Before the word “cocktail” became an umbrella term for any boozy mixture, it defined a specific family of drinks: those made with liquor, sugar, bitters and water.
Nowadays, we know this genre by a single drink, the Old-Fashioned, which uses whiskey as its base. But bartender Brandon Wise is bringing flexibility back to the setup with his Spoon Drinks program at the new Portland Penny Diner in Portland, Oregon.
Like the recent trend in updated bottle service, Wise’s spoon drinks are interactive: Guests choose a base spirit and receive a two-ounce pour over ice in a rocks glass with a small spoon. They then choose their weapon from a copper tray laden with flavor agents and sweeteners. You might try doctoring your rum with a few glugs of ginger syrup and a dash or two of cardamom bitters.
A glass of gin would benefit from grapefruit bitters and a simple sugar cube. When in doubt, bartenders are on hand to suggest matches, and Wise even offered up his own favorite recipe for the winter months.
But the real fun is in the experimentation. We recently cribbed the idea for a dinner party, setting out several selections of booze, bitters and sugars, and asking guests to mix and match as they liked.
The Old-Fashioned is feeling new again.