Elijah Craig Bourbon’s annual Old-Fashioned Week returns for its second year supporting the Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation, October 15-24. Sign up your bar or restaurant to participate by featuring Elijah Craig Old-Fashioned riffs on your menu.
What happens when a bartender who describes her approach to cocktails as “light-hearted” tackles the most serious drink of them all—the Old-Fashioned?
“One of my bosses, Devon Tarby, once said that having restrictions when expressing your creativity actually pushes your creative limits in great ways,” says Alex Jump, bar manager at Death & Co. Denver, the Mountain Time outpost of the legendary New York bar. “And I think the Old-Fashioned is a great example of that.”
Originally from Chattanooga, Jump studied religion and classics at the University of Tennessee and was looking toward a future in academia. That was, until she worked in a wine store while studying abroad in Florence, and found her interest in drinks and drinking culture piqued.
Returning to Tennessee, she channeled that passion into bartending, starting as a barback and working her way up, learning as much as she could about cocktail history along the way. The Old-Fashioned loomed large.
“I can’t remember my first time drinking an Old-Fashioned, but it certainly must have been right around the time I got behind the bar,” explains Jump. She does, however, remember first learning about the Old-Fashioned’s origins from her bar mentor, Casey Sullivan. “I love the history behind the Old-Fashioned and how it relates to the United States’ often slightly complicated relationship with alcohol.”
Jump moved to Denver in 2017—having heard Death & Co. was scouting out the city for a possible future location—and found work at RiNo Yacht Club and the James Beard Award–winning restaurant Mercantile. By January 2018, she had, in fact, landed at Death & Co., which opened later that year in the Ramble Hotel.
Early on, she found herself juggling how to make drinks that were both high-concept and befitting the Death & Co. brand, while still being approachable to a Denver audience. She had an early hit with the Rescue Team, a PB&J inspired Daiquiri with peanut butter–washed rum and banana liqueur, and Southern Nights, a flip with the unexpected inclusions of mascarpone cheese and peanut brittle.
She also began to focus on mastering the Old-Fashioned, realizing that it is a trickier cocktail than it might seem.
“Not only is it composed of a very small selection of ingredients, but even the slightest mistake—a quarter-teaspoon too much sugar, slightly underdiluting the drink—and you’ll completely throw off the balance,” she explains. “It’s a great cocktail to teach anyone about how important precision with bartending really is.”
Though, like many bartenders, once they’ve perfected the classic specs, they work toward putting a new twist on the Old-Fashioned. Jump has long been inspired by the culinary world, having worked in restaurants, too, since the age of 19, and her Thinking of a Place is reminiscent of Southern pastries like shortcake or a crumble.
“I really wanted to celebrate the herbal and lightly fruit-forward qualities of Elijah Craig,” Jump explains. That meant complementing the small-batch bourbon with yellow Chartreuse and homemade strawberry syrup. In turn, Jump has enjoyed playing with the combination of strawberries and pistachios, the latter of which she infuses into Cognac. It makes for an unexpected, two-spirit, six-ingredient Old-Fashioned that, improbably, remains light and playful, an easy-drinker perfect for the start of fall.
“The Old-Fashioned is actually an incredibly difficult drink for a bartender to reinvent,” she says. “And for [that reason], I think it’s really a great way for a bartender to show their skill when it comes to creating new drinks.”