The Old-Fashioned—a simple combination of sugar, bitters and whiskey—has become so codified in the cocktail world that one might be forgiven for assuming that, through osmosis, they’d mastered it. But for the studious, the Old-Fashioned, like the Manhattan or the Sazerac, is a master class in contrasts—one proudly sensitive to changes in its structure. Consider Tom Macy’s take. The partner in New York’s Clover Club arrived at his Old-Fashioned build after testing 40 different variations over several years. “I really took it apart,” he says. “I tried different ryes, I tried different bourbons, I tried split bases.”
In our Masters of X series, we search for bartenders who have sought to do exactly this in search of the perfect recipe for a roster of seemingly simple classics. So, if you’re going to make yourself a Manhattan, may we suggest that you make a superior version of it. Here is a selection of tried-and-true recipes for five whiskey classics, from the Sazerac to the Rob Roy and beyond.
Cecchini’s Boulevardier has been on the menu since the opening of The Long Island Bar in 2013. “I tried to take if off the menu after six months and people screamed bloody murder,” says Toby Cecchini. Often credited with exhuming the recipe from obscurity, Cecchini’s version calls on two full ounces of rye, split between Rittenhouse and Old Overholt, and a split vermouth component to keep every element in balance with the Campari. [Recipe]
Caitlin Laman’s (formerly of Trick Dog) bourbon Manhattan came in third in our tasting of 17 different Manhattans from America’s top bartenders. Her two-parts whiskey to one-part vermouth, plus Angostura, formula was classic, but her liquor choices unusual. The bourbon was the oft-overlooked Johnny Drum 101, and the vermouth was the California-made Tempus Fugit Alessio Vermouth di Torino. [Recipe]
Macy’s recipe, which took top place in our recent blind-tasting, calls on a base of Wild Turkey Rye 101, a teaspoon of rich demerara syrup and three “healthy dashes” of a blend of three types of bitters. The judges found the drink had a pleasing layering of flavors and was a good illustration of how a well-chosen whiskey can set an Old-Fashioned apart. [Recipe]
Among the first decisions to make when constructing a Rob Roy is deciding which spirit to use, as the choice between a smoky Islay or a fruitier Highland Scotch can have a drastic effect on the cocktail’s flavor profile. The Bold Rob Roy lives up to its name with two ounces of Laphroaig 10 Years Old Single Islay Malt Scotch Whisky, a full-bodied, peated example, alongside an ounce of Carpano Antica Formula Sweet Vermouth, a rich Italian bottling with strong vanilla and orange peel notes, and two dashes of Angostura bitters. [Recipe]
Tying for first place in our blind Sazerac tasting, Frizell’s straight-shooting recipe calls on a base of Old Overholt rye, complemented with both Peychaud’s and Angostura bitters and a touch of simple syrup. For the absinthe rinse, Frizell uses an atomizer to enhance the ingredient’s aromatics. [Recipe]