Fiddich Review Centre
Bourbon Whiskey

Old fashioned cocktails with a twist in Albany, Troy, Latham

So often a new year starts with restraint after the excesses of the holidays. Some like the orderliness of booze-free “dry” January, while others take the “damp” approach where imbibing modestly — perhaps choosing lower-ABV drinks or indulging on weekends instead of nightly. It all squares nicely with that renewed commitment to the gym. But here, upstate, a sustained forecast of cold temps, ice and snow makes hunkering down by a fire — glass of wine or a bourbon in hand — an enticing idea. 

So instead of going with the crowd, I’m taking a different tack with three variations of an old fashioned you can find in the Capital Region, each bringing out the flavors of a New York winter in toasted, roasted and even birch tree forms. I figure, if we can make it through the doldrums of late January and February, we might be ready for non-alcoholic drinks once the shortest, darkest days are behind us, and we can count the days until spring. 

(A word of inclusion for those abstaining: Several upstate bars now feature non-alcoholic spirits like Lyre’s American Malt, which has a marvelous vanilla, toasted nut and herbal profile crafted to capture the essence of an American bourbon with none of the booze. It’s worth asking your bartender if they can make a bourbon cocktail with a spirit-free base. Many can and will.)

The ingredient: BIRCH

The drink: Deciduous Old Fashioned

Where to find it: Troy Beer Garden, Troy, thetroybeergarden.com

The Troy Beer Garden is in new hands with a vastly expanded selection of craft beer and smashing burger-n-beer deal, but cocktails are still central to the leafy show both in the plant-filled dining room and upstairs in The Berlin, the vintage cocktail bar. Though some might lean into a Spiked Hot Apple Cider or Espresso Martini, the Deciduous Old Fashioned perfectly captures winter in the Adirondacks. Bourbon’s natural caramel and vanilla tones pair beautifully with the warm orange notes of Cointreau, before slamming headfirst into winter with the earthy spice and peat taste of Wild Moon birch liqueur, made in New England from the sap of birch trees. It stays true to the build of an old fashioned, while delivering something more alpine that you’d happily sip après-ski. 

The ingredient: TOASTED PECANS

The drink: Toasted Pecan Old Fashioned

Where to find it: Wellington’s, inside the Renaissance Hotel, Albany, wellingtonsalbany.com

Hidden inside the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Albany, you’ll find Wellington’s, a stylish cocktail bar with a regular rotation of seasonal cocktails alongside well-crafted classics given a local twist. The Winter Mule pairs locally distilled Quackenbush Rum (Albany Distilling Co.) with Nine Pin Cider and ginger liqueur, while a Southern Tier rum with chocolate bitters and Adirondack maple syrup is appropriately named In The ‘Daks after our beloved mountains. But it’s a Toasted Pecan Old Fashioned stealing the show. Infusing Albany Distilling Co.’s Ironweed rye whiskey with toasted pecans layers a warm nuttiness to the rye and tugs at a scent memory of honey-roasted nuts perfuming New York streets in winter.    

The ingredient: CARROTS

The drink: Carrot Old Fashioned

Where to find it: Scarlet Knife, 195 Troy Schenectady Road, Latham, scarletknife.com

The bar inside the Scarlet Knife is shaped like the blade of a Santoku knife and emits a pink-red glow beneath. It’s that attention to detail that makes the dining experience quite remarkable in spite of its cavernous 15,000-square-foot size. While a recurring theme of Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory plays out in artwork and desserts, it’s not reflected in the cocktail list — at least, not yet. Instead, the commitment to local, farm-to-table dining connects the dots between kitchen and bar. Thyme appears in the Booze Hound and cucumber shows up in a mule, but a carrot old fashioned neatly shows the versatility of earthy carrot juice concentrated as a simple syrup and paired with the toffee, brown sugar and soft herbal anise of Buffalo Trace bourbon. While the carrot simple syrup adds a slightly thickened mouthfeel, the sweet earthiness extracts nuanced flavors from the bourbon’s naturally sweet profile. To avoid overpowering the bourbon, a delicate ratio is required, and as a new restaurant with fresh new bar staff behind the stick, you might want to request a short pour of the carrot simple syrup. That’s unless you like your cocktails very sweet. 

 

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