When Hilton Carter was 20 years old, he was a server at Spike & Charlie’s, a fine-dining restaurant in his hometown of Baltimore, Maryland. It was there that the plant expert and interior stylist first learned how to make his signature cocktail, an Old-Fashioned. “An Old-Fashioned is timeless in a way,” he says. “It makes itself available for any moment, any season.”
While Carter is a fan of many different types of drinks, he usually finds himself making Old-Fashioneds whenever people come over. With only a few ingredients, it’s easy to make and low-maintenance, since it can be made directly in the glass. “Serving Old-Fashioneds to friends and family members is good for me, because I feel like I can’t miss,” says Carter. His love of whiskey is so well known that he’s often gifted bottles of bourbon and rye whiskey. “I think it’s the beard,” he jokes.
Carter is the author of several books on plant care, most recently Wild Creations. He also just came out with a collection of plants and accessories for Target. When he wants to bring some nature to his cocktailing, he’ll smoke his Old-Fashioneds with wood chips. It adds some additional flavor and pizazz. “Does it add any greatness to the cocktail? I don’t think so,” Carter laughs. “I think it’s all about the show.”
Here’s how to make Hilton Carter’s Smoky Old-Fashioned.
For his Old-Fashioned, Carter typically prefers sweeter bourbon over spicier rye. “It’s smoother and brings out some of the notes in the Old-Fashioned.” He and his wife, Fiona, keep a number of their favorite spirits in glass decanters; the one for whiskey currently contains Bulleit Bourbon. “It has a great flavor to it that we love and I don’t mind mixing it in a cocktail,” he explains. Carter is full of Baltimore pride, so he uses Sagamore Spirit’s rye when he wants his Old-Fashioned a little drier.
For the rest of the ingredients, Carter goes pretty old school. He muddles a simple white sugar cube with a couple dashes of orange bitters, a Luxardo Maraschino Cherry and a splash of water in a rocks glass. Given that this is his go-to drink, he even has a muddler monogrammed with his initials.
Then the whiskey and a large ice cube go into the glass. “It just comes out looking better” than using several smaller cubes or a large ice sphere. Carter tends to stir his Old-Fashioned quite a bit, to make sure it’s properly diluted before he serves it.
Because Carter feels an Old-Fashioned “has a bit of a parlor trick sense to it,” he often likes to play with his Breville Smoking Gun that he got as a gift from his brother-in-law. He infuses the cocktail using hickory wood chips, and true to form for a professional plant guru, he captures the smoke using, of course, a glass terrarium. “If we’re having another couple over then maybe I’ll break the terrarium out.”
For garnish, Carter adds an orange twist and another maraschino cherry but this time with some syrup from the jar. “It’s important to have that solid cherry to eat at the end,” he asserts. Carter loves the maraschino sweetness that the cherry provides. “It reminds me of being a kid and getting a sundae.” He also insists on only using Luxardo cherries. “I’m a cherry snob,” he says with a grin.
- 3 oz Bourbon
- 1 White sugar cube
- Orange bitters
- Splash water
- 1 Luxardo Maraschino Cherry
- Glass: Rocks
- Garnish: Orange twist and Luxardo Maraschino Cherry with syrup
In a rocks glass, muddle one cherry, the sugar cube, several dashes of bitters and a splash of water. Add the bourbon and one big ice cube. Stir. Put the cocktail under a glass dome with a smoking gun filled with wood chips and let infuse for 1 minute. Garnish with an orange twist and another cherry with some syrup from the jar.
In our new monthly column, House Drink, we talk to people about their favorite cocktails to make for themselves at home.
Illustrations by Olivia McGiff