Living Here Guide

What bartenders drink: An affair with all things bitter

Kevin Hopper likes to tinker with cocktail recipes, but understands when a shot and a beer is the perfect choice. Find him most nights at Capitol Bar in Northwest Boise.
Kevin Hopper likes to tinker with cocktail recipes, but understands when a shot and a beer is the perfect choice. Find him most nights at Capitol Bar in Northwest Boise.

If you have ever wondered what bartenders order when they go to a bar, you might be surprised.

As the craft of the industry has steadily become more artisan, more elevated, you might think that bartenders want to treat themselves to someone else’s idea of a craft cocktail. However, much like chefs, bartenders are often circumspect of anyone’s creations but their own.

Most often, what a bartender orders at another bar is a beer and a shot. This is mainly because both of those things are foolproof. A beer and a shot can’t be tainted by a bartender’s careless whimsy. Though it’s true that they could be pleasantly surprised if they order a house specialty cocktail, it’s often better to play it safe.

This is somewhat of a contradiction, as bartenders, like chefs, are usually risk-takers. They order medium rare hamburgers, drink copious amounts of black coffee and the most bitter liqueurs they can find. They fall asleep at dawn and wake up at the crack of noon. They are likely the most hardened individuals you’ll meet, but when it comes to drinking at another bar, they might as well be wearing a safety vest.

One cocktail in particular that is so misinterpreted by modern bartenders is the Old Fashioned. And it’s the one I am least likely to order at a bar because it has been meddled with in so many ways that you have no idea what you are ordering.

I have covered this cocktail before, but have been tracking the many different fashions of the Old Fashioned that have arose in recent years.

Some of them are amazingly delicious, particularly the ones that substitute tequila or mezcal, or ones that play up the bitter elements to the hilt.

None of these muddle fresh fruit. In fact, if you order this drink and you see the bartender reach for an orange slice, stop the transaction immediately. Unless of course fruity sweet whiskey drinks that don’t taste like whiskey is your thing.

This version of the Old Fashioned uses tequila and agave nectar instead of whiskey and sugar. It also employs a touch of Fernet Branca, an earthy, bitter liqueur that is known as the “bartender’s handshake.”

Viejo de Moda

2 ounces Lunazul añejo tequila

1/2 ounces agave nectar

1/4 ounces Fernet Branca

1/4 ounces water

2 dashes Angostura bitters

Splash of Soda water

Freshly grated cinnamon

Orange peel with Luxardo cherry garnish

Combine bitters, agave nectar and water in an Old Fashioned or rocks glass. Stir until combined. Pour in tequila and add a large chunk of ice. Stir well until chilled, about 30 seconds. Alternately, use regular ice. Add a splash of soda water and stir another 10 seconds. Garnish with an orange peel and cherry and grate fresh cinnamon over the garnish. Sit back and sip slowly and methodically.

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