It’s been a busy couple of weeks around here, and the future doesn’t look much better. Between family obligations, household issues and other life matters that deserve no further attention in this space, there hasn’t been much time to ponder vital Cocktail Chronicles-type questions–such as, “how much Benedictine do you really need to use in a Derby?,” or “what happens if you soak a vanilla bean in Lemon Hart Demerara overproof for a week, then add muscovado syrup to bring it down to a reasonable proof and let it age for a month?”
A hectic time, as you can tell.
But even on hectic days, thirst comes calling. And the busier and more stressful the day (or the slower and lazier–funny how much those sometimes have in common), the more pressing is the need for a straightforward, no-nonsense chin-bracer–the sort of drink that requires little to no effort to make, but offers unparalleled excellence in its ability to moisten the clay with the utmost efficiency and style. On these sorts of days, only one drink will do: the Old Fashioned.
True to its name, the Old Fashioned is a reaaally old drink–it predates Jerry Thomas, stretching back into the Dark Ages of American mixology. But I’ll spare you the historic details–did I mention I’ve been busy?–and get right down to business.
There are several ways to make an Old Fashioned; most of them, unfortunately, are wrong. While I usually try to steer clear of the ideological arguments that frequently break out over various cocktails, the Old Fashioned is such a key weapon in any mixological arsenal that I feel it’s important to make an exception and throw down the Cocktail Chronicles’ guidelines for making a proper drink. To wit:
- No water or soda water shall be added to the drink (aside from the few drops–DROPS!— necessary to dissolve the sugar). If you’re a simple syrup-type person, first, recognize you’re not being completely authentic–then, pull out a rich 2:1 demerara syrup, or an old-style gomme syrup, if you’ve got any on hand. Whatever you use, use it sparingly–the Old Fashioned is not meant to be overly sweet.
- No fruit shall be muddled in the drink. Following on the above rule, an Old Fashioned is about whiskey, unsullied and undiluted–mashing up a bunch of oranges and day-glo cherries in the glass before adding the spirit is, in my humble estimation, a crime against nature. I know, everybody does it that way now, and it’s hard to order an Old Fashioned in a bar without getting a bunch of fruity goo floating in a sea of whiskey-flavored seltzer. But shouldn’t it be possible to create some sort of upswell of support where we restore the default on the Old Fashioned to the no-soda-no-muddling side? I mean, it can always be added to the drink for those who lack the intestinal fortitude to consume a real cocktail, but in the name of good whiskey and educated drinking, couldn’t the baseline be the good version, as pure as mother’s milk, saving the watery slime for those who actually like it enough to ask for it?
- Break out the good stuff. Not the great stuff–what, are you nuts?–but use a decent whiskey in the Old Fashioned. Recently I’ve been enjoying the bonded Old Granddad in these–it seems fitting, somehow–but I’m also fond of Old Fashioneds made with Wild Turkey 101, Weller 12-year-old, Knob Creek and Maker’s Mark. The drink is quite good with rye, too (another point in the OF’s favor), but you want one with a little assertiveness to it, such as Wild Turkey Rye or Van Winkle Family Reserve (I’ve heard the bonded Rittenhouse is excellent, though I have yet to lay hands on a bottle).
- For garnish, all you need is a strip of orange or lemon peel (if you just can’t get past the smushing-the-fruit thing, toss the peel in the glass when you first start out with the sugar, water and bitters, then work it out of your system through the honest labor of muddling). If you’re a bartender and you serve an Old Fashioned to me with full fruit regalia, I won’t make a fuss–add the orange wheel and cherry if you feel the need, but just place them on the top so I can flick them aside once you’ve turned your back.
Is creating a by-the-books Old Fashioned, sans fizzy water and fruity muck, the most important thing in the world? Of course not. But when you’ve had a bitch of a day, and a look at the calendar reveals a whole sequence of them still ahead of you, it can sure seem that way.
- 1 smallish sugar cube (or 1/2 to 1 tsp sugar, to taste) OR 1-2 tsp gomme syrup
- 2 dashes Angostura or Fee’s Old-Fashioned Aromatic Bitters
- a few drops of water
- 2 ounces bourbon or rye (or 3–what the hell)
- strip of orange or lemon peel
Place the sugar in an Old Fashioned glass, moisten with the water and bitters then muddle until dissolved (chuck the fruit peel in, if you like–I don’t). Add the whiskey, give it a quick stir, then add a big chunk of ice or two and stir again. Hit it.
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