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The Crimson Hour: Old Fashioned to Visit the Senators

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This weekend we'll drink a classic cocktail adopted by D.C. because... so many young people have moved here?

The unofficial drink of the greatest Supreme Court Justice to ever live.
The unofficial drink of the greatest Supreme Court Justice to ever live.

When fans' feet on the pavement quicken toward the gates, we cease to measure the length of the day with clocks, whose ticks and tocks now distend ever more noiselessly until we count beats and rhythms in pitches and swings. We frame periods in innings and recover a more intimate acquaintance with beginnings and endings, with the origin of finitude. This is the hour for hushed vitality, for precise attention, for active sensation—sight, sound, touch, but most of all smell and taste. This is the crimson hour.

This weekend, like last weekend, the Phillies play the Nationals. But unlike last weekend, the Phillies find themselves in D.C. While I'm sure we're all hoping that the Phillies will squash the #Nattitude in D.C. much as they did in Philly, I doubt any of us expects it to happen. Sure, the Nats continue to trot out an injury-plagued lineup. And, sure, the Phils will be sending their best pitchers to the hill. But we all know that the team that just got swept in New York is much more likely to show up again in D.C. And for that reason, we require distilled enticement to remind us to rejoice that, hey, we're watching baseball.

This weekend, I propose we drink Old Fashioneds. The Old Fashioned might not seem like a D.C. drink. But in my short time living around the nation's capital I've discovered that, for dining, D.C. specializes in Happy Hour, and every D.C. Happy Hour must have two things: a signature wing dish and an Old Fashioned.

The signature wing dishes are usually excellent, but the Old Fashioneds are hit and miss. Some bars deliver the perfect proportions of whiskey, orange, bitters, and sugar to render the drinker content and contemplative. Other bars dilute the fruit and spice blend with so much club soda that the drink might as well be an off-brand cola. In an Old Fashioned club soda does not belong unless that Old Fashioned has been spilled on cloth.

While the Martini seems to be the ur-cocktail, the Old Fashioned might actually be. According to cocktail historians, the word ‘cocktail' initially referred to any drink that mixed a spirit, a sugar cube, bitters, and a splash of water. At first any spirit would be used in this formula, but over time whiskey became the standard. Eventually, as the variety of cocktails as we know them developed in the 19th century, people began requesting an old fashioned cocktail as opposed to these new fangled drinks (like the Martini). Thus, the name was born. Somewhere along the line, bartenders added the now standard orange and cherry garnish—some muddling the fruits into the water, sugar, and bitters—and the brazen or lazy even experimented with adding orange-flavored liqueur.

The basic recipe for an Old Fashioned runs as follows. Put a sugar cube (2 teaspoons of sugar) in a shaker or glass, douse with bitters (about 4 dashes), add a splash of water and muddle together until the sugar dissolves. Add ice and 2 ounces whiskey. Stir until mixed thoroughly. Pour into rocks glass. Garnish with cherry and orange slice or twist.

That'll make a fine drink, but it fails to bring out what I love most about the Old Fashioned: the interplay between orange and whiskey. So, I'm going to provide a recipe, based on my favorite Old Fashioned in the area (Jackie's and Sidebar in Silver Spring), that infuses the orange flavor into the base of the drink without the mess of muddling an orange slice for each drink. But this requires an extra few steps. First, we'll make an orange simple syrup. And then we'll make the cocktail.

Orange Simple Syrup

Ingredients: orange zest, water, sugar

  1. Pour 1.5 cups of water into a saucepan.
  2. Zest whole orange into water (or as much zest as you like, it just depends on how orangey you want your syrup to be; you can substitute orange peel for the zest but the pith will make the syrup bitter).
  3. Bring water and zest to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes. (You'll lose one-half to two-thirds of your water in this process; so, adjust how much water you start with to how much syrup you want at the end.)
  4. Strain out zest and measure orange-water. Pour orange-water back in saucepan. Add sugar at a ratio of at least 4:3 water to sugar up to 1:1. (Again, your choice depends on your taste.)
  5. Bring orange-water and sugar to a boil and boil until all sugar has emulsified (i.e., vanished).
  6. Let cool before using and storing.

This simple syrup will serve as the base of the cocktail and once made allows you to quickly make many Old Fashioneds.

My Old Fashioned

Tools: Shaker/Glass, Spoon, Knife, Rocks Glass

Ingredients: Orange Simple Syrup, Aromatic Bitters, Orange Bitters, Whiskey, Ice, Cherry, Orange Twist

  1. Put rocks glass in freezer.
  2. Pour half ounce of orange simple syrup into shaker.
  3. Add 3 dashes of Aromatic Bitters and 1 dash of Orange Bitters. Stir.
  4. Add ice and 2 ounces of whiskey. Stir thoroughly.
  5. Place cherry in rocks glass. Strain contents of shaker into rocks glass. Squeeze orange twist over drink and drop into drink. (You can even rub the twist on the rim of the glass if you want.)

And that's how I like my Old Fashioned. Notice I drink it neat, not on the rocks. If you are worried about the drink getting warm then try whiskey stones instead of ice. Again this recipe is for a single but feel free to double your pleasure and double your fun. I've currently stocked Dickel Sour Mash in my bar, which I will be using to make Old Fashioneds this weekend while listening to LA and Franzke banter about whatever keeps them entertained during this wayward season. This is my first outing with Dickel's sour mash, although I have enjoyed their rye in the past. I'll let you know how it works out. And let me know how this recipe works for you. It's fairly new and I'm still tinkering with the balance of sugar and orange in it.

And now a toast:

If SOS, Harangutan, and our nation's 15th President reborn cannot limit the National's federal overreach, perhaps they will have from Jayson's chin, cheeks, and head shorn the powerful locks that vitalize his bat; and win some glory in the breach.