Hospital Dumpster Fire, or My Complicated Relationship with Scotch

I got a new job. It's kicking my ass – in a good way, but it's still a thing. Sorry I've been AWOL.

Some friends of mine who know I like creative cocktailing got me a book – The Cocktail Codex by the guys at Death & Co. Not only is Death & Co. a legendary bar in New York, they've also built a pretty impressive side-hustle doing consulting work. This book is likely a marketing play, but it's an impressive and insightful one that has a lot to offer mixology nerds like me, so it's all good.

The premise of it is that there are really only six cocktails in the world, and every other cocktail can trace its roots back to these six. That isn't totally revolutionary – I've read such things before, and certainly my favorite Louisville bar, META, is built atop such a foundation.

Where The Cocktail Codex takes things a step further, though, is getting into how those cocktails are structured and why they work so well – what they've bucketed as the core, the balance, and the seasoning.

As the authors are digging into the role of bitters in an Old Fashioned (the seasoning), there's a little side bar with tips on exploring a particular bottle of bitters to see how it will behave in a cocktail. I suddenly recalled the Scofflaw Reserve Bitters I picked up at Goose Island's Bourbon County Stout Proprietor's Day last year and decided it was playtime.

I put a drop in my palm, rubbed my hands together, and sniffed. All I could smell was butterscotch, but I'm also very bad at this kind of thing, so I knew there must be more to it than that. I put it in some in soda water as recommended – bitter chocolate, smoke, and the distinctive flavor of Bourbon County Stout. I took another sniff. Toasted coconut. There was something there I couldn't put my finger on...  custard?  No, marzipan. I cheated and looked at Sccfflaw's Instagram account, and found that I wasn't that far off – BC reserve (obvs), marshmallow, coconut, and cinnamon in high-proof rum.

The marzipan flavor, I realized, was from the Bourbon County Reserve, and the smoke was actually wisps of my next door neighbor's bonfire smoke coming in through the windows. Both flavors suddenly seemed critical to this cocktail I was about to make, so I scrounged up some Disaronno, and after an intense exchange with Google, went out and bought a bottle of Ardbeg An Oa.

Let's talk about Scotch for a minute. I drink Macallan when my wallet can handle it and Monkey Shoulder when it can't, but put some smoky, peaty Scotch in front of me, and I'd sooner clean my bathroom with it than drink it. I laughed my ass off when I heard someone say it "tastes like a burning hospital" – turns out the quote actually came from a Laphroaig ad. Melting latex and charred-out bottles of iodine don't exactly scream "campfire," but since I had just dropped $60 on Google's top pick for "sweet, smoky Scotch," I decided to stay the course.

But wait, shouldn't we be talking about bourbon? This bitters is made from Bourbon County Reserve, after all, so I decided the Scotch would share the spotlight (tbss). But which bourbon? Something spicy and/or boozy to stand up to the smoke, and nutty to complement the amaretto – maybe Blanton's or Elmer T. Lee?

The bottle of 12-Year Elijah Craig Barrel Proof peeked out from behind the others, and the wheels started turning in my head... wasn't the 2018 Bourbon County Reserve aged in barrels that previously housed that very same bourbon?

Why yes, yes it was.

And so we've come full circle. I'm not sure the boys at Death & Co. would approve of the outcome, but here it is.

Hospital Dumpster Fire

2 oz 12-Year Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Bourbon
1 oz amaretto liqueur
.5 oz Ardbeg An Oa Scotch Whisky
.5 oz Bourbon County Brand Stout
Scofflaw Bourbon County Reserve Bitters
Lemon peel
2 Luxardo Maraschino cherries

Combine the bourbon, Scotch, liqueur, beer, and bitters in a mixing glass and stir until chilled. Strain over ice into a tumbler. Express lemon peel; garnish with peel and cherries.

This is one hot, boozy mess, so use caution.