Tom Lasher-Walker has worked at some of the longest-running and most well-respected cocktail bars on both sides of the pond, from Bramble Bar & Lounge in Edinburgh and The Savoy in London to Attaboy in Manhattan. So it’s no surprise that when it comes to reimagining a canonical recipe like the Old-Fashioned, you won’t see him getting crazy with strange ingredients or newfangled techniques.
“I’ve always been a fan of very classic drink-making,” he explains. “These drinks have stood the test of time for a reason.”
And then, late last year, Lasher-Walker and his wife moved down to Miami and he took a job at the famed Fontainebleau Hotel on Collins Avenue, mere feet from shores of the Atlantic. But working in a high-volume, high-glitz, nightclub-type bar in lively Miami Beach—as opposed to the quieter confines of The Savoy or Attaboy—meant some things needed to change when it came to creating drinks for his new clientele.
“It’s probably as far removed as one can get from my other bartending jobs,” he jokes.
Mojitos are, shocker, Fontainebleau’s most popular cocktail. Not that Lasher-Walker has a problem with that. In fact, he argues, those much-derided muddled mint cocktails are a closer cousin to the Old-Fashioned than you’d think. Like the Mojito, which became ubiquitous over a decade ago, the Old-Fashioned is flexible. It can be ordered and enjoyed in all types of bars, from airports to luxury hotels, and the traditional recipe is open to near-infinite variations.
“People no longer just think of it as this brooding, moody, masculine drink on the rocks,” he explains. “It doesn’t need to be heavy, and it doesn’t need to be made with whiskey either.” Now that Lasher-Walker is in Florida, he loves to make what he calls a “pseudo-tropical OF” using a base of Brugal 1888, the super-premium Dominican rum double-aged in both bourbon and sherry casks. While its profile offers the expected whiskey flavors of vanilla and toffee, it also offers notes of citrus, peach and even coffee.
“My idea was to make something you could sip and enjoy and you don’t have to bury under six inches of snow,” he says. “The key in accomplishing that was to make it lighter and way more fragrant.”
He does that with a clever hack: replacing the traditional Angostura bitters with Aperol, the bittersweet Italian aperitivo liqueur, which adds a candied citrus note to the drink. And rather than simple syrup, he opts for a banana liqueur. Unexpected? Sure, but it’s a flavor not unfamiliar to the beach-going crowd, and—more important—one that meshes surprisingly well with Brugal 1888.
“What we end up with is a lighthearted, tropical, fruity Old-Fashioned,” Lasher-Walker explains. “It’s completely on the other end of spectrum of what we typically expect of the drink.”