The person who was responsible for this paradigm shifting libationary revelation was Amanda Pankratz, the spirit wielding maestro at Sante’s Butcher Bar.
Although Amanda’s skill-set as a craft cocktail producer seems like one that would have been birthed in one of the artisanal hubs of the Northwest, such as Portland or Seattle, she actually learned her craft on the fly, right here in the Inland Northwest. As a veteran of the restaurant and bar industry, her time in the trenches has taken her from server, to bartender, to her current post as a creator of liquid craft-work. Amanda is part of a growing local cadre of talented drink-makers, a group who seem to be in a category separate from bartender, but who I am desperate to avoid applying the pretentious term, “mixologist” to.
On my first visit to the Butcher Bar with some friends, I played the role of difficult customer who was not willing to commit to any of the featured cocktails, but wanted something outside of his usual comfort zone. It generally doesn’t take very long to tell when you are in the hands of a bartender with next-level cocktail whisperer skills. I got that vibe from Amanda, so I chose to leave her in the driver seat on this adventure. I told her that I felt like something gin-based, but didn’t want anything on the fruity side of the spectrum. That’s when she said the words that pretty much left me speechless, “Have you ever had a gin old-fashioned?” Uh, what?
Of course, most people are familiar with old-fashioneds as being made with bourbon or rye whiskey. Although these spirits have become the traditional ingredients for an old-fashioned, it turns out that the name old-fashioned is simply short-hand for “old-fashioned cocktail,” a reference to the bygone era when a cocktail was a specific drink that was made from five ingredients: A base spirit, bitters, sugar, water (or ice), and peel. Over time cocktails began to be thought of as a category of mixed drinks, which lead to people ordering this old style of the drink as an “old-fashioned.” Whiskey has definitely become the default spirit for the drink, but other spirits can work just as easily.
For the old-fashioned that Amanda made for me, the spirit of choice was Ransom Old Tom Gin. To be honest, my gin experience has mostly tended toward the London Dry and Plymouth styles, as well as some of the less traditional International gins, such as Hendricks. I have really never ventured into the Old Tom style in the past, so I didn’t really know what to expect. To look at the bottle of Ransom, you wouldn’t immediately identify it as a gin. The color is not the only thing that makes this different from the more common styles of gin. The gin is also barrel-aged, and when tasted by itself, could be mistaken for a light bodied botanical whiskey. This slight “whiskey-like” character definitely makes it a suitable replacement for the traditional rye or bourbon in the old-fashioned.
Now, on to the drink itself. The recipe is actually a simple one –
- 2 oz of Old Tom Gin
- 1 sugar cube or spoon of sugar
- 4 dashes of Angostura bitters
- 1 piece of orange peel
To make the drink, you simply pour the gin, sugar and bitters over ice and stir to thoroughly blend the ingredients, then strain into and old-fashioned glass, or similar tumbler, over ice. For an extra flourish that actually makes a difference in the drinking experience, you can flame your orange peel. This looks a lot more complicated than it is. Simply slice the peel from an orange, making sure to get as little of the white portion as possible. Hold a lighter or match over the glass, hold the peel with the orange side facing the glass, and give it a squeeze. As the oils from the orange hit the flame, it will make a flash that is worth going through the whole process, but it also slightly caramelizes the oil to enhance the flavor as it hits the glass. After you’ve pulled off your little pyrotechnic display, drop the orange peel into the glass as a garnish.
Next time you are thinking about drinking an old-fashioned, consider giving this variation a try. Different gins will certainly offer a different experience, but if you are looking for something that is like a lighter take on your whiskey-based cocktails, Ransom makes for an excellent gin. Even my whiskey-loving (and gin-hating) wife has fallen in love with this drink, so it offers something to those who are not typically fans of gin as well.