The drink list at Jewel of the South, the new collaboration between Chris Hannah and Nick Detrich, is a virtual greatest hits list of both Hannah’s career and the tavern’s New Orleans’ home. There’s a Brandy Crusta, the signature cocktail of Joseph Santini, founder of the original Jewel; a French 75, the namesake libation of Hannah’s last gig; and a Night Tripper, the Manhattan riff that Hannah created to honor Dr. John.
However, the drink causing the biggest stir is not even on the list. In the first week of business, Hannah filled dozens upon dozens of requests for his non-alcoholic Old Fashioned.
The Old Fashioned is having a moment. It feels like every craft bar out there is trying to put their own unique spin on the classic. To the naked eye, Hannah’s creation looks exactly like–well, an Old Fashioned. Taste-wise, it comes pretty damn close also. But, there’s no booze—talk about a unique spin!
Like much of Jewel, the cocktail is grounded firmly in local culture. In this case, the predominately Catholic population of South Louisiana inspired the no-proof foray.
“We tend bar in NOLA. We always have Lent,” explained Hannah. “It’s a unique experience because more people pay attention to Lent here. NYC might have more Catholics, but they don’t have the Mardi Gras [the indescribably decadent party the day before Lent].”
Jewel’s other partner explained that the religious fast period operates a little differently in the Dirty South. “During Lent, many locals abstain from alcohol but they don’t want to abstain from socializing,” noted Detrich. “They still go to bars.”
Operating a bar largely populated by (temporarily) teetotaling patrons sparked the need for a next-level no-proof libation. The pair agreed that simply pouring some citrus juices in a glass just wouldn’t cut it.
“We’re not making a gussied up lemonade or limonade,” boasted Detrich. “We’re trying to make something that will appease the person who prefers a stouter beverage.”
Hannah’s solution was a deceptively simple mix of tea, a couple syrups, and traditional garnishes.
“I want them to visually think they’re holding an old fashioned. I want the taste to have the complexity of a cocktail,” mused the mixological maestro. “It’s never going to have the same viscosity, but the Demerara helps.”
Said Demerara is a two to one syrup made with the locally sourced Three Brothers Sugar.
And, that syrup also matches extremely well with iced tea. (Hannah has been experimenting with different varieties, but for now, he’s sticking to the local standard, Luzianne.) The tea contributes visually as well as taste-wise.
“Tea has some tannic similarities to whiskey in a barrel,” said Hannah.
However, the secret ingredient is Italian produced Monin Oak Barrel syrup. Hannah discovered the modifier while participating in the annual Monin sponsored bike ride to benefit the Helen David Relief Fund, an event inspired by the death of star tender Tony Abou-Ganim’s aunt, an iconic Michigan bar-owner.
After the ride, Hannah tasted Monin’s range and was impressed by the Oak Barrel. He said that the product lives up to its name. “The Monin tasted like you were drinking something aged in barrels.”
After returning home to a customer base eager for the no-proof offerings, Hannah revisited the Monin Oak. He recognized that the tincture added charred oak flavor notes normally associated with bourbon. The equation was complete.
The result is a happy Lenten crowd. The period of sacrifice ends on Easter Day, but Detrich plans to continue building the no-proof list.
“As publicans our duty is to make sure that we can take care of any and all guests that come through,” he declared.
No Proof Old Fashioned
- Combine Iced Tea, Demerara Syrup, and Monin Oak in a mixing glass. Add ice and stir.
- Strain into Double Old Fashioned Glass. Add a 2x2 cube of ice.
- Garnish with classic orange peel wrapped cherry.