There is a certain breed of person who feels that upon getting locked into your own house due to inclement weather, the best option is to head for the whiskey cabinet. Given that you’re reading a blog that worships at the altar of whiskey… I’ll assume that you might be of this highly specific breed. But before you start picking out a whiskey to pour into your favorite snifter, let me suggest that you make cocktail. And no…not a Hot Toddy.
Now don’t get me wrong, the Hot Toddy is a fantastic beverage—warm, comforting, and easily customizable. But just because its approaching absolute zero outside doesn’t mean that your beverage of choice needs to be a hot whiskey drink (arguably the hot whiskey drink). Sometimes a traditional chilled, boozy beverage can go a long way in warming you up while conjuring thoughts of a (hopefully) warmer place and time. To that end, I wanted to construct a variation on an Old Fashioned that was simple, elegant, and just different enough to make you feel like you might be able to walk outside without freezing to death…maybe even see a blade of early spring grass.
“The grandfather of them all”…The Old Fashioned is hallowed ground for many a drinker and bartender alike. It also happens to be a beverage that offers my favorite benefit of a drink like a toddy – it’s easy to construct a variation based upon your personal taste profile. When I first started my adventure into craft cocktails, I assumed that it would take bottles of obscure whiskeys, amaros, and vermouths to develop interesting drinks that were even remotely similar to the ones I’d be having in my regular bar visits. But I’ve come to recognize that the equation of an Old Fashioned—whiskey, bitters, sugar—lends itself to an incredible amount of experimentation on a much smaller budget. So lets get started.
The March Hare Cocktail
- *Chamomile Syrup
- 3 tsp. loose Chamomile
- tea or 3 tea bags
- 8 oz. boiling water
- 1 cup sugar
- *Chamomile Syrup
The syrup should be made first and it is incredibly easy – if you can make tea, you can make this syrup. You’ll want to heat the water to a boil because Chamomile is an herbal tea and needs the higher temperature to steep properly.
I measured out 3 tsp. of loose Chamomile tea. This is more than you would use to brew a comparable amount of tea but I wanted the delicate floral and apple-like flavors to come through in the final product. You can add or take away depending on your preference. I let the tea steep for about 5 minutes and then added in the sugar and let it dissolve. The syrup came out looking a shade of honey with a equivalent soft floral aroma. Set this aside and let it cool.
Next, I wanted to stay away from the traditional aromatic Angostura bitters to find flavors that would complement and, importantly, not overpower the chamomile syrup. Bitters are a great investment and you can do a lot to a cocktail just by varying and combining these flavors. As I was digging through the cabinet, I found a bottle of cardamom bitters. The aroma was close to root beer but with a flavor that came across as having elements of dark honey and vanilla – something that could pair well with the syrup. Since this is a hearty winter cocktail, I chose to pair this with orange bitters. The ones I chose were specifically were less bright and had heavy clove and coriander notes.
After doing some tasting with the whiskeys I had in my house, I came across the 1792 Sweet Wheat Bourbon. While I haven’t made much use of this overall, my memory of it was as an easy to drink yet not overly complex bourbon. The flavors that it did bring were largely vanilla and caramel but the nose had some interesting fruit notes. In this cocktail, it proved to be a solid fit to complement the softer floral flavors of the syrup and bitters while ending a fair amount of body to the cocktail itself (at about 91 proof, it offers a little more heft). The added all the ingredients to a rocks glass and stirred with a large ice cube for between 30-45 seconds to make sure everything was chilled and appropriately diluted. Finally, I expressed an orange peel over the cocktail and rubbed it along the rim of the glass. The final product yielded a great balance of the flavors I was shooting for and, most importantly, brought out the best parts of the chamomile syrup that played well with the wheated bourbon.
This variation on an Old Fashioned draws on some darker, spicier winter flavors while keeping in mind the (quickly?) approaching spring season.
“I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says “Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.” – Lewis Carroll, “Through the Looking Glass”