Even though Don Draper is really helping America Drink better, there are a few dozen big name bartenders around America right now fiercely fighting to restore the Old Fashioned cocktail from the insipid trends that have beset it. And I find myself joyfully making more Old Fashioneds everyday. But what the Old Fashioned’s renaissance has truly accomplished is pressing the, “reset button,” on 200 years of cocktail culture.
The beauty of this drink, and why it will save tending bar is that the pedestrian ingredients highlight the chosen spirit, technique and craft. If the rules of Kung Fu were applied to mixology, master would have grasshopper make 1,000 Old Fashioneds before grasshopper was ever allowed to freshen the mixed nuts. On the surface, the Old Fashioned is the simplest cocktail: an aged spirit of your choice, sugar, bitters, garnish. This is the very definition of “cocktail” from its first published definition in The Balance Columbian Repository in 1806. This simplest of cocktails is the perfect template for understanding the nuances of flavor and the pitfalls of bad technique. The balance between the three (base, sugar and bitter) is the recipe for the Martini, the Manhattan and all of the booze based classics. For the sake of brevity, trust me in that others will rant at great length on the evils of chemical cherries and topping with soda. For example, I would, but I have an editor. Catharsis be damned, I only have time to explain the correct way here. Trust that the only reasonable variation of the recipe is whether or not the drink is to be served on the rocks, the answer: ask first.
- 2 oz Any aged spirit*
- .5 oz Simple Syrup**
- 2 dashes Angostura Bitters** *
- Orange zest, and a cherry, but only if you have the good stuff
- Stir over ice and strain into a chilled glass or over fresh ice
Step one: Chill a cocktail glass. Do not pour a cold drink into a warm glass. You will be undoing all of the tedium I shall tender next.
Step two: Fill a mixing glass top the top with ice. Two points here, more ice dilutes booze less and that is why you never skimp on ice, ice is cheap, booze is costly.
Step three: Measure. If you don’t trust that all good cooks measure, ask a carpenter. Two parts booze to a half part sweet is more than enough. And don’t forget get the bitters. No bitters, no cocktail.
Step four: If a drink is all booze, no juice, it is stirred and not shaken. There are two exceptions, and I’m not going to tell them to you so you can know the rule before you break it.
Step five: Garnish with acidity. It is hard to determine the difference between, “ingredient,” and, “garnish,” and the Old Fashioned continues to blur that. The orange zest for the Old Fashioned must be done over the glass. The gentle mist of orange oils add acidity that lightens what is essentially a sugar mélange. Don’t believe this works? Hold that peel up to your eye and squeeze. When you are done cursing me as a mother fucker, you’ll see that there’s a lot of citric acid in that peel that lends an aroma to the cocktail. Only add a cherry if you have something less than neon and only if it is on a cocktail pick. I suggest Luxardo or Griotine cherries.
Too many details for one drink? Yes, but it’s the details that improve all cocktails.
*tell your bartender which you prefer, they all work
**the sugar cube doesn’t fully dissolve in booze, in this modern world we can move past the sugar cube
***or others if you have choices, try those, Angostura is the oldest most ubiquitous bitters, but many others offer new subtly