I like fruit salad in the summer, when strawberries, raspberries and stone fruit are in season. But I don't like fruit salad in my old fashioned. A muddled orange slice and maraschino cherry topped with bourbon and a splash of club soda isn't an old fashioned. It's not even a decent fruit salad drowned in bourbon and fizzy water. I'm sure those are fighting words in Wisconsin supper clubs. Bring it on in the comments section below if you disagree.
I have a few favorite standard cocktails. An old fashioned is one of them. I can drink them all night long at Longman & Eagle (L&E) in Chicago (a future post, or two or three, will be about L&E). They've perfected the old fashioned and my standard old fashioned recipe, which calls for Buffalo Trace bourbon, is based on the L&E recipe.
The burnt sugar old fashioned is a nice take on a classic. Switch out standard simple syrup with burnt sugar syrup and you have something new but familiar. The burnt sugar simple syrup accentuates the caramel of the bourbon, but imparts a distinctive burnt bitterness. I made two burnt sugar old fashioneds. The first used Mitchner's small batch bourbon. The second used Buffalo Trace. I enjoy Mitchner's for its oak on the finish but preferred the second version using Buffalo Trace. The burnt sugar syrup made the caramel flavor in the Buffalo Trace linger and when you brought the glass to your nose you could really smell the caramelized sugar. With Mitchner's small batch bourbon you get more oak. Not a bad quality, just less caramel aroma.
I'd pair this cocktail with I Am the Cosmos by Chris Bell. This is classic, albeit under appreciated, American power pop album. Bell was a founding member, along with Alex Chilton, of the Memphis band, Big Star. He released one solo album, I Am the Cosmos, before dying in a car crash in 1978.
I Am the Cosmos opens with the classic line:
Every night I tell myself, "I am the cosmos, I am the wind."
It's a grand statement that's undercut when he later sings, "But that don't get you back again." It's a bittersweet and heartbreaking sentiment on an album filled with heartbreak that's tempered with sweet and tender moments.
I'm not saying that the burnt sugar old fashioned is a bleak and heartbreaking cocktail. It's not. But there is some sadness mixed in with the burnt sugar.