I first picked up Watchmen on a rainy afternoon in London. On my own and out of cash, I walked through the doors of Forbidden Planet, found myself an unoccupied patch of carpet in the store’s basement and read the much acclaimed graphic novel from cover to cover, realizing by the end of it that I had been in the store for hours. There’s no dismissing the endless amounts of praise Watchmen has received over the past twenty years. Its historical context may have faded into public complacency, but Alan Moore’s dense, engaging storytelling and Dave Gibbons’ stark depiction of a world being torn apart by its own ambitions and fears remains a riveting, media-bending work of art with few rivals.
After getting my first taste of the cocktail renaissance at the San Francisco speakeasy Bourbon and Branch, I realized that the upcoming Watchmen adaptation would give me a perfect way to break in my own mixology chops at home: a novelty cocktail. Not just any novelty cocktail, but novelty cocktails based on Watchmen characters. What more could a geek with a crutch want?
Considering the project, my thoughts gravitated toward Dr. Manhattan, Alan Moore’s blue-skinned, near-omnipotent anti-savior of mankind who happens to have the same name as one of my favorite cocktails. Treading on the grounds of a drink as sacred as the Manhattan, of course, presented quite a challenge to me, the amateur mixologist. As I wrestled with the moral quandaries of just how much to vary the formula for my Dr. Manhattan, I decided to work on an alter ego cocktail to round out my skills (and lock in a backup should my greater ambition fail to be realized).
If Dr. Manhattan were to be a twist on the classic Manhattan, Jon Osterman would be my twist on another of my favorite cocktails, the old fashioned. While considerably more difficult to execute than the Manhattan, the fact that my old fashioned would be the reflection of a human character and not a super being whose consciousness exists in four dimensions helped greatly in making the creation of the Osterman that much more plausible.
Jon Osterman, watch maker turned nuclear physicist by the onslaught of modernity, is a grade-A specimen of humanity before he meets the fateful events that turn him into an unwitting superhero: diligent, intelligent and sophisticated enough to have a taste for the subtleties of life, be they in atoms or the gears of his father’s old pocket watch.
Likewise, the Osterman should be a vibrant, well-rounded cocktail representing all aspects of the traditional flavor spectrum. It begins with a good bourbon. I’ve found Maker’s Mark to be a fine staple. The fact that it’s made with wheat lends a bit of a sweeter touch to it, contributing to its sense of balance. It’s also more affordable than truly small batch bottles of taster’s bourbon, which can run anywhere from $40 to $90 each. Maker’s, refined enough to outclass the well but commonplace enough to pour on a regular basis, is a great go-to spirit when it comes to Kentucky straight.
To give my bourbon an extra layer of flavor, I infused it with tea, trying a few varieties before settling on Earl Grey. While I was enamored with the concept of black tea bourbon, the taste of plain black was too easily washed away when mixed. Earl Grey gave me the deep, aged character I needed while providing the aromatic notes that could cut through the other ingredients of the Osterman. Knowing nothing at first about infusing alcohol with tea, I was surprised at how easy it was to add this kind of complexity in a short amount of time. It only takes a few bags of tea and two to three hours to completely infuse twelve ounces of bourbon with the essence of Earl Grey. Taste your whiskey every hour as it infuses and avoid leaving tea bags in the alcohol for more than three hours. By that point, you’ll only be adding unnecessary bitterness to the soup- if you want more tea, just pop in a fresh bag and keep steeping and tasting until you’re satisified.
The fact that Earl Grey contains bergamot orange extract is fitting; the first step in mixing the Osterman is a slice of orange, preferably a honey orange or some other sweet, juicy variety (when making any variant of old fashioned, use a quality orange. Not only will giant, near-yellow oranges not taste good in the drink, they won’t fit in an old fashioned glass when sliced). Place the slice in the bottom of the glass, then add two generous dashes each of Angostura bitters and orange bitters (I recommend Fee Brothers orange bitters, which are on the tart side of things).
Next, add an ounce of something sweet. An old fashioned calls for 1 oz. sugar and 1 oz. water. I use 1/2 oz. simple syrup (a solution that’s equal parts sugar and water) and 1/2 oz. St. Germain (an elderflower liqueur that is quickly becoming my favorite cocktail ingredient, apertif, digestif and nightcap). If you can’t find St. Germain, use an ounce of simple syrup. Then, muddle the orange. The goal in muddling isn’t to pulverize the fruit or mash the orange pulp. Gently bruise the peel of the orange, making a few circles around. This will release the flavors of the orange while blending it with the bitters and sweets.
Taste your muddled mixture to make sure it’s not too sweet (an extra dash of bitters can fix this), then throw in a few ice cubes. Pour 2 oz. of the Earl Grey-infused Maker’s Mark over the rocks, then stir thoroughly until the drink is well chilled and well mixed.
With the final stir, the Osterman is complete. Do not add extra water, soda, fruit or syrup. Just take a drink. The cocktail should be smooth and slightly viscous. It has a bold nose of tea and orange rind, followed by the more subtle notes of St. Germain. Bourbon provides the warm, American body it was made for, while bitters round out the palate, keeping citrus and sugar in check. Like the old fashioned, The Osterman is hopefully an elegant drink, endowed with a certain amount of raw power but tempered by an attention to detail that aims to brings the senses to life.
…Now, how exactly do we go about turning an old fashioned cocktail blue?
2 oz. Earl Grey-infused bourbon
1/2 oz. simple syrup
1/2 oz. St. Germain
2-4 dashes Angostura bitters
2 dashes orange bitters
1 orange slice