A scotch old-fashioned may sound like an obvious choice, and any bartender could likely cobble together a passable approximation. But that’s nothing new. From the first sip of the unassumingly complex “licorice” cocktail at NYC’s Mace, however, it’s clear that this take is a prime example of how bartenders should strive to push the boundaries of drink-making.

Barman Nico de Soto has built an infusion-driven menu in which each cocktail is centered around its namesake’s spice or herb. It’s a brilliant way to illustrate a list of obscure and original creations and encourages patrons to experiment in their flavor choices without getting bogged down in the unknowns. 

The licorice cocktail starts with Compass Box’s Great King St. “Artist’s Blend,” a decidedly malt-driven blended scotch based on the old blends detailed by author Alfred Barnard in his 19th-century book, The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom. De Soto complements the spirit with a Kombu and Nori seaweed infusion, which adds only a hint of salt and umami and still allows the delicate toast, cereal and vanilla notes of the spirit to shine through. 

Even the licorice takes a backseat to the whisky base via a subtle syrup, and the old-fashioned’s signature Angostura bitters and orange-lemon citrus twists are intentionally both missing; a few dashes of Black Mission fig bitters artfully take their place. Though infusions like this do take a bit of prep work, I hope to see more cocktails with this level of nuance and balance. In this case, it’s well worth the effort and a detour to witness de Soto’s creations. Enjoy.

Traditional Old-Fashioned

Servings: 1 cocktail

Ingredients
2 ounces Elijah Craig Bourbon
1 cube sugar
3 dashes Angostura Bitters

Directions:

  1. In a chilled rocks glass, muddle one sugar cube, bitters and a splash of soda to help emulsify.
  2. Add bourbon and a solid cube of ice, then stir lightly for five to ten seconds.
  3. Garnish with a lemon and orange twist.

Licorice Cocktail

Servings: 1 cocktail

Ingredients
2 ounces seaweed-infused Compass Box Great King St. “Artist’s Blend” Whisky
1 teaspoon licorice syrup
3 dashes Brooklyn Hemispherical Black Mission Fig Bitters

Directions:

  1. Infuse Great King St. whisky with Kombu and Nori seaweed for two hours.
  2. In a chilled rocks glass, combine infused whisky, licorice syrup and bitters.
  3. Add an ice ball and stir lightly for five to ten seconds. No garnish.

Prep time: 2 minutes (not including infusion)
Difficulty: Moderate

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