While the actual origin of the Old Fashioned is unclear, it was designated as an “Old Fashioned” in 1880 by the International Bartenders Association, and is one of the drinks that the IBA calls an “official cocktail.” Exact historical details aside. This is a drink that has been around a long time.
Now the thing about an Old Fashioned is that if you line ten people up who like Old Fashioneds and ask them their preferred recipe, you will get ten different answers. People will vary in the bourbon, whiskey or rye (perfectly okay, btw), what kind of fruit they prefer (some like the pulp, some like me, just like the zest of either a lemon or a lime – or both). However, there are a few things that seem to be common among Old Fashioned-lovers that almost all share – at least that has been my experience in speaking with people. So if you tend bar, or are making an Old Fashioned for other, you might think of the things I mention below:
- I want to taste my spirit. The reason I prefer an Old Fashioned over any other drink is for the whiskey I’m drinking; be it bourbon, rye or straight whiskey. Also, I don’t need a lot of sugar. A single lump, half a pack, or a teaspoon of simple syrup will do. But more importantly, I don’t need a full glass, so go easy on the water. In fact, don’t even bother with the water if you’re using simple syrup. But if you’re using a sugar cube or granulated suger, only use enough water to help melt the sugar during muddling. That means just a splash of water.
- Be generous with the bitters, please. I prefer a mix of Jerry Thomas bitters with orange bitters, but whatever bitters you use, please don’t skimp on the bitters. Remember, the Old Fashioned started out as a medicinal, and as such, much of its flavor comes from the botanicals in the bitters.
- Go easy on the ice! See the picture above? It’s a single large cube. That’s all you need, or a globe, if you don’t have a big cube. The point is that a large cube melts much slower and will thus not dilute the alcohol quickly. If you have neither a big cube or globe, please only fill the cocktail glass 1/4 full of ice; that is, just enough so the liquid covers the ice. That’s it. Remember item 1.? I want to taste my spirit!
- Please use a proper glass. An Old Fashioned should be served in a single Old Fashioned glass; that is, a glass that holds about 6-8oz. If you don’t have one on hand, it’s not a problem. Don’t think you have to have full glass, or think it’s weird that the glass is only 1/4 full. That said, back in May, when I went to move my daughter out of her dorm in Honolulu, at Champs in the Kaimuki district, the bartender only had double glasses, and it REALLY bugged him to see the glass only 1/4 full. So he gave me an extra shot to stop being weirded out. Not that I complained… 🙂
- Cherries are optional, and more importantly should only be garnish. Like item 3. above, I want to taste my spirit! I don’t need the extra sweetness imparted from the cherries (there should always be two, by the way), and I especially don’t want a bunch of cherry bits floating in my drink. For the record, I don’t mind citrus pulp, as some bartenders prefer muddling the pulp and leaving the rind alone. Personally, while I lean towards an Old Fashioned made with citrus zest, I absolutely don’t mind one made with muddled pulp, just so long as you don’t muddle the pith as well. As for the cherries, I like whole cherries to marinate in the liquid, and the dark Luxardo cherries are the best. But as I said, let them be garnish. Please do NOT muddle them.
I know… I’m sounding rather elitist, but to me the Old Fashioned is the pinnacle of cocktails. It’s so simple, but the slightest adjustment will make a world of difference in its flavor profile. Change the whiskey, change the citrus component, change the sugar, and it can have a dramatic effect on the outcome. That’s why I’ll never get tired of that drink!
On another note, I thought I’d try a “budget” bourbon, so I got a bottle of Rebel Yell for $9.99 at Trader Joe’s this evening. Wow! I’m amazed at just how delicious this bourbon is. While my go-to tends to be Bulleit Bourbon or Rye, Rebel Yell is a great budge alternative that will not disappoint. However, being a cheap bourbon, how I feel tomorrow after drinking a couple of rounds tonight will be the telling factor. Usually with cheap alcohol, cheaper can mean a bad hangover. We’ll just have to wait and see… 🙂