If you don't have the Old Fashioned in your home bar repertoire, you ain't doing it right. It's simple mix of just a few key ingredients, but getting it right takes a little TLC. Brush up on your knowledge of this all-time great and learn how to make the best Old Fashioned of your whole damn life.
With a name like the Old Fashioned, it comes as a no brainer that you’re dealing with the godfather of cocktails, the original gangsta, the daddy. In fact, one of the first documented definitions of the word ‘cocktail’, in 1806, was a mixture of spirits, bitters, sugar and water - literally the four necessary ingredients for the strong yet balanced Old Fashioned.
Back in the 1800s, before pro distilling techniques and sexy sherry cask ageing, methanol used to be pretty prominent in spirits, and that sh*t does not taste good. To mask the flavour, folks would add sugar and bitters to help it go down easy. This stiff drink became ‘the thing’ in Chicago in the 1860s, but it wasn’t until the 1880s that a bartender at the Pendennis Club in Kentucky made one for James E Pepper, a well-known bourbon distiller, and called it an 'Old Fashioned'. Pepper soon brought the serve to Waldorf Astoria hotel bar in New York City, where it became Regina George-levels of popular in the early cocktail scene.
The Old Fashioned has had a load of variations through the years, some amazing, some cringeworthy. There was a phase in the 1990s where orange and cherries were muddled in, but we try to forget about that. (According to Difford's Guide, the practice of muddling fruit in the Old Fashioned actually started way back during Prohibition to mask the flavours of rough spirits, so we'll forgive this one.) Thankfully, the strong, simple and boozy style is back in vogue.
It all starts with a solid base of good whiskey. Bourbon or rye are the classic spirits of choice, depending on taste. (Don’t know the difference? You need to swat up with our guide to whiskey.) There’s a helluva lot of wicked bottles out there, but when we’re stirring it up, these are what we go for...
Bulleit: Both their rye and their bourbon make a killer Old Fashioned. The bourbon's all gentle spiciness, with smooth vanilla and toffee notes to keep it sweet. The rye has a spot-on classic profile: bold and crisp, spiced and peppery, with a rich hit of honey.
Four Roses Small Batch: Smoky and sweet, this bourbon has fruit, honey and spice with dryness coming through. There’s a fair bit of heat in there too but no sweat, it won't blow your head off.
Rittenhouse Rye: Not for the faint-hearted. At 100 proof, this stuff packs a serious punch, but in all the right ways. It’s pretty hot and heavy straight, but when stirred over ice flavours of gingerbread, dark chocolate and dark wood open up. Boom.
Angostura Bitters: If the booze is the soup, the bitters are the seasoning. No one really knows exactly what’s in it, but you’ll get notes of nutmeg, cinnamon and cardamom, all very bitter, obviously. You only need a couple drops. Think small and adjust to taste.
Sugar: Everything tastes better with a little sugar, sugar. We fancy using sugar syrup to keep things simple and texturally smooth, but you can use a sugar cube or the granulated stuff if you prefer.
Ice: Think ice is just ice? Think again. The kinda ice you use can change the whole drink. Go big with either badass blocks or big chunks that create a small amount of dilution while chilling everything to perfection.
Combine the whiskey, bitters and sugar syrup in a mixing glass over ice and stir. The purpose here is twofold: you want to chill the drink down, but you also want to slightly dilute, adding that tiny bit of water to get all the flavours outta the booze and bitters.
Pour into a sexy tumbler (no one wants a killer cocktail in a cracked IKEA glass) and add - you guessed it - more ice to keep things chilled. It’s nothing without the signature garnish of orange peel: give it a twist over the glass to release the oils and spruce that cocktail up.
It wouldn’t be an American drink if it didn’t try to rebel every now and then. You’ll see Old Fashioneds with rum, tequila and all sorts depending on mood. We’re partial to a Rum Old Fashioned with maple syrup, and we also like to get a little wild with these riffs on the Old Fashioned.