old-Fashioned in three words: classic, simple, strong
After more than two decades living in Georgia, Alec Bales considers himself a native of the state. Most of that time has been spent working in hospitality: summers working concession stands; becoming a server at 18; and, shortly after turning 21, joining Atlanta’s tavern-inspired Ticonderoga Club, where he’s now logged seven years. “It’s been the formative restaurant I’ve worked in,” Bales says.
His Borrowed Time Old-Fashioned reflects the aesthetic he’s honed there. Sweetened with Southern sorghum and accented with a small measure of dark rum, it leans classic, but is far from basic.
“I wanted to keep the simplicity, but highlight some ingredients I’m a fan of,” Bales explains. “The sorghum syrup is important to me because it’s like molasses in the South. My grandparents put it on pancakes.” Cut with just enough water to make it easily mixable, Bales describes the flavor as “funky and rich and sweet.”
His version puts a spotlight on Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon. “It brings the body and depth of flavor that a classic Old-Fashioned needs,” he explains. To that base, he adds three-quarters of an ounce of dark rum, for a slight spin on the classic. “I see a lot of rum Old-Fashioneds, but I haven’t seen one with both whiskey and rum in a long time,” he explains, adding that he “wanted to make something that makes sense year-round.”
He considers the Old-Fashioned to be a good litmus test of a bar professional. “Everyone makes one, dive or cocktail bar,” he says. “It’s a cool expression of a bartender’s skill set.”
Photo: Drew Anthony Smith
Hometown: Santa Monica, California
Current city: Austin, Texas
Current bar affiliations: DrinkWell and Daijoubu Pop-Up
Title: General manager/bar director at DrinkWell
Describe the Old-Fashioned in three words: spirituous, rich, classic
Caer Maiko began her hospitality career at 19, when she started bartending in Boston while attending Tufts University and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, where she studied animation and film. In 2015, she moved to Austin, Texas, taking on bartender roles at Péché and The Roosevelt Room before moving on to DrinkWell: a neighborhood cocktail bar in the city’s North Loop, where she manages the bar program.
In 2018, along with Sharon Yeung, Maiko founded Daijoubu, a roving cocktail bar dedicated to what they have dubbed “Super Asian Cocktails.” “The pop-up is a continuing project to highlight Asian and Asian American people, culture, and flavors, in front of and behind the bar,” Maiko explains.
Maiko’s Old-Fashioned riff, A Swallow’s Leave, reflects this aesthetic. Though she has a strong classic cocktail background, Maiko says she’s found a way to be “looser and more playful with flavors” in recent years. Case in point: an Old-Fashioned that layers bourbon with autumnal flavors from her childhood: specifically, a chestnut tree that grew on her block, and red bean (adzuki bean) candies, which sometimes have a chestnut filling. “This is a very Japanese American cocktail,” she says.
“I tried to think of ways to take the Japanese flavors I grew up with and apply them to flavors Americans would be familiar with: roasted chestnuts, salted caramel.”
The drink begins with Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon, which, Maiko says, “already has so many flavors I already find in the Old-Fashioned: spice, sweet citrus, some dark fruit notes some people find with cherries.” The remaining ingredients add nuance without obscuring the whiskey core. “I want to continue to honor the structure of the Old-Fashioned,” Maiko says of her drink.
While the classic elements of the drink remain—spirit, sweetener, bitters— each receives a little extra attention. The bourbon is infused with savory charred chestnuts. A soy-caramel syrup melds soy’s umami and salinity with the richness of caramelized sugar. Steeping classic Angostura bitters with adzuki beans adds complexity.
“I don’t see a lot of opportunities in my life to hand out adzuki bean candy with chestnuts,” Maiko says. “It’s exciting to incorporate flavors that are so specific to my sense memories into a classic drink.”
Photo: Shawn Campbell
Hometown: Jensen Beach, Florida
Current city: Denver, Colorado
Current bar affiliation: Death & Co.
Title: Lead bartender
Describe the Old-Fashioned in three words: timeless, reliable, welcoming
Though born in Erie, Pennsylvania, Jake Powell considers his hometown to be the place his family moved when he was 13: Jensen Beach, a small surfing community on the eastern coast of Florida, about two hours north of Miami. Powell’s drink, a pre-batched Old-Fashioned variation spiked with cold-brew coffee and banana liqueur, draws on the flavors he grew to love there. “One of my favorite after-dinner traditions is Cuban coffee with sweet plantains,” he explains.
It’s not unusual for food to inspire Powell’s cocktail combinations. Typically, he starts by homing in on flavor combinations and balance. Though he might begin with a classic template, by the time he’s finished experimenting and filling in gaps, the finished cocktail is often “a totally different drink,” he says. It’s a technique he has refined at Death & Co. Denver, which he joined in 2021 after relocating from New York City.
Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon forms the base of this riff. “The high amount of corn in the mash bill [of Elijah Craig] gives it great body and a sweetness that the cocktail needs,” Powell explains. Further, “the heavy char gives it vanilla and spice from the wood,” while its bold flavor profile can stand up to the cold-brew coffee that dilutes the drink.
In deconstructing the basic components of an Old-Fashioned, Powell tries to remember the purpose of each ingredient. In place of neutral ice, cold-brew concentrate does the lengthening; instead of white sugar, a trio of liqueurs bring the sweetness. A pinch of salt adds mouthwatering interest. Though this variation is far from classic, the outline of the original remains clear.
As Powell says, “The Old-Fashioned is very reliable, but never boring.”
Head to OldFashionedWeek.com to learn more about the iconic cocktail and how to be a part of this year’s Elijah Craig Old-Fashioned Week®.