Celebrate Old-Fashioned Month And The Holidays With A Chai Old-Fashioned

Food & Drink

November is Old-Fashioned Month and I have seen Old-Fashioned recipes made out of practically every spirit. But to me, this time of year is for bourbon, rye, whiskey or whisky—no matter how you spell it, Thanksgiving and pre-Christmas rituals go hand-in-hand with brown water. 

Whether you’re drinking it or cooking with it, bourbon and whisky bring out all the warm winter spices that we associate with colder weather and richer flavors. 

I’ve been on an Indian Chai tea kick for the past couple of years, and that inspired me to make a Brown Sugar Chai Simple Syrup for sweetening my tea and for cocktails. The tea tastes like the holidays and I especially like the Vanilla Chai from Vahdam India which is packed at the source (in India). The bits of vanilla bean, black tea, and woodsy spices of black pepper, cloves, cinnamon and cardamom go hand and hand with all the foods of the holidays and Old-Fashioneds. If you prefer ginger or fennel chai or other flavors, there are more than a dozen Chai combinations to choose from including a green tea Chai.

When you are entertaining, it’s easy enough to make one or two Old-Fashioneds, but when you start making multiple Old-Fashioneds it becomes quite the job. This Chai simple syrup is my holiday Old-Fashioned shortcut. I pour about 1 ounce of the syrup into a glass filled with ice, shake 2 to 3 shakes of orange bitters, one of Angostura bitters, (usually) add bourbon, stir; add a twist of orange peel and enjoy. It’s as easy as that. 

I love the way that the Chai simple syrup brings out all the inherent spicy notes in my favorite bourbon or rye. When I was introduced to the Indian Single Malt Whisky, Paul John Christmas Edition 2021, I instantly knew that I needed to make a Chai Old- Fashioned with it and unite my favorite Indian tea with this exceptional Indian spirit.

The whisky is produced at the John Distilleries in Goa, India, and I admit that this is the first Indian whisky that I have tasted. The single malt is made from husky Indian six-row barley that is harvested in the foothills of the Himalayas, and is distilled in special long-neck copper pot stills. To make the limited Christmas edition, the liquid is matured in ex-bourbon barrels and a “mélange of port and madeira casks in Goa where the tropical climate helps the whiskies mature faster,” according to the brand.

The fruity whisky has a nose like a great aged, slightly-smoky fruitcake with notes that include orange marmalade, dark raisins, nutty caramelized sugar and spice so it is no surprise that the brand suggests pairing it neat or on the rocks with Christmas fruitcake. I can see where that is a terrific pairing, and with all the spices of the Brown Sugar Chai Simple Syrup and the fruity Paul John Christmas whisky, my Chai Old- Fashioned is akin to drinking a liquid fruitcake.

Chai Old-Fashioned

Makes one drink, but can be easily multiplied to make a pitcher of drinks

2-3       ounces Paul John Indian Single Malt Christmas Edition 2021

1          ounce Brown Sugar Chai Simple Syrup (see below)

3          dashes Orange Bitters 

1          dash Angostura Bitters        

1          long orange peel, cut with a vegetable peeler, for garnish

Place all ingredients in a glass or pitcher—if you are making more than 2 drinks—and stir with a mixing spoon.

Place a large ice cube in a rocks glass, or your favorite Old-Fashioned glass. Place the orange peel around ice cube with the orange side facing out. Strain into glass and enjoy.

Brown Sugar Chai Simple Syrup:

Makes about 1 1/4 cups or about 11 ounces

1          cup filtered water

1          cup light brown sugar

1          tablespoon Chai tea, such as Vanilla Chai

Add water and sugar to a small heavy duty pot. Whisk well.  Bring everything to a low boil and stir.  Add the tea and cover the pot. Turn off the heat and let sit for about 30 minutes.  Strain through a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth into a clean glass jar. 

Refrigerate to keep the syrup fresh.  I use about an ounce of simple syrup for each drink.

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