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Three Boise Bars Make the Old Fashioned New

At the Royal Cocktail Co., Press & Pony and Water Bear Bar, the race is afoot to reinvigorate the classic cocktail

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As craft cocktail bars continue to outdo themselves in Boise and beyond, they never lose sight of drinkers' most coveted beverage: the Old Fashioned. Though the traditional recipe calls for whiskey, Angostura bitters, and sugar or simple syrup, the Old Fashioned has been dressed up and dressed down, muddled with fruit or topped off with soda. Over 200 years after its pre-Prohibition birth, the Old Fashioned remains timeless, boozy, and enjoyed by pretty much everyone, from Mad Men's Don Draper to modern-day bar patrons, making it one of the most popular cocktails in the world.

The Royal Cocktail Co., Water Bear Bar, and Press & Pony are reimagining the Old Fashioned in ways that stay true to the drink's classy simplicity, while at the same time exploring new versions that separate this drink's flavor from its name's stodgy connotations.

The Royal - EMILY ALEXANDER
  • Emily Alexander
  • The Royal

Royal Cocktail Co.

In Hyde Park, Royal Cocktail Co. serves a Royal Old Fashioned—an interpretation that maintains the foundations of the traditional drink but makes it monarchal by substituting a few classic ingredients for more regal ones. For $9, Bulleit Bourbon takes on an unexpected earthiness from swapping simple syrup for maple and Angostura for black walnut bitters, all garnished with a flamed orange peel and cherries. According to bartender Rochelle Rauscher, this unique choice in bitters is what makes the Royal Old Fashioned trump its standard counterpart.

"I prefer this one, mostly because I'm a sucker for black walnut bitters," she said.

Though bitters make up just a few drops of a nearly-full highball glass, they create a wholly unexpected nutty taste.

"It's our most popular drink—I make a ton of these compared to anything else," said Rauscher.

Press & Pony - EMILY ALEXANDER
  • Emily Alexander
  • Press & Pony

Press & Pony

The menu for Press & Pony's $10 Old Fashioned lists whiskey, sugar, bitters, and love as its ingredients, and it's hard to deny the something-special this cocktail offers. The whiskey—a 100-proof, hand-bonded, bottled-under-government-supervision rye whiskey—is precisely and perfectly front-and-center, balanced by sugar, bitters, and a large cube of ice that keeps it cold without watering it down as it sits—"not that people take long to drink it usually," said Erik Schweitzer, Press & Pony's general manager.

"Simpler just seems to taste better when it comes to a lot of things," he said about the classic, no-fuss Old Fashioned on the menu. In the dim light, the whiskey glows golden, like it was made to sit there among the bar's vintage picture frames and newsboy-capped bartenders. "It's very old-school bartending," said Schweitzer. "We're just trying to be as authentic as we can." Press & Pony proves that sticking to the rules—with a little extra love—can be just as exceptional as breaking them; if the massive amount of Old Fashioneds sold this year—a whopping 11,000, compared to 4,000 of the next-leading drink—are any indication, it might be even better.

Water Bear Bar - EMILY ALEXANDER
  • Emily Alexander
  • Water Bear Bar

Water Bear Bar

Kylie North and Laura Keeler, co-owners of Water Bear Bar, keep the Old Fashioned new by reinventing it—daily.

"Technically an old fashioned is spirit, bitters, and sugar," said Keeler. "It's pretty much a template for anything, and that's where we went running with it."

The Old Fashioned of the day, which runs $12 during happy hour and $14 otherwise, might not contain the whiskey-forward burn one might expect, and depending on the day, the main ingredient could be rum, tequila, gin, or a combination of a few different spirits, like Pancake Breakfast, comprised of a stupefying mix of Old Tom gin and Black Strap rum. This menu item was initially an Old Fashioned of the day, dreamed up on a morning when the conversation between the owners mirrored their excited banter as they relived it: "I want waffles so bad! I want pancakes!" said North, to which Keeler offered the obvious solution: "Let's make brunch in a glass."

And by some outrageous miracle, a cocktail was gifted to the people of Boise that tastes unmistakably like a stack of pancakes, heavy with maple syrup.

Since Water Bear opened its doors in July 2019, North and Keeler have made 75 different Old Fashioneds and don't intend on stopping any time soon.

"I get to do something creative and different every day," said Keeler about the daily challenge. "We can get really emotional and passionate about being bartenders," North chimed in. "The nerd gets to come out in the Old Fashioned program."

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