They say change is inevitable. You never know when someone is going to toss a pebble into your pond and set off a series of ripples that affect every decision that comes after. I often look back at the small choices that changed my trajectory and opened new worlds. Seeking out that first geocache, backing a kickstarter project for a burlesque school even though I had never seen a show, buying a set of cocktail tins to learn about making my own drinks and then, gentle reader, deciding that you needed to hear all about it. It really is amazing how those little things can set you on an entirely new path, like auditioning for a musical on a whim that set off a series of events that would lead to meeting and marrying the love of my life a decade or so later in that same theater. Call it luck, call it fate, call it kismet, but these are the little things that make up a life. So, with a nod to good fortune and being in the right place at the right time won’t you join me now as we stand and make the Brown Butter & Banana Old-Fashioned.
This wonderful riff on the classic Old-Fashioned is a Nashville original, created by Jon Yeager for the opening menu at his French Polynesian themed bar, Edit. Jon and his wife Lindsay are the creative minds behind PourTaste and they are responsible for some of the most incredible menus in Music City, the Nashville Cocktail Festival, Cheers Huntsville and many other amazing cocktail experiences. I first discovered them while trying to track down their elusive Harlow Magnolia Bitters and have followed their adventures ever since. Let’s mix this one up and you will see why I get excited anytime I see they are involved in a project.
You know I try to avoid drinks that require unicorn tears or some other impossible to get ingredient, but I am not above making you work for one. This drink is simple to make, but takes a little prep and maybe some searching to find all of the ingredients and since this is a recipe where the creators specified the brands on everything but the rye, I am going to follow suit. I had to do a little legwork to find the particular Spanish Brandy, but everything else was easy to acquire.
The primary ingredient is brown butter washed rye, which is easy enough to make so let’s do that. Obviously, the first step is to brown some butter, which could not be easier. Preheat your pan over a medium heat, I use a cast iron skillet for this, because even heating is a thing, but any pan will work. Toss in a stick of unsalted butter, cut into several equally sized pieces, and slowly stir it until it melts. The butter will begin to foam and go from a bright yellow through golden tan and then you need to pay attention, because there is a nutty aroma and lovely deep golden brown coming as the milk fats begin to caramelize and appear in the bottom of the pan. At this point, remove from heat and transfer to a heatproof bowl, because if you don’t, burned butter and acrid smoke is right around the corner. It’s really not that complicated, just don’t wander off once it begins to foam, because the whole endgame happens pretty quickly. Now that you have your browned butter, add it to your rye whiskey and pop in a sealed container. They did not specify a particular rye whiskey or ratio, so I used 1 stick of butter for 375 ml of James E. Pepper 1776 Rye because it was at hand. Let that sit overnight, swirling occasionally before moving to the freezer overnight for the butter to solidify. Once it is congealed, remove the fat cap and strain out any remaining solids. I like to give the washed whiskey a pass through a paper coffee filter in the Chemex for added clarity, but this is not strictly necessary. You can toss that used butter if you like, but I sort of enjoy having rye infused browned butter on hand to add to banana bread or any number of other recipes.
Ok, now that you’ve done the prework, let’s get on to the actual work, which is a pleasure. Grab your mixing pitcher and toss in 1 ounce of your brown butter infused rye, 1 ounce of Lustau Brandy de Jerez, 1 ounce of that wonderful artichoke based Cynar, 1/2 an ounce of Banane du Bresil and a dash of Angostura Bitters. Add some artisanal ice and give it a stir to the beat of “Echo Beach” by Martha and the Muffins to get a good mix and proper dilution. Strain into a rocks glass over a king cube and mist with Smith + Cross Navy Proof Jamaican Rum. This step is critical. Seriously, that rum aroma is the Dude’s rug. Express an orange peel over everything and toss it in as garnish before serving.
