“I'll have an Old Fashioned, please,” I said to Hoover, the bearded wunderkind behind the bar at Harlow's, the first time I visited. He asked about my liquor preference–rye, thanks–and then he set my drink on fire.
I almost didn't see it–it was just a blue flash–but then I wondered what could possibly be going on. Usually mixing bitters, sugar, citrus and whiskey doesn't result in fire, though I do know a bunch of Mythbusters-obsessed pyromaniacs who could challenge that remark. A raised eyebrow and a look that said quite plainly, “Why are you playing with a lighter in a pint glass?” elicited the explanation: Hoover was torching a cherry for garnish by misting it with 151-proof rum and setting it on fire. (Of course he was. First thing I thought of!)
More concerned looks. Old Fashioneds with cherries are nearly always cloying sweet. I shouldn't have worried, though; these aren't the nuclear pink ice cream cherries of HFCS-led death, nor are they the sticky Luxardo cherries so beloved of craft bartenders. No, these are cherries cured in spice syrup right there at the bar; there's a hit of cinnamon and cardamom in there, and because they've been flamed–cauterized shut, really–they don't exude the thick, sweet spooge that has ruined so many Old Fashioneds. It adds just the perfect tinge of caramelized sweetness to the drink.
The best part about this is that it doesn't matter who's behind the stick; it could be Hoover, or it could be bar manager Roy Hanzal, or, as in a recent Tuesday night, general manager Ana Maria Osborne. All of them know how to make with the pyrotechnics, and all of them make excellent Old Fashioneds.
Now my rule is, “No cherries in my Old Fashioned… except at Harlow's.”