“That’s not how you make an Old Fashioned,” every bartender everywhere will hear someday. It’s as inevitable as the gin martini drinker saying gin is the only “proper” ingredient in a martini — as if it’s impossible to ever improve upon something.
So, with the heat of summer fully arrived, I decided to take a couple of iconoclastic swings at a few summer classics. And while it would be monumentally audacious to ever offer writing advice to Ian Fleming or Ernest Hemingway, I feel pretty comfortable offering cocktail advice.
But before we embark on that journey, we must first assume that, in some cases, adding one ingredient (or removing one) doesn’t irrevocably change a drink’s identity (ahem, the vodka martini versus the gin martini) and in that construct, we aren’t really bucking tradition, but rather following it, right?
Here are four classics “fixed” by the addition of one new ingredient, along with the option of a second fix.
Hemingway’s Papa Doble Daiquiri
3 ounces Batiste Rhum Gold
1 ounce Maraschino liqueur
1 ounce fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice
½ ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
3/4 ounce simple syrup
1 Bada Bing stemmed all-natural cherry
DIRECTIONS: Fill your serving glass full of ice, then pour ice into an electric blender cup. Add the first five ingredients and blend on high until smooth. Pour into serving glass and garnish with cherry.
Note: Simple syrup is the added ingredient. Hemingway battled diabetes throughout his adult life and was notorious for his avoidance of sugar (but ironically, not alcohol), so many of his favorite drink recipes contain no sugar at all, which is funny, because sugar makes almost every one of his favs taste better.
Second fix: Cut the alcohol content in half. Double drinks are rarely a good idea. They are almost always about a destination and not the journey. And you always spend more time on the journey than on the destination.
1½ ounces Hanson of Sonoma Organic Vodka
¾ ounce Cointreau
¾ ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
½ ounce cranberry juice
¼ ounce pomegranate juice
3 pomegranate seeds
DIRECTIONS: In a shaker glass filled with ice, add the first five ingredients and shake until ice cold. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with pomegranate seeds.
Note: Pomegranate juice is the added ingredient. Both pure cranberry and pure pomegranate juices are bitterly acidic. Often when these two juices are called for, what is meant are the sweetened versions, as is the case here. The addition of pomegranate adds not only a distinctive purple color but a slightly different berryish flavor.
Second fix: Try using gin instead of vodka, preferably one of the more citrusy aromatic versions like Alamere’s Makrut Lime or any of the newer Japanese offerings.
James Bond’s Vesper Martini
1¼ ounce Elk Fence Distillery Botanical Gin
1 ounce Square One Organic Spirits Vodka
½ ounce Lillet
3 dashes King Floyd’s orange bitters
1 lemon twist
DIRECTIONS: In a shaker glass filled with ice, combine the first four ingredients and shake until ice cold. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with the lemon twist.
Note: This is more of a correction than a fix. Kina Lillet was the original ingredient in Fleming’s Bond’s Vesper. Modern Lillet (“Blanc”) has not only removed the word “kina” from the name but also the bitter it represented (kina refers to cinchona, which is a bittering agent), and as such has a totally different flavor profile. In this version, the orange bitters are also a new addition.
Second fix: Try mixing the gin and vodka in a 50/50 ratio, which softens up the alcohol content a bit (most gin is higher proof than most vodka), making the drink smoother on the palate.
1½ ounces Moylan’s Distilling Bourbon Whisky
¾ ounce simple syrup
¾ ounce fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon fresh mint leaves
1 ounce soda water
DIRECTIONS: Combine the first three ingredients in a shaker glass with ice. Tear or smash mint leaves lightly and place on top. Shake and then pour the entire mixture into a serving glass. Top with soda water and stir.
Note: Oddly, mint and whiskey are not a great combination, especially considering the pedigree of this drink. If it were, there would be 50 different brands of mint whiskey. As it is, there isn’t one. However, if you simply add some citrus — in this case, lemon juice — suddenly you’ve got something. Something delicious.
Second fix: Try using blended whiskey instead of straight bourbon. If Kentucky can do it (Early Times is the official whiskey of the Kentucky Derby Mint Julep, and it isn’t bourbon, it’s something called “Kentucky Whiskey”), so can we. Moylan’s also makes a great blended bourbon whiskey finished in port barrels that is just sublime in this modern Mint Julep.
Jeff Burkhart is the author of “Twenty Years Behind Bars: The Spirited Adventures of a Real Bartender, Vol. I and II” and the host of the Barfly Podcast on iTunes. Follow him at jeffburkhart.net.
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