The Old-Fashioned might just be the only cocktail that can be both classic and modern, innovative and straightforward, subtle and daring. Where it lands on that spectrum depends substantially on who is mixing it, behind which bar and what story they’re trying to tell.
That’s exactly what bartenders Chris Amirault and Meghan Webb demonstrate with their takes on the Old-Fashioned below. In partnership with Elijah Craig’s Old Fashioned Week, we tasked them both with not only putting their own personal stamp on the classic cocktail—but riffing on each other’s variations, too. The results showcase just how versatile the cocktail can be, and all in the name of a good cause: $1 for every Old-Fashioned sold at participating bars and restaurants (up to $100,000) will benefit the Southern Smoke Foundation, a relief organization that assists those in the food and beverage industry.
Interested in getting involved with Old Fashioned Week? Register your bar here.
Current city: Los Angeles
Title: Head mixologist
You’ll find him at: The Maybourne Beverly Hills
In LA, Amirault is most well-known for his work at The Maybourne—and for pushing boundaries. After starting out in theater, he transitioned to the restaurant industry, even opening his own pop-up, PARMBOYZ. When developing his cocktail recipes, he draws on two sources of inspiration: his background and his city. Usually, that means blending the flavors of his Asian heritage with ingredients that are local to California.
“Growing up as a half Asian-American, I felt more of a sense of responsibility to champion Asian ingredients, especially Chinese ones,” he explains. “There’s so much diversity and blending that occurs [in LA] whether we are talking about culinary, music, art, honestly anything creative. It’s also a place where I think you can truly be yourself.”
When Amirault was first getting into bartending, it was the Old-Fashioned that inspired him. Mostly, he loved how the drink looked, but also appreciated how customizable (and easy to make) it was. In his personal take, he brings the two halves of his ethnic identity together: using the flavor profile of the all-American s’more, but executing it with Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon and Da Hong Pao tea. The bourbon acts as the graham cracker, while the tea serves as the chocolate, and—of course—the garnish is a toasted marshmallow. At 94 proof, the Elijah Craig Small Batch also helps cut through the sugar elements, while bringing vanilla, oak and spice notes to the drink.
“The cocktail definitely brings some nostalgic summer memories to the forefront,” Amirault says. “Sharing parts of yourself is a key to honest, connective storytelling, so I continue to find ways to incorporate more of who I am into my drinks.”
Salute Your Shorts
2 ounces Elijah Craig Small Batch infused with Da Hong Pao Tea*
1/2 ounce Da Hong Pao syrup**
3 dashes Miracle Mile Forbidden Bitters
Torched marshmallow, for garnish
Stir the first three ingredients in a mixing glass with ice. Strain into an Old-Fashioned glass over a large ice cube. Garnish with a torched marshmallow.
*For the Da Hong Pao Tea-infused bourbon:
25 grams Da Hong Pao Tea
750ml Elijah Craig Small Batch
Infuse Elijah Craig Small Batch with the tea for 30 minutes. Strain, reserving tea leaves.
**For the Da Hong Pao Tea simple syrup
Reserved Da Hong Pao Tea leaves from infusion
500 grams boiling water
Equal weight white sugar
Take the infused tea leaves and brew with 500 grams of boiled water for 5 minutes. Strain, weigh out liquid and mix with equal weight of white sugar.
Current city: Dallas
Title: Bartender/“spirits enthusiast”
You’ll find her at: Parliament
The only thing that Dallas bartender Webb might love more than the hospitality industry is exploring—in fact, she says that she has an “insatiable” need for getting lost in local cultures, food and beauty. She then combines those elements, as well as her own personality, into her cocktails.
Behind the bar at Parliament, that usually means making cocktails approachable on the surface, but adding complexity to elements like the mouthfeel or how familiar flavors are represented. That includes experimenting with fat-washing or lacto-fermentation, two elements she brings to her take on an Old-Fashioned.
“Dallas loves an Old-Fashioned and a Whisky Smash, so why not meld the two into a refreshing, approachable [cocktail]?” she explains. The Texas heat also inspired her to make seasonal ingredients, such as strawberry and basil, last longer via fermentation. That process brings a creamy element into the drink, while the the spice and smoke from the Level 3 charred barrels in the Elijah Craig Small Batch complement those flavors.
“Sticking to the building blocks is always great but isn’t it more fun to step out of the boundaries at times? My rules for an Old-Fashioned are: Does it have a sweetener, a bitters element and is it spirit-forward? If you hit that, then to me it’s an Old-Fashioned,” she says.
Strawberry Letter 23
2 ounces Elijah Craig Bourbon
1/2 ounce lacto-fermented strawberry syrup*
3 dashes basil Angostura bitters
2 dashes orange bitters
Basil and strawberry, for garnish
In a cold mixing glass, build all ingredients, besides the garnish. Add ice, stir until cold. Julep strain over a large ice cube. Garnish with basil and strawberry, or dehydrated strawberry if out of season.
