By Forest Collins
In our ongoing efforts to explore and exploit the infinite possibilities of the Old Fashioned, we turned to Abigail Gullo of the New Orleans based bar Compère Lapin. Abigail is cool, confident and first fell in love with the craft of cocktails as she learned to mix Manhattans for her granddad at the tender age of 7. As she got older she briefly pursued acting, but the appeal of bartending was strong enough to pull her back into the fold.
Abigail worked in various New York notables like Fort Defiance and The Beagle before heading to NOLA to take up the head bar chef post at SoBou. She was subsequently tapped to join the Compère Lapin team, where she helped develop the drinks menu. The Big Easy knows a good thing when they see it and welcomed her with open arms, awarding her Eater NOLA’s “Bartender of the Year” award for 2014.
When we asked her to drop some Old Fashioned knowledge, she told us “Old Fashioneds are the original cocktail; bitters, sugar, spirit and water. Simple…yet within each ingredient there is room for play and personal preference. And presentation and execution can also be tweaked to refine your Old Fashioned drinking experience.”
Her top five tips are to consider each element that goes into the drink, as she explains :
1. Spirit: Rhum JM VSOP
It’s hot here in New Orleans, and being the northernmost city in the Caribbean, I reach for an aged rhum in my old fashioneds. Beautiful French rhum agricole (made from fresh pressed sugarcane) aged to lemon toffee perfection. The Caribbean aging process means you have a high end aged flavor for a fraction of the price, so spoil yourself with a nice aged rhum. The twist of Caribbean France in the French Quarter is a perfect fit.
The rich cinnamon and clove of the rhum can be accentuated by bitters with spicy notes. And don’t be afraid to layer bitters. Our house Old Fashioneds at Compere Lapin are 2 dashes each of traditional and orange bitters.
Best to use the sugar that is associated with your spirit…or fresh sugar sourced nearby. Lucky for us here in South Louisiana we are surrounded by sugar cane so I use fresh cane syrup. You can also order cane syrup from Martinique. When visiting my folks in Vermont, I use maple syrup, natch. Just like with the bitters, a little goes a long way. Start using less than you think…then add more if you need. It is much easier to make something sweeter than to make it UNsweet.
Fresh clean filtered ice…the bigger the better for your old fashioneds. It’s easy to make clear block ice at home and there are many ice forms you can use to make large cubes or balls. The bigger the surface area, the colder your drink can get without being lost to dilution. The true craft of a bartender is controlling that dilution to optimize the flavors in the drink.
I don’t live in Wisconsin, so I don’t care for the muddled fruit salad in my Old Fashioned. Plus, this is really nice rhum we are using so let’s keep it simple an appropriate to the flavors we created. A twist of an orange peel intertwined with a long twist of lime should be the metaphorical cherry on this sundae!
And the cherry on top of *this* sundae? Abigail offered up a bonus tip…because that’s just the classy kind of lady she is:
Choose something weighty with room for the flavors and ice to mix. I like to find vintage old fashioned classes from the 60’s and 70’s in thrift stores. Some of them have some wild graphics on them that make my poolside Old Fashioned sipping feel like a Don Draper hosted pool party. And I am all for that! (Ed. And, so are we!)
Rhum J.M VSOP Old Fashioned
- 2 oz Rhum JM VSOP
- 2 dashes Angostura Aromatic Bitters
- 1 dash Orange Bitters
- 1 bar spoon of cane syrup
Fresh orange peel and lime peel
Glassware: Double Old Fashioned
Method: Add all ingredients into chilled mixing glass. Stir over ice. Pour into Double Old Fashioned over large ice.