To celebrate a full year of keeping this blog kicking, I wanted to go back to the beginning. This cocktail was featured on the spring/summer 2015 menu at the former Oddjob in San Francisco (no affiliation with whatever its current incarnation is under new ownership) and is my first cocktail to be featured on a menu.
In the early days, before I grew comfortable creating the kinds of wildly narrative-driven cocktails I made at Pouring Ribbons, I often threw together ingredients that tasted good and hoped for the best. Black cardamom quickly became one of my "crutch" ingredients. I was also a 20-something-year-old smoker with an underdeveloped palate. I was obsessed with rye whiskey, intensely-peated Scotch, and bitter amari. This drink was born of these predilections.
This is my now-updated spec of the drink, renamed for an inside joke shared by the staff about the song "TB Sheets," an ambling, bluesy, frankly-somewhat-annoying song by trash human Van Morisson, which became our closing time anthem.
TB Sheets recipe
2 oz Rye Whiskey
1 tsp Ardbeg 10 Single Malt Scotch Whisky
1 tsp Fernet Branca
1 tsp Rich Black Cardamom Syrup
1 dash Angostura Bitters
Glass: Nick & Nora
Garnish: Orange Twist
My first shift as a bartender began on January 5, 2015, at the former Oddjob & SRO in San Francisco, California. The following year, 50-70 hour work weeks served as a kind of accelerated boot camp.
Within three months I went from not knowing how to bartend at all to working two different programs full time. I also undertook ordering and inventory, did the cooking and prep for both programs, became bar manager, and had the opportunity to collaborate with the former GM to contribute to the bar's menu.
For my first menu cocktail, I wanted to come out of the gate swinging with a streamlined, boozy, classic-inspired sipper which encompassed all the bravado of an inexperienced bartender desperately trying to prove himself: rye whiskey, Scotch whiskey, Fernet, and Ango. To borrow a phrase from The Youth, it was the ultimate "tryhard" cocktail.
At its time of conception, I was inspired by a Black Manhattan, but in retrospect, this is very obviously a Toronto riff.
2 oz rye whiskey
.25 oz Fernet Branca
1 tsp Simple Syrup
1 dash Angostura Bitters
The Toronto is an Old Fashioned-style cocktail (spirit, sugar, water, bitters). Like the Sazerac, it is served without ice. But while the Sazerac embraces its steamy New Orleans roots, its down-serve is content with warming in the drinker's hand or 100-degree heat, the Canadian Toronto is served up in a chilled coupe to keep it colder for longer.
Whatever my starting spec was, it's clear that I strayed from this template for the final version that appeared on the menu and still lives on the bar's old website. Unfortunately, I never thought of a name for the cocktail and was more than a little disappointed when the menu read “A Scotsman on the FDR on his way to Kentucky.” I mean, I get it but come on...
Scotsman on the Blah Blah Blah
1.5 oz Dickel Rye Whiskey
1 oz Laphroaig 10 Single Malt Scotch
.5 oz Lazzaroni Fernet
.25 oz Black Cardamom Syrup
1 dash Angostura Bitters
Maraschino cherry garnish
My young bartender palate shows in the original spec: overly boozy, exceptionally bitter, and needlessly dry. At the time, all my stirred drinks were too boozy, my shaken drinks too sour, and both usually too dry to be balanced. Nuance and restraint were lost on me. My underdeveloped palate only responded to massive flavors in high doses.
For every reason imaginable, this drink was begging to be rejiggered and renamed. I dialed down the booze, rebalanced the spirit blend, reigned in the Fernet, concentrated the sweetener, and eliminated the non-functional garnish.
Most importantly, I renamed it.
The original version of TB Sheets used Dickel Rye. I'm sure it still works well, but I haven't tasted it in almost four years. Based on proof, profile, and spirit sourcing, I imagine Redemption would make for a faithful substitute.
I can confirm Old Overholt and Rittenhouse both work well. I reckon, like most cocktails with small amounts of intensely flavored modifiers, just about any rye will work in this one. At the end of the day it's an Old Fashioned, so choose whatever whiskey you like best.
Ardbeg 10 Single Malt Scotch Whisky
I'm not sure how I got away with putting an entire ounce of single malt Islay Scotch in this drink, but it sure as hell didn't need all of it. Rather than treating this as a split base cocktail, the Scotch now serves as a modifier. A teaspoon is more than enough to provide plenty of smoke.
I'm partial to Ardbeg 10, but Laphroaig Quarter Cask, Lagavulin 16, or just about any other briny, overly peaty Scotch will work in its place.
Even in a chilled coupe, serving this cocktail up means it will only warm over time. The intensely minty Fernet Branca provides a cooling sensation on the palate so even as it warms it seems to stay "minty cool."
Apparently, a personal disagreement with a brand rep made Oddjob one of the only cocktail bars in the entire city of San Francisco that didn't carry Fernet Branca. Thankfully, we had 6 or 7 other Fernets. I originally wanted Fernet Leopold for its cardamom, caraway, and cacao notes, but this proved too cost-prohibitive (probably because of the full ounce of Laphroaig and 1.5 oz Dickel Rye). Instead, I settled on Lazzaroni's Fernet as it was similar enough to Branca.
A much more reasonable quarter ounce of Fernet Branca does the trick in this updated spec, though Lazzaroni isn't a bad substitute. I also enjoyed it with Contratto Fernet, but ultimately the clumsy, abrasive minty-ness of Fernet Branca works best.
Rich Black Cardamom Syrup*
I reduced this slightly, from a quarter ounce to a teaspoon. I also took it from a 1:1 simple syrup to a 2:1 rich syrup for texture's sake in this bone-dry cocktail.
Consider this: because of the volume pre-dilution, the finished drink is something like 45% water. Cocktails like the Toronto, Alaska, or even bone-dry Martinis often see this much water content. A mere teaspoon of 2:1 syrup adds enough viscosity to create a slightly velvety texture rather than a coupe of icy whiskey water.
I do not suggest using the lighter, more floral green cardamom as a substitute here – the spicier, smoky notes of black cardamom are what you want.
A little confectionary nudge in the direction of Angostura's spicy cinnamon and clove ties the whole thing together and rounds out the trifecta of baking spice with the black cardamom.
Orange Peel Garnish
The original garnish was a maraschino cherry. I've ditched it in this update because the flavor is out of sync with the other ingredients.
A little citrus on the nose brightens each sip and compliments the cardamom-led spice brigade so well it's almost transformative. It also brings some balance to the overall intensity of the alcoholic ingredients.
*Rich Black Cardamom Syrup
300g demerara sugar
150g hot water
10g black cardamom
1. Combine the sugar and hot, freshly boiled water. Blend hard until the sugar completely dissolves.
2. Toast the cardamom seeds on low heat until aromatic, being mindful not to burn them.
3. Combine the toasted cardamom and the hot simple syrup. Steep for 24 hours. Fine strain the cardamom, rinse it, and dry it for re-use since it will still have flavor. [Yields 12oz of syrup]