Everyone deserves a vacation once in a while. Having gone by the same recipe for more than a century, so does a classic drink.
The last variation on an Old Fashioned I featured came from Eastern Standard, which took the all-American cocktail down to Brazil, exchanging whiskey for cachaca at the gate and sweetening the drink with a house-made, Spanish kalimotxo-style red wine cola. At Ward 8, a casual cocktail spot around the corner from TD Garden, bartender Rob Haberek told me about their Scorched Earth, a south-of-the-border Old Fashioned with a kick—boot spurs included.
The drink uses mezcal, tequila’s smoky evil twin, which has become increasingly popular despite the fact that, for the most part, people mix drinks to mask the taste of liquor. Mezcal doesn’t play that way.
“It can be a little overpowering,” Rob says. That’s why the Scorched Earth calls for Ancho Reyes, a spicy and delicious liqueur made using ancho chiles from Puebla, Mexico. “The spiciness kind of cuts out the intense smoke of the mezcal,” says Rob. “Ancho Reyes adds a bit more complexity, too.”
In keeping with the heritage (and earthiness) of its spirits, the Scorched Earth employs agave nectar as its sweetener and Fee Brother’s Aztec Chocolate Bitters in place of the Old Fashioned’s traditional dashes of Angostura. The result is a tough little drink that is perfectly spicy, strangely seductive, and a little bit sweet—like a cantina girl in an old Western film. For added smoke on the nose, Rob flamed an orange peel over the amber glass, like a flash of heat lightning over the desert. Whoever named the drink needs an award.
Sipping happily at the Ward 8 bar, I couldn’t help but notice the lack of tiny tincture bottles along the counter, the absence of bartenders with fitted vests and ties, and the presence of Third Eye Blind on the restaurant’s radio. As sophisticated of a drink as the Scorched Earth is, Rob insists that the bartenders at Ward 8, which is named after a 19th century cocktail created in Boston, try to keep things simple, classic and casual.
“We don’t try to go too crazy with anything,” Rob says. “You’re not going to find seven-ingredient drinks here. We try to keep things simple and let the quality of the ingredients shine through.”
Rob, here’s to you.
. . .
adapted from Ward 8
1 oz Del Maguey Vida Mezcal
1 oz Ancho Reyes chili liqueur
1/4 oz agave nectar
2-3 dashes Fee Brother’s Aztec Chocolate bitters
Add all ingredients to lowball glass, add one large ice cube and stir. Garnish with flamed orange and discard peel. If you’re not usually the kind to play with fire, here’s how.
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