Not content with a whole heap of history behind it, arguably more than any other classic, ac competently made Old Fashioned is a reliable rubberstamp of quality for customers. A staggeringly straightforward serve in theory, the Old Fashioned has, in practice, over the centuries, been subjected to all manner of unnecessary interpretations – and is all too often reduced from a wonderfully austere, unembellished drink to a really rather silly concoction undeserving of the “old Fashioned’ name.
If a bar can make an excellent Old Fashioned, chances are that the other drinks on the venue’ list can be deftly delivered too. It’s a badge of honour among modern bartenders. In fact, the “Old Fashioned” has been consistently named as the most asked for cocktail among the venues that make up the “World’s Top 50 Bars” – proof that it truly is a calling card of quality.
As arguably the oldest recorded cocktail, first appearing as the “Whisky Cocktail” in Jerry Thomas’ Bartenders Guide back in 1862, the Old Fashioned has a whole load of history behind it, its timeline is one of tumult and all manner of twists and turns while its origins, as ever, the topic of much debate.
The most common version of its beginnings point to the Pendennis Club in Louisville, supposedly served up for Colonel James E Pepper by an anonymous bartender. While the Pendennis insists it is the drink’s birthplace, factual corroboration is more than a little flimsy.
Then again, there’s not any convincing evidence of it being born elsewhere. The search for the origins of the Old Fashioned has remained a frustratingly futile exercise for cocktail historians – no-one knows or perhaps will ever know where it was first served – but the earliest written appearance of the recipe comes from a chap in Chicago called Theodore Proulx, who having bartended at a drinking establishment called Chapin & Gore, wrote a cocktail book in 1888 called the “Bartenders’ Manual”.
In the interim 130 years, the Old Fashioned has been abused and subjected to all manner of unnecessarily absurd interpretations – silly squirts of soda water, insufficient and inferior ice, muddling of fruit and less than wonderful whiskey.
But now the Old Fashioned is in the midst of a revival, revelling in a renewed respect among bartenders who, in a wider quest for authenticity, and inspired by a revival in Rye whiskey, have returned to the original recipes that first earned it its reputation as a true classic.
As well as making it the way it is meant to be made – a combination of water, Whiskey, sugar and bitters – bartenders have riffed respectfully on the classic without demeaning it as a drink; playing around with different bitters and sugars, substituting whiskey with other spirits including reposado tequila, aged rum, single malts and Blended Scotch, Cognac and Armagnac, Calvados or even genever. The Old-Fashioned recipe is a template that one can apply to most spirits.
In fact, the Oaxaca Old Fashioned, created by Phil Ward in New York, is a cocktail that opened bartender’s eyes to agave spirits while the Benton’s Old Fashioned, designed by Don Lee of “Please Don’t Tell”, was the first drink to introduce fat-washing spirits.
The simplicity of the Old Fashioned may open itself up to interpretation, but it certainly doesn’t suffer foolishness and frippery gladly. The past has proven that frivolous twists that depart dramatically from its core components are rarely well-received.
Muck about to much with this cornerstone of the bartenders art and your guests, just as they did after Prohibition, will soon be asking for a “Whisky Cocktail” the “Old Fashioned way”.
1 teaspoon of sugar syrup
2 dashes of Angostura bitters
75ml Bourbon whiskey
Orange zest to spritz
Method: Place the sugar syrup and bitters in a glass, add one ice cube and stir. Add some of the bourbon and another ice cube and continue stirring. Keep adding ice and bourbon alternately, while stirring, until all the bourbon has been added. Stir again, then squeeze the oil from the orange zest twist over the drink, drop in the zest and continue stirring. The whole process should normally take a few minutes, but if the ice is wet make sure you taste as you go to avoid over-dilution.
Benton’s Old Fashioned
40 ml bacon fat-infused Bourbon*
5 ml Maple syrup
2 dash Angostura Aromatic Bitters
Stir bourbon and maple syrup in a mixing glass with ice. Then add bitters and stir. Strain into a child ‘Old Fashioned’ glass filled with ice. Granish with an orange slice.
*To make the bacon-infused bourbon: Tale four strips of smoky bacon and fry in a pan. Take 30ml of bacon fat and strain it into a container filled with 70cl of bourbon. Leave it to steep in the whiskey for 6-8 hours or overnight at room temperature before placing the bottle in the freezer. Once the fat has congealed in the bottle, strain the bourbon into a new, clean bottle.
Oaxaca Old Fashioned
40ml Ocho Reposado Tequila
12.5ml Lost Explorer Mezcal
1 barspoon agave nectar
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Garnish: orange twist
Method: Set the orange peel to one side before bringing all the ingredients in a glass (Old Fashioned) containing a large ice cube. Stir until chilled. Flame an orange twist over the surface of the drink.
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