Well, this is embarrassing. Inspired by its multiple namechecks on Hulu’s Only Murders in the Building, I had meant to present you with the Mezcal Old Fashioned. It turns out, however, that the drink I’ve been making all week is its sister beverage, the Oaxaca Old Fashioned. I’ll get into the small but probably important distinctions in a later post. Rest assured, however; my tastebuds and I agree that this is a modern-day cocktail classic that deserves wider recognition. It’s a sweet, smokey, after-dinner drink that is boozy enough for cocktailian respectability. It’s also fine before dinner if you’re like me and have an appetite that needs no assistance from an aperitif.
The Oaxaca Old Fashioned is credited to New York bartender Phil Ward, who reportedly premiered the drink at New York’s acclaimed Death & Co. in 2007. (Mr. Ward is also credited with the first-rate mezcal margarita variation, the Mayahuel.) I might have missed Thanksgiving dinner but there’s always Black Friday post- Thanksgivings and several more feasts to come for most of us. We owe Mr. Ward for an awesome way to cap off a good gorge.
The Oaxaca Old Fashioned
1½ ounce reposado tequila (anejo will be less smooth)
½ ounce mezcal
¼ ounce agave syrup
1 orange peel garnish
2-4 dashes bitters – chocolate or aromatic based on preference and availability.
Add the liquid ingredients to a smallish old-fashioned or rocks glass. Stir for a second to ensure that the agave’s dissolved and add one giant ice cube – if you’re into that – or a few regular large cubes if you’re not. Stir enough to get some necessary dilution, rub the glass with the shiny side of the orange peel, and twist it over the drink to express the oils. Sip gently and try to make it last a little.
Named for the Mexican state with a distinct culinary style, the Oaxaca Old Fashioned doesn’t include the usual splash of soda or flat water because it would only dilute its rich, enveloping flavor. It’s a drink to linger over but the Oaxaca Old Fashioned is so tasty I usually lap it all up in less than three minutes.
Regarding tequilas, I started off using Corazon Reposado, a lovely lower-mid-shelf product on the smooth and sweet side. I later found that El Jimador Reposado brought a nice edge to help counter the sweetness that some of you may prefer.
Considering the small amount of mezcal, this is a very good drink for using the high-end stuff if you have it on hand. Finishing up the bottle of the delicious (and deliciously free!) excellent but $60 Mezcal Amarás Cupreata, I had been gifted with at one point, the piquant smokey flavors blended in perfectly with a sweet reposado. When the Amarás ran out, I started blending Corazon with Del Maguey Vida, which I gather is something like the Bushmills or Famous Grouse of mezcal. It wasn’t as smooth or as flavorful as its predecessor, but then it was half the price and still made for a wonderful beverage.
As far as the choice of bitters is concerned, I recommend at least starting out with Mexican chocolate bitters if you’ve got any on hand, as it accents the smokiness with a touch that’s nice and gentle on the tongue. Aromatics are also excellent in a somewhat more pronounced fashion but I preferred the more confectionary-ish flavor of Fee Brothers Old Fashioned bitters to standard Angostura.
At some point, I got mixed up and thought I’d been making the drink using reposados instead of anejos. Reposados are aged for at least two months while anejos are aged for a minimum of a year. The time difference adds greater complexity, but that may not always be what you’re looking for. Based on my experience, those extra flavors tend to make the Oaxaca Old Fashioned into a good but harsher drink. It’s Mezcal Old Fashioneds that use anejo tequilas and we’ll get to that next time.