The Old Fashioned cocktail is a well-established landmark of dedicated drinkers. Before being re-lionized by Mad Men and the latest wave of mixology enthusiasts, the Old Fashioned was regarded as one of the first true “cock-tails,” from an era when they wrote it like “cock-tails” without laughing and bartenders like “Professor” Jerry Thomas ruled the bars. Good rye whiskey, sugar, bitters, and a bit of citrus peel prove that a superior drink is greater than the sum of its parts.
When we set out to create a tribute to this renowned tipple, we knew that the ingredients were the key to success. We started with a sturdy rye ale, emphasizing the silky spice of the grain. Then, we laid it down in used rye whiskey barrels from our friends at WhistlePig Whiskey, picking up the smooth magic and touch of smoke from the oak. Finally, we created a tincture of our own devising to emulate the bitters and botanicals used to flavor cocktails. We dubbed our creation “Improved” Old Fashioned as a nod to the long tradition of notable bartenders putting their spin on classic recipes and saucily calling them “improved.” Turning a cocktail into a beer is pretty cheeky of us, really.
Improved Old Fashioned is, simply put, a complete trip. The citrus-laden aroma alone is enough to make you long for a time when it was proper for folks to dress up to do their drinking. The beer is almost creamy, with a graceful blend of spice, oak and orange notes that lingers just long enough in the finish. We find that it has the slightly dangerous characteristic of convincing you to try another glass…and maybe one more, for good measure. And perhaps one more sip to be safe.
We caught up with Brewmaster Garrett Oliver to learn more about the beer from his perspective. Read more below, and check out the Improved Old Fashioned beer page for more details.
What was the initial spark behind making a beer inspired by the Old Fashioned cocktail?
We were the first brewery to do cocktail-inspired beers [Manhattan Project, inspired by the Manhattan, and The Concoction, inspired by the Penicillin], and although there’s part of me that doesn’t want to repeat any ideas, I find the concept somewhat irresistible. I find mixology (which is actually a word of 1800s coinage, so don’t get weird on me) constantly inspiring. Modern bartenders are thinking about flavor, balance and execution, all day, every day. And the Old Fashioned is the cocktail that I personally make most frequently at home, so it had a natural draw to it.
Do you remember the first time you ever had an Old Fashioned? Your favorite?
I recall the first time that I had a real Old Fashioned– the great cocktail writer and historian David Wondrich made it for me. Before then, I’d only had what I call “the hotel Old Fashioned”– a watered-down and vaguely sad affair, assaulted by muddled fruits. The real Old Fashioned, the original cocktail, is very simple: a spirit (originally rye whiskey), bitters, and sugar, with some zest to garnish, and preferably with one large ice cube. It’s deceptively simple, because a great one is not all that easy to make.
What was the trickiest characteristic to translate into the beer?
There are things you can do and things you can’t. For example, you can’t replicate the warming “burn” of a very high-octane drink. But you can do a lot of other things, and I think we did them well. The trickiest parts are probably balancing out the components of the “bitters” elements, especially the clove– a little goes a very long way. The other tough part is achieving some of the “pop” that the fresh citrus peel gives you. We don’t use any commercial extracts or oils, so adding something like lemon oil was out, and dried peel tastes very different than fresh peel. We ended up using an Asian freeze-dried citrus peel with a really true and fantastic aroma.
What other cocktails have inspired beers, or do you think could inspire beers in the future?
Well the original, which we did with Dave Wondrich, was “The Manhattan Project”, obviously based on the Manhattan. Then there was The Concoction (originally called The Tonic….before government killjoys told us that the name “promised a medical benefit”. To whom? Abraham Lincoln?), which was based on the modern classic cocktail the Penicillin. The Penicillin is such a weirdo – Scotch, ginger, honey and lemon. We worked with the inventor of the Penicillin, Sam Ross, to get it just right. It was very hard to make, but I loved that beer. It’s hard to say what we might do in the future….but I sure do love Boulevardiers!
If you could drink this beer anywhere, what would the ideal setting be?
In my bedroom, in front of the fireplace.
What are the cellaring prospects on this beer?
I think it’ll cellar very well. As it ages, the flavors will marry even better, and the natural sherry-like flavors that characterize older beers will add complexity. I expect to be drinking it for years.Back to all blog posts