That is straight up wonderful. Impeccably balanced and full of interest. Of course, I already knew that because I have enjoyed the original at Edit, but making it at home was a real treat, except I did not have any of their amazing brown butter bar nuts or a baguette to go with it. I think my rye choice was a little hotter than theirs, but that brown butter wash softens it as it pairs perfectly with the caramel, vanilla and spice notes from the brandy. The slightly bitter Cynar gives it a solid base anchoring the flavor before that banana pulls away with a hint of sweet that brings balance. The real stroke of genius is that aromatic rum mist. The characteristic Smith + Cross banana funk just puts the whole thing together and gives a tropical feel to this otherwise fairly serious build. I absolutely adore this one and it is without a doubt my favorite cocktail discovery of the year.
I wasn’t looking when this drink found me in an odd place, watching daytime local television, which I never do. However, I was stuck in the cardiac lab at the hospital being fitted for monitors chasing my questionable rhythms. So, I wasn’t in the best spot mentally when I saw this fella mixing a drink and talking about his new cocktail spot way up in Hendersonville. Oddly enough, this is the second drink I have discovered on daytime local television, if you remember the Al Amanacer that featured our Captain Rodney’s Pepper Jelly. Of course, this Brown Butter & Banana Old-Fashioned did not use any of our products, but the build looked really interesting and the concept for the bar even more so. I made some notes and put this new place on my “to visit” list; and I am so glad that I did.
Even though it takes us a little over an hour to get there, my wife and I have been to Edit a couple of times now and absolutely loved our experiences there. We were dubious our first time as we parked at the strip mall and walked past the movie theater to find it, but once we were inside we were blown away. Great decor, really solid drinks and food plus a wonderfully welcoming crew behind the bar. As we chatted, snacking on baguettes, I could not believe the interesting combinations in the well, until I began to explore the menu and saw the innovation going on there. We have made trips back to continue exploring and one drink just surpasses the next. From the tropical inspired classics on the left side of the menu to the original creations on the right, each one sings. This place is legit and has quickly become a favorite of ours. It is easy to feel transported to a more genteel time and tropical clime, as long as you don’t look out the front window at the Barnes & Noble across the plaza. In all seriousness we are both super excited to have such a treasure relatively nearby and even the kid asks if he can tag along to enjoy their great food, especially the baguette and butter candles. Yes, you heard right, butter candles. It’s a thing.
I love the bit of kismet in this discovery, being in the right place at the wrong time, especially since it felt like such a wrong place. It is also funny how anticipation of an experience can lift your spirits. I was feeling down, dealing with my day at the hospital in preparation for upcoming procedures and just getting older in general. Somehow mortality just feels nearer in those clean but dated antiseptic spaces. As I sat there, having my fur removed in patches for sensors to be attached, suddenly, I was distracted. Brown butter and banana? Why is there Cynar in it? Lustau makes a brandy? I thought they did sherry. Misting with Smith + Cross? Why did they choose rye for the wash? A cocktail bar in a strip mall? They also do coffee in the morning? I had so many questions I knew I had to visit this place and try things for myself. Suddenly, I was not only distracted from my troubles, I had something to look forward to.
They say that life provides, if you open yourself to it, and I have to believe it. There I was feeling sorry for myself, wondering if things would ever be the same, how my life was going to change. A moment later, I was engaged, my curiosity piqued, making plans for the future when I wasn’t sure there was one. Things are better now and while there is still work to do, I am feeling much more positive about what tomorrow may hold. It may sound strange, but wanting to try this drink, to figure out how it worked, to share this exploration with my wife, well it got me out of my head and into a truly wonderful new place; and I am so glad it did. Hopefully, you can find that same sort of inspiration, a way to get out and explore a little, to spread your wings, may I suggest a lovely little cocktail bar…in a strip mall…in Hendersonville. You won’t regret it, just tell ’em Brad sent you and get a look of confusion, on the house. It’ll be worth it, I promise. So, stay safe, stay hydrated and stay sane, my friends.