Platinum pandemonium on the streets of Manchester. We have half an hour to spare between engagements and definitely need a refuge from Saturday afternoon’s ‘jubilant’ crowds thronging Spinningfields. SCHOFIELDS Bar, of course… and a sublime Old Fashioned hits the spot.
Inside, the art deco space is quiet, both bar stools and deep blue leather banquettes sparsely occupied. Which is unusual. Since its arrival barely a year ago Joe and Daniel Schofield’s ‘instant classic’ has become an irresistible magnet for cocktail lovers and industry awards. Recently it won New Bar of the Year and overall UK Bar of the Year at the Class Bar Awards. In the separate Top 50 Cocktail Bars List it ran in at number 16 behind nearby Speak in Code, ranked 10th in the UK.
On Deansgate, equidistant to both, is the atmospheric Hawksmoor restaurant bar, no strange to accolades, while on the fringe of the Northern Quarter Mecanica (above) is also a real contender (Ellie Wright was named Emerging Bartender of the Year in the Class awards).
Completing what I consider Manchester centre’s Fab Five is classy newcomer Blinker up on Spring Gardens. Like the Schofields (Bury) its creator Dan Berger (Heaton Mersey) is a local lad come home. Like Joe Schofield and Phil Aldridge, Dan honed his cocktail craft in Australia. He was also bar head honcho for Gordon Ramsay Holdings.
All of which brings us by a roundabout route back to arguably the oldest cocktail in the book, the Old Fashioned, its recent global appeal boosted by Dan Draper’s obsessive consumption in Sixties homage Mad Men. He would have been in his element at Blinker, which offers a complete page of Old Fashioned variants (The Martini gets a similar menu tribute)…
I’ve tried four out of the five OFs and am particularly smitten with the Sandalwood Old Fashioned (£12) which mixes Chivas Mizunara with a sandalwood and cherry Old Fashioned reduction. Purists, of course, might shy away from using the Chivas, the first Scotch whisky to be selectively finished in Japanese mizunara oak casks, but in general – like SCHOFIELDS – one Blinker emphasis is is on the stone cold classics with perfection the aim. Manhattan, Negroni, Sazerac, Vodka Martini territory.
This sits alongside Dan’ commitment to seasonality in his ingredients: “For the first menu, we’re going to focus on British mint, stone fruits and nectarines. We’re also looking at rhubarb that is grown in Cheshire, as well as pomegranate as a back-up fruit while we wait for more strawberries to come into season.”
Mecanica and SIC pursue more innovative cocktail trails with strong bartender contributions, yet just request and they’ll mix you up a pretty mean Old Fashioned. During pre-Christmas lockdown the latter sold a trio of pre-bottled versions for the Mad Man in your life.
Who’s to say what is a definitive Old Fashioned? Take Hawksmoor, whose culinary obsession with animal fats strays over into their continuing enhancement of the basic formula of muddling sugar with bitters and water, adding bourbon or rye whiskey and garnishing with orange slice or zest and maybe a cocktail cherry. Before serving de rigueur in an old-fashioned glass.
Liam Davy and his Hawksmoor bar team added a first tweak with their Full-Fat Old Fashioned, which begat more recently the Fuller-Fat Old Fashioned – “which still requires a painstaking process of infusing butter into bourbon in a water bath, but now has the added luxury of beurre noisette and a hint of the cigar box courtesy of sandalwood and cedar oil.”
For Father’s Day Liam has devised Midsummer Old Fashioned, mixing Johnnie Walker Blue Label, salted Oxfordshire honey and cold brew camomile tea, topped with a cube of white chocolate fudge. Available for a limited period from Monday, June 13 to to Sunday 19.
Hawksmoor’s not really one for the vegans then. They might turn to plant-based Speak In Code, who have their own way of adding savoury oomph to a bourbon-based cocktail. ‘Track 5’ is an old favourite: Shiitake & plant butter washed bourbon; toasted sunflower sweet vermouth; corn purée, foamer; mushroom jerky
“Bourbon is infused with dried shiitake mushrooms for 24 hours, strained and then melted plant butter is added before blast chilling. You’re left with a savoury, slightly sweet and salt bourbon with a creamy mouthfeel. Toasted sunflower seeds are added to a sweet vermouth, for their oil and fat properties.
“The strained sunflower seeds are rehydrated as part of the garnish. The house corn purée is citrus boosted to add bite, and tastes like pineapples and passionfruit. The bourbon soaked shiitake mushrooms are blended down with dark soy, maple syrup, apple cider vinegar, salt and smoked paprika, then spread out on baking paper and dried out to make a bourbon mushroom jerky to garnish with the sunflower seeds. It’s a mad tropical meets umami experience.”
Old Fashioned – the Morgenthaler way
I was fortunate enough during a trip to Portland, Oregon to run into the legendry Jeffrey Morgenthaler, author of my cocktail bible, The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique. He was and still is managing the bars Clyde Common and Pépé Le Moko in the Ace Hotel, where I was staying. I went seeking his barrel-aged Negronis but the most requested drink there happens to be the Old Fashioned – what back in the 19th century was th kind of drink you were given if you asked for a cocktail.
Morgenthaler tells new bartenders that this is one drink that is very easy to make well, but very easy to screw up. Here’s his advice, extracted from Food Republic magazine, on how to make one at home…
“You really only need a small handful of ingredients: a spirit, some sugar, some bitters, ice and a little citrus peel. Notice that you’re not required to have, or even like, whiskey to have yourself an Old Fashioned. If we look at a recipe from 1806 the drink is “composed of spirits of any kind,” which is great news for drinkers, as we can tailor our Old Fashioned to our particular taste without bastardizing the original intent of the drink.
“A note about sugar: you’ll want to make a simple syrup and have it on hand. I always keep a few simple syrups in my fridge at home for use in cocktails. I make mine at a ratio of two parts sugar to one part water, both measured by weight, and heated over low heat on the stovetop and stirred constantly until the sugar is dissolved. But which sugar to use? “Well, that’s the beautiful thing about the Old Fashioned — you can match your sugar syrup to match your spirit. How about a tequila Old Fashioned made with agave syrup? Or a rum Old Fashioned made with Demerara sugar syrup?
Experiment with the recipe below and tailor it to your own personal preference, and soon you’ll be able to regale your guests with the best Old Fashioned they’ll have ever tried. I guarantee it.
2 ounces spirit (I most often reach for bourbon, but nearly anything will do), 1 teaspoon of 2:1 simple syrup. 2 dashes bitters (I prefer Angostura bitters, but again, experiment with your favourites)
1. Stir ingredients with ice cubes for 20-30 seconds or until well chilled.
2. Strain over fresh ice in an Old Fashioned glass and garnish with a large swath of citrus peel. I typically use orange peel, but other citrus can make for interesting flavour.
Schofield’s Bar, Sunlight House, 3 Little Quay St, Manchester M3 3JZ. 07311 777606. They also have a side project, Atomeca, at the city’s Deansgate Square and will open Sterling in the Stock Exchange Hotel this summer. Speak in Code, 7 Jackson’s Row Manchester M2 5ND. 07767 658690. Hawksmoor, 184-186 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3WB. 0161 836 6980. Mecanica, 1-3 Swan Street, Manchester M4 5JJ. 0161 806 1492. Blinker 64-72 Spring Gardens, Manchester M2 2BQ. 0161 236 8225.