In the grand scheme of things, agave-based spirits haven’t been featured in many cocktails until pretty recently. Tequila went in a Margarita and the occasional Sunrise. Mezcal, if it was even on the shelf, went in a Paloma, and that was about the extent of it. Like so many cocktail trends, we can thank the bartenders at legendary speakeasy Death & Co. for opening the world’s eyes, and palates, to a wider variety of Latin libations.
Phil Ward’s Oaxaca Old Fashioned is perhaps “patient zero” for the agave spirits cocktail boom of the last decade or so. Like the venerable classic, it’s a simple cocktail, perhaps even simpler since it lacks any fruit (orange twist aside). The use of agave syrup is also a unique way to add sweetness while still remaining true to the spirit’s base. Can you imagine adding corn syrup to your Old Fashioned? Yuck. The real genius in this drink though is the mezcal, which builds a layer of bolder, earthier flavor atop the gentler, sweeter tequila, creating far more depth than your average Old Fashioned. Plus, it gets people drinking mezcal, which they really should be doing more often.
As with any cocktail, especially one this simple, the quality of the ingredients will have a big impact on its success. I managed to run down a reposado from Corazon aged exclusively in Buffalo Trace bourbon casks to enhance the classic barrel notes in my version, but an El Tesoro or Avion should do nicely. Mezcal has a much wider range of flavor profiles than tequila, but try to stick to something classic like Del Maguey’s Chichicapa or San Luis Rio.
Oaxaca Old Fashioned
1.5 oz. reposado tequila
.5 oz. mezcal
1 barspoon (about a teaspoon) agave syrup
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass and stir until well-chilled. Strain into an Old Fashioned glass over a large ice cube and garnish with a flamed orange peel. Try not to burn the house down.