With the drinking public growing savvier about cocktails, the Old Fashioned is quickly catching up to the vodka Redbull as the go-to drink for most (fingers crossed!). Its simplicity, spirit-forwardness, and balanced sweetness make it appealing on all fronts for both the neophyte whiskey drinker and the well-seasoned one. But at Bestia, Chef Ori Menashe’s always bustling Arts District restaurant, the house Old Fashioned has been dominating drink orders for two and a half years.
The staying power of bar director Jeremy Simpson Chef’s Old Fashioned may stem from the fact that it is the ultimate meat lover’s cocktail. Just the thought of that mix of lardo-infused bourbon, hickory-smoked sugar, Angostura bitters, and a salt tincture kicks your salivary glands into overdrive.
This complex, layered drink draws inspiration from an unlikely source. “I came up with this cocktail after watching a YouTube video of a man in Georgia duct-tape a garden hose to the top of a grill that was cooking steaks,” says Simpson. “I told myself that there was no way in hell that I wasn’t going to try that and here’s where we ended up. The combination of the sous-vide lardo and bourbon infusion with the hickory smoked simple syrup and sea salt happened to work really well with Chef’s food and it’s been a hit since Day One.”
Chef Ori himself even loves the cocktail. “It’s his favorite on the menu and he has said in the past that it will more than likely never come off our menu,” he adds. So exactly how popular is the Chef’s Old Fashioned at Bestia? I asked Simpson.
How many do you sell a day/week?
“We sell anywhere from 50 Chef’s Old Fashioneds on nights where we get a little less traffic (Mondays and Tuesdays) to upward of 100 on Fridays and Saturdays. We bought a special, larger Yarai mixing glass for use with the Chef’s Old Fashioned because tables would order five or six at a time and we were wasting time stirring several different glasses. We bought the larger glass to expedite the process.”
What time of day is it most popular?
“It’s a hit anytime of the evening. We open at 5 and there is no shortage of requests.”
What type of drinkers tend to order it?
“I wouldn’t say that there is one specific demographic that prefers it. I will say this, though, if you are vegetarian, or you have sworn off meat, please avoid this cocktail—there is a ‘healthy’ helping of pork fat infused into the bourbon we use.”
Do people new to the restaurant order it or are these regulars?
“This is one of those drinks that transcends the stereotype of being just an Old Fashioned riff or a simple fat wash because we layer the flavors and give it depth. Lardo, hickory, smoke, sea salt, and a little bit of citrus really balance everything out and keep it from being ‘meaty’ or flat. Given that, I would say it’s a pretty fair split down the middle between regulars and first-time diners.”
Why do you think it’s the most popular?
“It’s the most popular cocktail we carry because it bridges the gap between the kitchen and the bar. We use Chef’s ingredients and, in turn, the cocktail’s texture and flavors pair really well with the food that he makes. That being said, people tend to order it toward the end of the meal as it leans a little more on the savory side with a nice salty finish and some brightness from the orange peel. There’s also a little less of the intimidation factor when someone glances at a menu with a bunch of names they don’t recognize and the words ‘Old Fashioned’ shine off the menu like a beacon of cocktail hope.”