Three Fridays ago I attended the opening/rebranding of the Downtown bar formerly known as Stereo Bar. The new incarnation is a tequileria called Mezcal, an agave spirit focused open-air venue. They feature over 80 (!) tequilas, mezcals and sotols, cocktails based on these and a food truck parked out front that serves tacos and tapas.
The most interesting thing I tried was the Oaxacan Old Fashioned, a spirit forward (cocktailratti speak for boozy), stirred cocktail that blended a healthy dose of Casamigos Anejo tequila (famous for being delicious, as well as being owned by George Clooney), a much more modest amount of Del Maguey’s Vida mezcal (based in, but not made in, Taos), a few dashes of The Bitter Truth’s Old Time Aromatic Bitters, a scant amount of agave syrup and a lemon twist.
What I liked about this strong libation was the silky way in which the round aged tequila invited the spice, earth and smoke of the mezcal to dance around the palate. The judicious selection and use of the particular bitters gave each sip an enigmatic and ever changing aroma, as the large hand-cut ice cube began to slowly dilute the cocktail. The agave added a nice rich texture that was juxtaposed by the brightness of the lemon oils. Spot on.
A few words on the Old Fashioned. Originally dubbed the Whiskey Cocktail in the early 1800s, what is now known as the Old Fashioned was a stirred blend of four ingredients: spirit, bitters, sugar and water, usually in the form of stirred ice. Sometimes (probably as supply allowed) this was garnished with a citrus twist, always served in an eponymous glass, with fresh hand-cut ice. As time and meddling bartenders tinkered with this cocktail, other ingredients (curacao, different sweetening agents, soda water, fruits) made their way into the mix. By the late 1800s, in order to insure the cocktail ordered was faithful to the original, four ingredient prototype, one was forced to order theirs, “old fashioned,” as in an old fashioned style.
Skip through around a century of world and cocktail history, and the pre-millenium “old fashioned” was again being adorned (some would say, adulterated) with muddled maraschino cherries, orange slices and soda, creating a chunky, saccharine, formaldehyde-addled, soda-fied mess. Today when the cocktail is ordered, being a professional bartender by trade, eager and capable of putting my own prejudices aside for the benefit of every guest I serve, my approach to the current Old Fashioned milieu is to ask if the orderer would prefer theirs muddled or not. I encourage all my contemporary peers in the trade to extend the same courtesy to their guests. Thankfully, my experience at the new Mezcal avoided such complications as the excellent cocktail I was served was prepared in the old fashioned way.