It’s hard to find something new about the Old Fashioned. By name alone, the drink is—well, old fashioned. However, the original cocktail is booming in popularity and bartenders everywhere are searching for their own take on the classic. At London’s Lobby Bar at the One Aldwych Hotel, Head Bartender Pedro Paulo eschewed all the tricks and opted to make a unique Old Fashioned by simply executing the basic formula on a superlative level.
Paulo is a bit of a zealot when it comes to this particular libation. “I have been a bartender for many, many years,” Paulo told NP. “The amount of effort that goes into our Old Fashion was one of the things that inspired me to come to work every day.”
When it came time to update the Old Fashioned program, Paulo turned to the classic specs: sugar, bitters, ice & water, and a base spirit. (Fun Fact: This recipe is beloved to be the original “cocktail.” Many historians believe that the Old Fashioned name is a product of later drinkers who didn’t want “fancy”or improved” cocktails and instead ordered them in the “old fashioned” style.)
Paulo’s goal was to allow guests to share his appreciation of the nuance involved in a seeming simple spec. “I was working behind the bar and I knew how much love we put into that drink, but only six people could witness it [because of limited seats at the bar.]”
Enter the Old Fashioned Trolley.
At the Lobby Bar, the drink is now served table side from a sleek black, custom cart designed by Paulo and a local furniture-maker. The service adds some performance to the prep, perfect for the venue.
In fact, the bar’s cocktail program, titled ‘Showtime,’ is inspired by performance and their location in the heart of the city’s theatre district. The drink list is divided into seasonal sections inspired by the theatre. For example, Light and fresh drinks in the ‘Comedies’ section are spring oriented and strong and complex winter drinks are labeled as ‘Dramas’.
Then, there is the ‘Backstage’ section which aims to highlight the “secrets behind the scenes.” A VR cocktail called ‘Origins’ has generated lots of ink for this area of the list, but the Old Fashioned offers some unparalleled stagecraft.
The Old Fashioned is the establishment’s top selling cocktail. The Head Bartender credits a mix of the drink’s popularity and a human element. ‘It’s not jus the trolley,” he said. “It’s the fact that you can interact with the bartender. It’s not a one way conversation; it’s a two way conversation.”
That conversation begins with the usual introductions, but soon the bartender must asses the guest’s tastes. First, a choice of bases is presented: Woodford Reserve, Bacardi Ocho, or Patron Silver. “Most people go for Woodford. If it’s before 6pm, apertif, I recommend the tequila. Dinner or after, I recommend the classic or something more sweet and tropical in the Bacardi 8,” observed Paulo.
Next is the matter of the sweetener. The Lobby Bar eschews straight sugar for syrup, but there is little simple about it. Each base is matched with its own sweetener created with the spirit itself.
For instance, the bourbon sweetener begins with 200 grams of cherries soaked in a liter of Woodford for 48 to 56 hours. The cherries are then removed (and reserved) and botanicals, including vanilla and cloves, are added to the liquid. Another rest period ensues. Then, the solids are strained out and sugar is added in a 1:1 ratio (one liter of bourbon to one kilo of white caster sugar). Finally, the alcohol is boiled off and the mixture is reduced into a syrup.
A similar process is employed to created a fresh, aromatic, cardamon driven (but cherry free) tequila syrup.
The rum, too, has its own magic formula. There, Paulo noted, “We wanted to have the a rum [variation] because it was something that our guests were asking for,” Paulo noted. “For the syrup, we started with spiced rum and infused it with dried fruits—orange, lemon, grapefruit to get those citric touches. Then, we finished with the same process and 1:1 specs.”
Building the Drink
Paulo is weary about the dangers of over-muddling and does not start the build by ramming a fruit into the side of a glass. Instead, he begins with a beautiful clear block of ice (chopped down from a 20 kilo block at the bar) and adds bit of water. (Dilution is key to his formula; hence, the ice first.)
Next, he pours in a 60ml. portion of the base into the crystal mixing glass and moves onto the sweetener.
Once again, the guest is king. In this case, the server inquires as to how sweet each patron prefers their drink. The baseline is a 15ml. pour of those special syrups, but the measure is adjusted (in 5ml. increments) in accordance with taste.
Finally, he tops off the first phase with “a fair amount of bitters.”
Instead of your typical build, our maestro employs a multi-step process involving several classic techniques. First, there is a basic stir of the ingredients.
Then, the One Aldwych Old Fashioned is “thrown” or poured some distance from one elevated glass to one lowered glass. “In order to open the flavors and make it a little rounder, we force oxygen into the drink,” Paulo said of the process. “When the drinks hits the glass, it makes beautiful bubbles.”
Throughout the throwing process, Paulo expresses an orange twist across the stream to incorporate the flavors. “We infuse as it goes along so its uniform,” he added. “There is a uniform exposure to the oils.”
That twist is then coupled with one of the cherries reserved from the syrup-making-step to form the garnish.
The end product is one of the most balanced and delicious Old Fashioned that this writer has ever tasted (and there have been plenty!) Still, in Paulo’s word’s, “At the end of the day, none of this is new.”
The Lobby Bar’s Old Fashioned is not a testament to cutting edge technique or molecular mixology. Rather, it is the perfect implementation of a time tested formula… and, there’s a reason said formula has been around for so long.