Classic cocktails are classic for a reason. I'm an Old Fashioned purist and I prefer my cocktails to be made with four parts: bourbon, simple syrup, bitters and orange peel. But not all of the bartenders in Dallas are making the classic Old Fashioned the same way.
After looking over one too many menus with attempted reinventions of the Old Fashioned cocktail, I decided we needed to document these new-age drinks.
But first: Parliament is your stop in Dallas for a traditional Old Fashioned. The good stuff.
Many consider Parliament one of Dallas' best cocktail bars. One sip of its Old Fashioned and there's no doubt as to why. Parliament's Old Fashioned is everything the cocktail should be: oaky, full-bodied, citrusy, strong. Parliament makes the kind of Old Fashioned that Don Draper would drink, and that's just about the highest praise I can give.
Now, on to the strange stuff.
The 67 Old Fashioned is part of the PM Cocktails menu at Henry's Majestic, but unless PM stands for "Parts Missing" I suggest they change the name of the drink. The 67 Old Fashioned isn't really an Old Fashioned, it's a sum of similar parts that don't equal a whole. The bartender substitutes orange peel for orange oils and bourbon for rye whiskey, then forgoes simple syrup altogether and replaces it with an IPA reduction. I'll give it points for creativity, but the resulting cocktail is much too cheffy to be a classic Old Fashioned. The orange oils add flowery notes and the IPA reduction makes the drink a tad too astringent. Plus, the rye whiskey transforms a typically smooth cocktail into something spicy.
Nickel and Rye
Where Henry's Majestic added a spark of heat to its Old Fashioned, Nickel and Rye added the whole flame. The bar's Molé Old Fashioned tastes like the cocktail got drunk on Fireball. Much like shots of the latter, it went down in a flash. This is not how an Old Fashioned should be drunk. The bartender should take his time making it, and you should take yours drinking it. The Molé's cinnamon aftertaste comes from the ancho chili liquor, rye whiskey, creme de cocoa, and cinnamon (big surprise) used to make the drink. Though I appreciate the time taken to age the cocktail prior to serving -- two weeks, says bartender and general manager Mike Hamilton on NightClub.com -- molding an Old Fashioned recipe after a Mexican dessert is an easy way to make it no longer taste like an Old Fashioned.
Public School 214
Public School 214's take on the Old Fashioned is its Lavender Vanilla cocktail. Immediately, the name alerts diners to the fact that they're not ordering a traditional Old Fashioned. (Points for being frank, but I'm not letting the gastropub off that easy.) I love the taste and smell of lavender, so I was interested to find out if I enjoyed the cocktail. I did, but it's not an Old Fashioned. Lavender simple syrup, housemade vanilla bitters and Four Roses small batch bourbon go into making Public School 214's drink, and the flavors drowned in each other. Your old man's Old Fashioned should not be sweet.
The Mansion Bar
The Mansion on Turtle Creek's Old Fashioned has a Dr Pepper twist. You would think, of all places in Dallas, the Mansion would be home to a bar that leaves traditional recipes untouched. I watched Danny, our amiable bartender, muddle orange zest and bitters, add Jack Daniels and a shot of Dr Pepper, and stir the drink among exactly four ice cubes. He trapped a few drops of the drink in a straw and tested the flavor himself before adding three cherries on a clear stake as garnish. I lifted the slightly pink drink to my lips and ... damn. I tried to not like it, I did. But Danny had worked magic on that drink. It was balanced, just a little sweet, smooth but astringent. I savored every sip, then I ordered another.
As much as it pains me to say it, I have to concede that not all interpretations of the Old Fashioned ruin the integrity of the drink.