Old Fashioned Week (OFW) has this year grown in size, knowledge, confidence and creativity, and is set to be the global festival’s most successful event to date. Running over 10-days from 1st to 10th November 2018, we go on a mini tour of some of London’s participating bars with Woodford Reserve, the bourbon partner of the OFW.
We start the evening off at Sager + Wilde on Paradise Row, where Woodford Reserve UK Brand Ambassador, Nate Booker, greets us with a smile and a menu. As we peruse the latter, he tells us a little about Woodford Reserve and a few of its 212 different tasting profiles, including cinnamon; olive leaf; green, black and white pepper; caramel; milk; rose petals; and maraschino. It’s diverse array of notes means that is it a wonderful canvas for bartenders to showcase their skills and imagination.
Sager + Wilde, Paradise Row
The Bethnal Green restaurant and bar has a number of delicious Old Fashioneds on their menu, three of which are made using Woodford and which vary hugely in their flavour profiles.
The Olive Oil Old Fashioned is made by infusing Woodford Reserve with olive oil sourced from near Puglia. A tincture is created from the oil by placing it in a sous vide at low temperature for a few hours before freezing it and scooping the residue off of the top. The result is a delicious, non-fatty but flavourful oil. This is then stirred down with regular Woodford, sugar and bitters to produce a fragrant and aromatic drink with a creamy, full mouthfeel and a green, lightly bitter, almost savoury character.
By contrast, the Baked Apple Old Fashioned is syrupy and sweet with Christmas-like spices and a toffee apple nostalgia. The apple caramel brings out the cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla from the bourbon barrel and works with the heavy sweetness of the whiskey.
Whilst both are delicious, it’s the Burnt Maple that steals our heart. Supple, complex and just downright sexy, a dark and earthy caramel robes the tongue for a lasting finish. The cooked-down maple fruitiness pairs perfectly with the orange garnish, highlighting the perfume of the zest, and the walnut bitters take the spice from the Woodford Rye head-on.
We amble down the road to one of our favourite watering holes, Spirited Awards 2018’s Best New International Cocktail Bar, Coupette. Run by Chris Moore, who cut his teeth at the celebrated Beaufort Bar at The Savoy, the bar is inspired by France but proudly local. Comfortable with a relaxed charm and slow drinking atmosphere, the bar is chic and timeless with lovely design detailing such as a bar-top made out of Francs and elegant bistro lighting.
Whilst Coupette’s menu is phenomenally innovative (if you get the chance, try Apples – a crisp calvados and apple juice cocktail carbonated in-house – and the extraordinary all-smoke-and-leather Board Room), the venue is an equally fitting on to enjoy a traditional Woodford Reserve Old Fashioned. Balanced, nuanced and gently spiced, it is a fantastic example of the gold standard of the drink. Imbibers can also enjoy a Tropical Old Fashioned at the neighbourhood bar that highlights the fruity elements within the spirit and which Chris states is “delivered in a way that it could’ve been 100 years ago but that is still relevant today.”
Next up on our whistle-stop tour is Bar Three – the second venue by bartending brothers, Noel and Max Venning (read our full review of Bar Three here). Located underneath Blixen in Spitalfields, the dimly lit, two room bar is quiet but atmospheric tonight.
We sit ourselves down and pick up the glass of Woodford Reserve that has been placed before us. Nate launches into a passionate and insightful monologue about the quality of the mineral rich water used in Woodford, the blend of grains used (corn for a sweet, popcorn character, rye that gives off baked spiced notes and barley for the weight) and the six-day fermentation process. As we take a sip, he tells us all about the importance of the barrel and how the oak imparts natural sugars such as vanillin (that unsurprisingly tastes like vanilla) that build the flavour profile of the ageing whiskey. Thick and creamy with notes of honey, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla, it’s a pleasant and easy-drinking dram that develops on the palate to give off coffee and toasted cereal notes.
As we see it off, our Whiskey and Milk Old Fashioned arrives. By infusing Woodford with black earl grey tea and adding this to milk, they have managed to split milk without the usual use of citrus to create a milk punch, thanks to the tannins in the tea and phenols from the wood. They then filtered all the curds out before blending the liquid with regular Woodford Reserve, bitters and sugar, and finishing the drink with a spritz of cedar and a lemon peel garnish. The result is a super smooth and creamy cocktail with zero harshness that washes over the tongue with the texture of milk. Layers of citrus from the bergamot in the tea, the lemon and the cedar come through and play with the sweetness of the bourbon. Impossibly smooth and dangerously drinkable, this is a glorious Old Fashioned.
Our final stop is another of our favourites – the gorgeous subterranean jazz bar from the group behind Nightjar and Bar Swift – Oriole (read our full review of Oriole here). A cocktail hub that never fails to instill a sense of occasion, Oriole is the perfect place to end our Old Fashioned pilgrimage.
Their extensive menu features two Woodford Reserve Old Fashioneds, which we dutifully order. The first, Acadia, has an eclectic list of ingredients including root tentura liqueur, peanut butter, maple syrup and rowan berry. Sweet and syrupy with a definite aniseed presence, it is a flavourful and elegant new world Old Fashioned that is reminiscent of a P&J sandwich. Juicy fruit is held in check by the creaminess of the peanut butter, delivering all sorts of decadence for this penultimate treat.
We end on a high with the exceptionally strong Storyville (Woodford Reserve, Remy Martin VSOP Cognac, Amaro Montenegro, Mallo vermouth, Jallab). Served in a weighty stone chalice, this bittersweet and punchy Old Fashioned is full of cherry and other stone-fruit flavours, and definitely makes our head sing along with the jazz singer on stage.
A night of much education and experimentation, it has been categorically and alcoholically proven to us that the great OF is a true classic that is never outdated. Everything we’ve sampled from the traditional serve right through to the innovative expressions has been incredible, showcasing the true breadth of this drink that merits an entire 10-day festival.