Why is it So Good?
The Old-Fashioned is simple: sugar, bitters, water and spirit. The unique flavors of the spirit are right up front with a background of bitters and a richness from the sugar. Complex spirits with higher alcohol and, usually, some time spent in a barrel are recommended. When done well, this is one of the finest cocktails around. At worst, it’s just watered-down booze with some fruit smashed up in the glass.
The first recorded mention of the word cocktail goes back to 1806, which states the same recipe listed above. The term “Old-Fashioned” dates to the late 1800s and nostalgically refers to the simpler methods of drink-making in a time when cocktails were becoming quite complex. Whiskey was the norm, and it was around then that we see orange and cherry added to the mix.
I don’t care for it. I’m in this for the flavor of the booze. If you like the fruit, please ignore me and drink it the way you choose, but may I recommend you use a quality cherry from brands like Filthy or Luxardo. They have great flavors that compliment and enhance everything in your glass.
In 1890, the Old Fashioned was a domestic whiskey drink, made with either bourbon or rye. The original recipe from 1806 calls for a spirit of any kind, which opens up new roads to experimentation and discovery. Nowadays Scotch is hoping to find its way into your Old-Fashioned. Why not? The richness and complexity of Scotch is begging to be enlivened with bitters and tamed with the perfect amount of dilution. Cognac? Yes, please! Tequila? Yup. Rum? Certainly. Gin? The barrel-aged variety is gunning for this kind of attention.
Ice is an easy way to improve your homemade drinking experience. Purchase the large format ice cube trays and keep some ready in the freezer. This slows down the dilution, extending the life of each drink. I like the look and sound of it, too. Then, think about how the bitters you choose can enhance the base spirit. Don’t limit yourself to just Angostura. There’s an ocean of fantastic options for your consideration.
1 bar spoon Rich Simple Syrup (2:1)
1-2 dash Bitters
In a mixing glass, combine all of the ingredients. Add ice and stir to chill and dilute (see above). Strain mixture into a rocks glass over a large cube. Garnish with an orange or lemon peel.
Since whiskey is the most popular Spirit of choice, let’s consider bourbon vs. rye. Bourbon is known for being sweet and oak-y with baking spices and vanilla topping the list of aromatics. That can make for a richer drink that would pair equally well with rich dishes of red meat and heavy sauces. Rye makes a spicy and floral whiskey, and so I want to pair a rye Old-Fashioned with something a bit lighter, like pork, or more flavorful, like venison. Considering that some sommeliers downplay the importance of food and wine pairing, I say drink what you like and don’t be so concerned about how it might pair with the food you ordered. Also, from aromatic gin to everlasting cognac, the drastic swing from floral to lavish allows for endless possibilities. Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone!
By: Dean Hurst, Spirits Editor FLocal Magazine
Owner of R&D Hospitality