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, the first documented definition of ‘cocktail’ back in 1806 was a mixture of spirits, bitters, sugar and water - literally the four necessary ingredients for a good glass of the strong yet balanced that also happen to be the ingredients in an Old Fashioned.
Back in the 1800s, before pro distilling techniques and sexy sherry cask ageing barrels, Methanol used to be pretty prominent and that sh*t does not taste good so they’d add sugar and bitters to help it go down easy. This stiff drink became ‘the thing’ in Chicago in the 1860’s but it wasn’t until the 1880’s that a bartender at the Pendennis Club in Kentucky called it the Old Fashioned in honour of James E. Pepper, a well-known bourbon distiller, who soon brought it to Waldorf-Astoria Hotel bar in New York City.
The Old Fashioned has had a load of variations through the years; some amazing, some cringeworthy. There was a sad phase in the 1990’s where orange and cherries were muddled in, but we try to forget about that it. Thankfully tastebuds, along with everything else, have gone retro and we’re back to the traditional methods - strong, simple and boozy, yet with a certain panache. Changeable and yet pretty damn easy to make, it all starts with a solid base of good whiskey. American Bourbon or Rye is the classic 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 whiskeys out there but when we’re stirring it up, these are what we go for: Bulliet - 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 is straight rye; bold and crisp, spicy and with a rich taste 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 what’s in this but you’ll taste bits of nutmeg, cinnamon and cardamon, all very bitter, obviously. You only need a couple drops. Think small. Sugar - Everything tastes better with a little sugar, sugar. Get a cube in that glass. Ice - Thought ice was just ice? Think again. The kinda ice you use can change the whole drink. Go big with badass blocks or big chunks that create a small amount of dilution while chilling everything to perfection.
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 cube sugar
Orange peel for garnish
Place all ingredients into a mixing glass, add a hunk of ice and get stirring.
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’ll take a dark rich rum, thanks.