You will have your own opinion of Mountain Dew, the soda beloved by videogamers everywhere, but might be interested to learn anyway that it comes by its name honestly. The drink was concocted in Knoxville, Tennessee—the heart of Appalachia—in 1940 by two whiskey-loving brothers who, owing to the vagaries of beverage distribution in East Tennessee at the time, decided to make their own mixer in order to have reliable supply. I’ve been drinking Mountain Dew since I was a kid, and enjoy it more than most people my age would likely admit, but it never occurred to me to mix the stuff with bourbon. I mentioned all this to my pal Don Galligan one Sunday last fall, when he was over to watch some football. Don is a talented whiskey drinker, whose area of expertise runs to Manhattans in particular. He thought for a moment, and told me the idea of mixing Mountain Dew and bourbon sounded disgusting.
“But, Don, it’s custom-made to go with whiskey,” I said. “By people from Tennessee. They must have known what they were doing.” Soon enough, I found myself mixing some Mountain Dew with bourbon (short glass, on the rocks) to settle the issue once and for all. It turns out Don’s right: disgusting.
That experience reinforced in me a view I’ve had for years, but never quite articulated: the notion of adding a sweetener to a bourbon-based cocktail makes no sense. Bourbon is sweet enough on its own, for starters. Drinks purists will take my views as heresy. The granddaddy cocktail of ‘em all, they’ll point out, is the Old Fashioned, which is basically bourbon and sugar with some bitters thrown in. The Sazerac (the official cocktail of none other than New Orleans) is whiskey and sugar with a rinse of absinthe and bitters. These are supposed to be classics.
Sorry. I don’t get it. Worse, actually mixing an Old Fashioned can be a major pain. First, you shake some bitters into sugar sitting in the bottom of a glass, then muddle them together using whatever is at hand. (In my house, you’re apt to have to make do with a soup spoon.) Next, fill the glass with ice and bourbon. Then haul out the maraschino cherries and an orange for the twist. I mean, really. Wouldn’t a plain bourbon on the rocks be easier and do the job just as well?
Then again, enlightened drinkers can’t be expected to get by on whiskey on the rocks and nothing else. And I’ll admit there’s something both festive and elegant about a well-made Old Fashioned. For years in my house, we’ve mixed an alternate version of the drink that’s easier to make than the original, and a bit tastier, too. Think of it as an Old Fashioned-ish. The key is to replace the sugar with orange juice. Here’s how it goes.
Bourbon Old Fashioned-ish
Pour a jigger of bourbon over ice in an old-fashioned glass.
Add orange juice to oughly halfway up the glass, and the rest of the way up with water or club soda.
Add 2-3 dashes of Angostura bitters, and garnish with a Luxardo cherry (none other).
What you get is a drink that pleasantly sweet, and more orange-y than what you’d get from the traditional orange garnish. It’s especially fun to drink around the holidays, I find. Not everyone will like this variation, I suppose, but it’s certainly worth a try. And it’s definitely better than what you’ll end up with when you mix bourbon with Mountain Dew.