I’ve been reading Bashō again. This time it’s been a slim volume called On love and Barley.
Having been introduced to his work by a Penguin little black classic called Lips too chilled last year I found much I recognized in this, indeed the small volume draws from this. However I did also get a good introduction which taken together with that in A narrow road to the deep North and other travels sketches has taught me more about the man behind the haikus.
Born in 1644 Bashō bridges the gap, or indeed seems to be the conduit, between a time of stagnation for Japanese poetry and the Tokugawa-era which saw the blooming of culture.
His love of nature (his pen name comes from a tree), a lifelong curiosity and adherence to Zen buddism imbues his lines with an awe of nature but also act to point our eyes to what is important. He doesn’t have to spell it all out but rather makes the reader notice his or her surroundings. Haiku was an established form of verse but it was outdated and Bashō reinvigorated it by making the most of the rules and on occasion breaking them. Haiku with it’s limited space still allows for much experimentation. In the end he was a traditionalist and respectful of the limitations but I interpret it as he sometimes found that the art had precedence over convention, and thus mixed it up so to speak.
Speaking of mixing it up (I’m stretching it when I compare haikus to Old-fashioneds but bear with); The Old-fashioned has through the reinvigorated cocktail scene in general, and the TV-series Mad men in particular, again become very popular. Like haiku it’s defined by very simple rules but it’s hard to make an outstanding one for that very reason.
The list of ingredients is short and to the point; bourbon,sugar cube, bitters and and orange zest. Possibly a cocktail cherry; I rather like them but the trend is to skip the fruit. I don’t know why. Then there is the difficult part; the mixing of said things.
I’ve heard more than one bartender say that they judge other bartenders on how they make them, it’s a test. And there is a difference I can tell you. That said, if making them at home-lower your expectations. But it’s also a good opportunity to break the rules.
One of my most tried examples of blasphemy is using single-malt whiskey instead of bourbon. Most bourbons are too bland and sweet for me and when making bar cabinet priorities the single-malt is of the utmost importance, I use it for all manner of cocktails.
I got the idea to use it also for Old fashioned from none other then Tony Conigliario, or to be precise, a visit to 69 Colebrook row which is one of the best bars in the world according to me. Having one was an epiphany. If guests want more of a standard version I use a blended whiskey (which also is of higher importance than bourbon in my book, and easier to find a good version of to be honest). Then I’m lazy and use a syrup instead of a sugar cube which means the stirring is is kept at a minimum, and is a good opportunity to add another dimension. Last but not least; there are other bitters than Angostura. In short; by playing around with the elements there is a good opportunity to make something that is familiar and yet original.
Baseline Old fashioned; yields one drink
0.5-1 cl of syrup
5 cl bourbon, blended whiskey or single-malt
2 dashes of bitters
for serving; tumbler full of ice
orange zest (or grapefruit or lemon; whatever works from the citrus family)
- Pour the sugar syrup into a stirring glass full of ice and begin to stir.
- Add half of the spirit and continue to stir.
- Add the rest of it and the bitters and stir some more.
- Strain into at the tumbler of ice and garnish with the citrus of your choice.
With this as the format there is no reason why you shouldn’t make a drink with mezcal, elderflower syrup and Scrappy’s black lemon bitters. It’s a variation on this theme that I haven’t tried but I probably should. As always; enjoy responsibly.