There is something about a bold booze forward cocktail slowly diluting over one big cube in a rocks glass. It has a gravitas that anything served with a straw in a highball or up in a coupe just can’t match. Of course, that’s all image, there are a ton of drinks served on a rock that go down smooth and even more frilly and silly tropical drinks that will knock you on your butt, but somehow that perception persists. They are the serious drinks, for serious drinkers. Taking that glass in hand, swirling it slowly by the fire while contemplating the unasked question, practically begs for a leather armchair and an impeccably tailored suit. “Dignity, always dignity” he’d answer, looking off into the distance before taking a slow measured sip and returning to his thoughts. That’s my kind of moment, but not always my kind of drink. So, with a nod toward the little tales we tell ourselves, won’t you join me now as we stand and make, the Don Lockwood.
This cocktail was created by Abraham Hawkins at the famed New York bar Dutch Kills in Queens on Long Island; the same spot that brought us the excellent Bow & Arrow. It is a riff on the Old-Fashioned and another testimony to the amazing variety of drinks you can make by combining whiskey with something sweet and something bitter. This classic recipe just begs for experimentation and we’ve enjoyed all sorts of variations, from the Bacon Old-Fashioned to an Elote Old-Fashioned using corn cob and chili infused Mellow Corn, to my favorite, the truly amazing Doughnut Old-Fashioned. I was introduced to this split base version by my brother who discovered it in Austin, Texas a year or two ago and immediately texted me pictures and the recipe, requesting that I make it and write about it. Of course, I said yes and promptly forgot about the whole thing.
So, to make good on old promises, grab your mixing pitcher and toss in 1 ounce of bourbon, I went with Four Roses; 1 ounce of a smoky Islay scotch, I chose Laphroaig 10 year; 1/3 of an ounce of maple syrup, 2 stabs of chocolate bitters, Fee Brothers Aztec Chocolate Bitters in this case and 1 dash of Angostura Bitters. Add some of that artisanal ice and give it a good stir to the beat of Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor singing “Fit as a Fiddle (and Ready for Love)” before straining into a rocks glass over a king cube. Express an orange peel over the top and toss it in as a nod to garnish and good taste.
Like I said, these are not always my kind of drinks. As much as I want to enjoy them, I often wish I had something a little more nuanced or, alternately, just a measure of good whiskey on that single cube. The Don Lockwood, spans that gap perfectly. It is booze forward, but I simply adore that split base. That smoky Islay scotch gives it an edge that I love, while the smooth bourbon tries to round that edge in a way that improves both whiskies. Maple syrup plays into the natural sweet side of the bourbon and adds depth to the caramel notes, while the bitters bring everything back into balance. I really love the subtle chocolate on the finish. Smoke and caramel and a hint of chocolate makes me think of sitting by a fire, maybe even enjoying the aftertaste of roasted s’mores. It’s a damned fine drink, sweet enough to be accessible, but bold enough to make you sit up and pay attention. I really love how this one softens as it dilutes. It truly is an experience from start to finish.
As an old movie buff, I recognized the name of Gene Kelly’s character in the 1952 musical “Singin’ in the Rain“, immediately and I should have known this drink was going to be more than meets the eye. In his opening speech, Don Lockwood says, “I have had one motto which I have always lived by. Dignity, always dignity…” Which is followed by a montage of him describing his rarefied path to stardom while showing the less than dignified actual trajectory. I always loved that, the juxtaposition between his staid public persona and his fun loving, happy go lucky personal life and early career. This drink is the same. At first glance it is all old-fashioned dignity, but underneath there is a playful bit of sweetness and nuance that you have to explore to appreciate. I like the kind of balance you find when things don’t quite make sense, when they are a little more than they seem and sometimes, a little less. It helps to keep us on our toes, dancing and maybe even singin’ in the rain. Stay safe, stay hydrated and stay sane, my friends.