The Oaxaca Old Fashioned helped kick off the mezcal craze in the United States. Created in 2007 by New York bartender Phil Ward, the Oaxaca Old Fashioned introduced countless drinkers to the earthy spirit, which was unfamiliar to most consumers at the time. Ward first made the cocktail at Death & Co., the pioneering East Village bar, before placing it on the menu at Mayahuel, the dearly departed bar that he opened down the street.
The Oaxaca Old Fashioned—named for the Mexican state from where most mezcals hail—is a riff on the classic whiskey Old Fashioned. It mixes reposado tequila, which is lightly aged in oak and mimics some of those oaky flavors present in the classic Old Fashioned, and mezcal with Angostura bitters and agave nectar.
Notably, the drink only contains a half ounce of mezcal while featuring a full pour of tequila, but this was part of its appeal. The cocktail turned newcomers on to mezcal while wrapping it in the security blanket of its more common cousin. This strategy helped the spirit proliferate at Death & Co. and then Mayahuel, which took the training wheels off and served a menu dedicated to agave spirits and cocktails.
Today, mezcal cocktails are a common sight on bar menus, and many bars proudly pour dozens of mezcals across a range of styles. The Oaxaca Old Fashioned played a role in making that happen, and all these years after its creation, it still holds up. The drink is as delicious, balanced and relevant as ever.
Be sure to choose a good reposado tequila and a flavorful mezcal with notes of citrus and smoke (Ward’s original recipe featured Del Maguey Mezcal San Luis Del Rio). Then go the extra mile and ignite your orange peel garnish for an added burst of flavor, plus a pretty cool light show—just like Mayahuel served it.
1 1/2 ounces reposado tequila (preferably El Tesoro)
1/2 ounce mezcal (preferably Del Maguey San Luis Del Rio)
1 barspoon agave nectar
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Garnish: flamed orange peel
Add the tequila, mezcal, agave nectar and Angostura bitters to an Old Fashioned glass with one large ice cube, and stir until well-chilled.
Flame an orange peel over the top of the drink to express its oils, then garnish with the peel.