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Don Draper’s old fashioned drink of choice

Timothy Barber
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IT’S probably a little too easy for us to be dismissive of bourbon in this country. After all, with all the world-beating malt whisky painstakingly produced up in the most northern parts of our little island, what do we need with the harsh, corn-based yankee equivalent? We’ll gulp it down in the odd cocktail – an act that would be a mortal insult to Scotland’s amber nectar – but treat it as a serious connoisseur’s tipple? Get outta here.

Well, of course, all it takes is a little education, which for many of us has come from the paragon of masculine cool that is Mad Men’s Don Draper, rarely seen without a bourbon-based Old Fashioned cocktail. What’s good enough for dapper Don should be good enough for the rest of us, and sure enough, interest in bourbon cocktails is soaring, according to Rhiannon Graham of Blues Kitchen, the Camden bar with its own bourbon menu. She says the old image of bourbon as something harsh to be forced down in shots is quite wrong. “It can be a lovely sipping drink, and people are seeing it now as something quite romantic and exotic.”

Bourbon – made from a grain mixture that’s primarily corn-based (it also includes rye and barley) and aged in barrels of charred oak – is sweeter and broader in taste than Scottish malt whisky, which is why it works so well in cocktails. For connoisseurs, the good stuff is to be found with “small batch” whiskeys – high-quality, small-scale whiskeys created by master-distillers from carefully-selected barrels. For instance, Kentucky’s Woodford Reserve (www.woodfordreserve.com) creates just 21 bottles a day, compared to the hundreds churned out by market-leader Jim Beam. There are still more limited collectors’ editions too – Woodford’s Masters Collection includes a few bottles each year of a specially-created, unique whiskey. The latest, the Seasoned Oak (left) – a dark, smokey, aromatic number that’s aged in barrels made from super-weathered wood – hits the shops next week, though it could cost up to £100 a bottle. It’s probably a bit too special for a cocktail – unless you happen to be Don Draper, that is.

THE CLASSIC BOURBON COCKTAILS
OLD FASHIONED
Ingredients:
Double shot (50ml) bourbon
Brown sugar cube
Angostura bitters
Slice of orange plus orange zest

Don Draper’s drink of choice justifies its name, since it was supposedly the first drink to be referred to as a cocktail – some time back around the 1880s. The key is to make it slow. “Place the orange peel, brown sugar and bitters in the glass, and stir them to release the flavour,” says Blues Kitchen’s Rhiannon Graham. “Then add a block of ice and a bit of bourbon every minute – the perfect Old Fashioned takes seven minutes to make, infusing the bourbon with the bitters and orange over time and tasting buttery and smooth when you drink it.”

WHISKEY SOUR
Ingredients:
Double shot (50ml) bourbon
20ml lemon juice
10-15ml gomme syrump
Angostura bitters and orange bitters
Pasteurised egg white

The whiskey sour mixes the sharp tang of lemon with the broad, vanilla sweetness of the bourbon. It can be served straight or over ice, and Martin So, bar manager and mixologist at City cocktail bar Bonds in the Threadneedle hotel, recommends the latter. Mix the bourbon, lemon juice and gomme (sugar water syrup used for cocktails) with a dash of bitters and a dash of egg white. “The egg white makes the texture light and frothy, and gives it a lovely lift.” Garnish with a cherry and slice of lemon.

MINT JULEP
Ingredients:
Double shot (50ml) bourbon
Mint leaves
5 bar spoons white caster sugar

A fresh, airy summer cocktail that balances out the fruity,
aromatic qualities of the whiskey with the freshness of the mint, and dilutes it with lots of ice. “It’s traditional to serve it in a pewter cup,” says Martin So. “I put five or six mint leaves in the cup, then three bar spoons of sugar, a few more mint leaves and another two spoons of sugar. Then fill half the pewter with crushed ice and pour on a double shot of bourbon and stir it. Then add a little more crushed ice, stir it again, and finally pile a bit more crushed ice on top.” Push in a straw and garnish with another mint leaf.