Agave nectar has a much higher sugar content than simple syrup or even demerara syrup, so you don’t need to use as much of it in an Old Fashioned. Additionally, the sugar molecules in agave are primarily fructose, as opposed to sucrose as in table sugar, which our taste receptors perceive to be sweeter. So a half teaspoon is plenty.
There are three grades of agave nectar: light, amber, and dark. The darker grades are more intense, viscous and have stronger caramel flavors. I prefer the using the milder light agave because it allows the tequila to come through more. Though in an Old Fashioned you can probably get away with using any of them. That being said, if you don't have agave nectar, you can easily substitue in a different sweetener without sacrificing much.
For years I only thought of tequila as the base of a Margarita or a shot I would later regret. But this drink changed my perception forever. It showed me that when made well, tequila could exhibit the same levels of depth and complexity as any top shelf sipping spirit, just in a completely different and fascinating way.
The Tequila Old Fashioned, a modern classic of the new cocktail age, uses barrel-aged tequila as its base - called reposado or añejo tequila - and is constructed just like a classic Old Fashioned, with a few minor modifications.
For the sweetener, agave nectar is typically used, which is a natural choice, as tequila is made from the agave plant. But symmetry aside, the subtle notes of caramel and rich silky texture are a befitting match for the cocktail's delicate balance of flavors. For bitters, classic Angostura is great and all you need. Though the addition of mole (mole-ay) bitters add a hint of spice - both sweet and hot - that really brings the drink into its own. I'm partial to Bittermen's Xocolatl Mole bitters. I waffle between using 1 dash or 2, so that's a decision I leave to you.
2 oz reposado or añejo tequila
scant teaspoon agave nectar
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 dash mole bitters - optional, but highly recommended
orange peel for garnish (grapefruit is nice too)
In a chilled mixing glass, combine the tequila, agave, and bitters. Fill it with ice and stir for 18-25 seconds. Strain into a chilled rocks glass over ice - ideally one large cube. Express the oils of orange peel and add it into the glass.
Alternatively, combine all ingredients in a rocks glass. Stir them with ice, garnish and serve.
Tequila Old Fashioned
Aged Tequila: Reposado & Añejo
The clear tequila we use in Margaritas is called blanco tequila (aka white/silver/platinum). Reposado (rep-oh-sah-doh) and añejo (an-yay-ho) tequilas are classifications of tequila that have been aged in a barrel. Ex-bourbon barrels are typically used, though not always. This imparts the spirit with some color, along with typical barrel flavors like vanilla and toffee.
Reposado, which means “rested”, and has spent from 2 months up to a year in a barrel and has a golden straw-like color. Its flavors are subtler and a bit more vegetal. Añejo, or "aged", is aged for 1 to three years and will be a darker amber with more pronounced barrel flavors. There is also a category called extra añejo, which is aged for 3 years or more. These are not widely circulated and very expensive. I’m saying one would be bad in this drink, but I don’t think it’s necessary. To be clear, none of these are to be confused with gold/joven tequila, which is typically artificially colored, very low quality, and should be avoided at all costs.
While the barrel flavors are certainly important, a quality aged tequila should still taste like tequila, that is agave. Sometimes I think producers can a little too carried away with aging to the point that the spirit just tastes like wood. Sure, it might be tasty. But as a tequila, that totally misses the point.
The tequila you use will naturally have a tremendous impact on this drink. My favorite Tequila Old Fashioneds have been made with reposados, I can personally recommend Partida and El Testoro, both are spectacularly balanced. But that’s just me, no means conclusive, there are plenty of wonderful añejos out there that will offer a richer and more decadent Old Fashioned experience. It's your cocktail, you do you. If you have, or find, something you particularly love, please let me know and I’ll be sure to seek it out.