When it came down to a choice between spending her active years as a chemist with beakers and tumblers or as a mixologist with shakers and tumblers, Nunu’s star bartender Leighanne Chrusz opted for the latter. “I have way too much personality to be behind a desk or in a lab,” she tells me on a Saturday evening from home, nursing a cold and mourning her own absence at Nunu’s on one of its busiest nights. Born and raised on the East Coast, Chrusz earned a chemistry degree at Florida State University. “After I graduated college, I went back up to New York and was working in a lab,” she recalls. “That winter was so awful...as soon as spring came around, I packed up my car and drove to San Diego.” Having bartended steadily for 20 years — since her college days — Chrusz says that she’s brought her Old Fashioned recipe from bar to bar. She says she struck upon the felicitous mix after much “lab work.” “I think the most important thing is the fruit you put into it,” she says. “You have to use really fresh oranges and muddle as much of the juice out of the oranges and cherries as you can. If you try to use an old orange or cherry, you’re going to get a bitter taste to it. Some places will take the rind of the orange out, but I leave it in there, the zest and everything.” The end result is a perfect balance of acids and bases that proves the not-so-old adage that you can take the girl out of the chemistry lab…
Kitchen proof: True to its creator’s word, Chrusz’s Old Fashioned is a pleasant blend of bosky and sweet — with Maker’s Mark making its mark on the citrus while the cherries and oranges combine to soften the bourbon’s blow, taking nothing away from the bourbon’s Kentucky bite.
In a cocktail glass:
- 1 maraschino cherry
- 1 orange slice
- 2 dashes bitters
- ½ oz. simple syrup
- 2 oz. Maker’s Mark bourbon
After muddling first four ingredients in a glass, add ice and bourbon, stir, and add a generous garnish of nostalgia.