After spending most of my time indoors this past week due to sub-freezing conditions and the birth of my first child on Friday the 13th, I've found myself enjoying a fair few glasses of my favorite cocktail, the Old Fashioned.
Not only does this drink make you feel like a proper man, but it encourages creativity and dulls the ear-piercing, inexplicable cries of a fussy newborn.
Classic cocktails have gained popularity in recent years. And like everything that increases in popularity, bastardization is never far behind. Now, I don't like to think of myself as a strict purist in any area of interest, but I do have a healthy respect for the old ways.
Here I'll present the way I make this time-honored drink in a correct-ish manner (you can't always please everyone). Put on your slippers, button your cardigan, and make sure no one's in your comfy chair – it's cocktail time!
In modern society, “cocktail” is used loosely as a catch-all term for any alcoholic concoction.
The historic definition, however, is specifically a mixture of spirits, bitters, sugar, and water.
The name “old fashioned” is said to come from bar patrons ordering a cocktail “the old fashioned way.”
Cocktails, in general, are reported to have emerged for two major reasons.
The first reason being a “hair of the dog” cure. Our forefathers weren't sissies about their libations and used to actually enjoy their spirits neat (straight up).
The morning after a hard night at the pub, they wanted something a little sweeter to nurse their hangovers. Hence, the addition of bitters, sugar, and water.
The second reason to add sweetener and seasoning to spirits was born out of the necessity to mask the poor quality of prohibition era booze.
Old Hank's distillation practices were questionable at best and it would take a few extra ingredients to remove the impression you were enjoying spirits brewed in the same tub Hank used to wash his sock laundry.
Old Fashioned Ingredients/Tools
- 1-2 teaspoons sugar and equal parts water (only enough to dissolve the sugar)
- Simple syrup (a 50/50 mixture of sugar and water – I store mine in this vial)
- Bitters (Angostura is the obvious choice)
- Citrus zest (optional)
- Old fashioned glass (also known as a tumbler or rocks glass)
- Stirring tool (spoon or straw)
(1) Add sugar and water to your glass and mix until dissolved OR use 1-2 teaspoons of simple syrup.
(2) Cut a slice of orange zest, twist to mist oils into the glass, and rub the zest around the rim. Add the zest to the glass or discard.
(3) Add one or two dashes of bitters.
(4) Add an ice cube or two, if desired.
(5) Pour in the good stuff – about 2 ounces of bourbon should do the trick.
(6) Stir, sample the aroma, and enjoy!
I'm a firm believer in mastering the basics. Rolling through stop signs is only acceptable once you've learned to operate a car with a sufficient level of control. Until then, it's best to come to a complete stop.
So once you've mastered the foundation of the old fashioned, feel free to experiment a little. Just know that it's no longer the intended cocktail when you start making alterations.
My suggested variations:
Use rye whiskey instead of bourbon.
Try lemon zest instead of orange, or none at all. Lemon goes great with rye.
Substitute either brown sugar, agave nectar, or other flavored syrups for white sugar to add a little variety.
If the drink is too strong, you can stir to dilute or add a little water or club soda.
A popular addition is muddled fruit, usually an orange wedge and maraschino cherry.
Angostura bitters are the most widely used and the best place to start.
If you're used to drinking lite beer or some fruit juice-soaked drink from your local sports bar, an old fashioned will knock your socks off. Be aware that it may take a little time to develop a taste for them. They're well worth the adjustment period though.