It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve been a whiskey drinker, working my way up steadily from dive-bar Jack-and-diets to well-made Manhattans to my current, very luxurious preference for Macallan 18, rocks. I’m told that the next step for the connoisseur of brown spirits is smoke — Scotches and whiskeys that temper their fire with a peaty, campfirey cloud — but so far the appeal has eluded my palate. But just as the Manhattan, which brings in vermouth and bitters for balance, was a gateway to all whiskeys, I may have found my point of entry to the world of smoke: the Courting Rachel, a cocktail made by mixologist Andrew Bohrer of Seattle’s Mistral Kitchen, in which a classic Old Fashioned is dramatically doused in the sweet, fresh smoke of hickory chips.
Thanks to the wood, Bohrer knew that he had to name this drink for U.S. President Andrew Jackson, who was nicknamed “Old Hickory” for his tough demeanor. One problem, though: “I hate Andrew Jackson,” Bohrer told me. “But one of the cool things he did was fight 13 duels for his wife’s honor. In one of the duels he took a bullet in the chest and just stood there, and then he killed the guy.” For a historical figure whose legacy primarily centers around his genocide of Native Americans, Bohrer found Jackson’s dedication to his wife’s honor a fitting aspect for paying tribute, so the Courting Rachel was born. (Adding a further layer of romance to the drink — and visual drama to its preparation — Bohrer serves the drink over a huge diamond made of ice, which he carves barside each time the drink is ordered.)
The basis for the Courting Rachel is an Old Fashioned, though Bohrer has tweaked the classic recipe to balance out the flavor of the smoke. He starts with a bourbon with a short, sweet finish — he prefers Maker’s Mark, which he says is “bad for sipping, good for mixing” — and adds a sweet-bitter balance from house-made rye whiskey simple syrup and Peychaud’s bitters. After a quick swirl in a decanter filled with fresh smoke (produced by a handheld food smoker) and a spectacular pour over the icy diamond, it’s ready to go: sweet, bitter, fiery, and deep.