*For the strawberry syrup:
300 grams cut strawberries
28.3 grams whey (or 1 probiotic capsule for dairy free)
28.3 grams honey
1.42 grams salt
44.36 grams water
Add cut strawberries, whey, honey, and salt to a mason jar. Fill with water, leaving an inch of head space. Cover with paper towel and rubber band, and allow to sit at room temperature for 48 hours. Strain and refrigerate.
SWITCHING THINGS UP
When Webb saw Amirault’s take on an Old-Fashioned, she was most excited by how he used the Da Hong Pao tea, and instantly gravitated towards it. To put her own stamp on his cocktail, though, she gave the s’more a tropical touch. A coconut oil fat-wash adds a velvet mouthfeel, complements the syrup and introduces the surprising element she normally includes in her own drinks. For a little extra fun, she added a dash of Polynesian bitters for a fruity kiss, too. “I always find growth in playing off another fellow craftsman,” she says. “I loved the Old-Fashioned before and I love it even more now.”
2 ounces coconut oil fat-washed Elijah Craig Small Batch, after Da Hong Pao Tea infusion*
1/2 ounce Da Hong Pao syrup
1 dash El Guapo Polynesian Kiss bitters
2 dashes Miracle Mile Forbidden Bitters
Garnished with graham cracker tuile** and a dollop of marshmallow foam
Stir the first four ingredients in a mixing glass with ice. Strain into an Old-Fashioned glass over a large ice cube. Garnish with graham cracker and marshmallow.
For the fat wash*
16 ounces Elijah Craig Small Batch, infused with Da Hong Pao Tea per previous recipe
6 ounces coconut oil
Blend the bourbon and coconut oil together, then freeze for approximately 8 hours — or until the coconut oil solidifies. Remove the solidified disk of coconut oil for the mixture, and strain.
For the graham cracker tuile**
1 tablespoon marshmallow crème
90 grams water
10 grams flour
Oil, for pan frying
Mix ingredients together to form a thin batter. Place in a container that’s easy to pour from. In a small non stick pan, add a good amount of oil to cover the base of the pan. Pour in a small amount of batter. The mixture will fry and separate and begin to look like lace. Tuiles are done when they look matte. Remove and place on paper towel to absorb excess grease.
As for Amirault, he decided to lean into the two elements in Webb’s cocktail that were most unusual for an Old-Fashioned: the strawberry and basil. Just like in his original drink, he also introduced signature Asian elements. “The first is using strawberry Beijing yogurt as a fat-wash on the bourbon. This will impart some strawberry flavor while also creating a delicious texture,” he explains. “The second was to replace the lacto-ferment with a strawberry sweetener. This particular one tastes like strawberry jam. The basil also acts as a nice herbal note so I mirrored that with some shiso bitters.”
Ichigo No Ōsama
2 ounces strawberry whey-washed Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon*
1/4 ounce strawberry umeshu
3 drops shiso bitters
Orange coin and green shiso leaf, for garnish
Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass. Stir for 40-50 revolutions. Strain over a large rock. Express an orange twist over the cocktail, then garnish with orange coin and green shiso leaf.
*For the whey-washed bourbon:
750ml Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon
200ml Strawberry Beijing Yogurt
3ml Chitosan solution (400ml water, 5g Chitosan powder, 100ml white distilled vinegar)
Mix all ingredients together until incorporated. Add 3ml of Kieselsol. Stir. Let rest for 15 minutes. Add Chitosan solution, stir. Let rest for 15 minutes. Add the last 3ml Kieselsol, stir. Spin through centrifuge, or leave the fridge to split overnight. Strain with cheesecloth.
The lacto-ferment in Amirault’s Ichigo No Ōsama was an element he said he wouldn’t have typically used, which made the experiment all the more fun. It also showcased how versatile a drink like the Old-Fashioned can be, despite appearing on every cocktail bar menu around the U.S.
“The Old-Fashioned is simple, yet the possibilities for playing with it are still vast,” Amirault says.
Have your own Old-Fashioned riff you want to share? Elijah Craig invites bartenders to submit their unique take in a nationwide competition, for a chance to be named the ultimate innovator of the classic cocktail, win $5,000, and have their recipe included in an upcoming Elijah Craig cocktail book alongside some of the industry’s biggest names.* Submissions are accepted until October 31. To learn more about the Old-Fashioned and how to be a part of this year’s Elijah Craig Old Fashioned Week®, click here.
Associate Art Director: Clara Shader-Seave
Dallas Photographer: Brittany Conerly
LA Photographers: Dylan Ho and Jeni Afuso
Producer: Becca Solovay
*NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. Starts 8/15/23 ET & ends 10/31/23 ET. Open to legal residents of the 50 US/DC, excluding Hawaii, Maryland, Mississippi, Oregon, Utah, & Washington, age 21 or older. Subject to Official Rules available at https://oldfashionedweek.com/cocktail-contest.Void where prohibited.