Bartender Re-education: The Old Fashioned

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.

I'll explain the difference between an Anti-Hero and an Ass-Hole some other time.

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.

Old Fashioned

  • 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

Old Fashioned from the Rob Roy in Seattle WA. I got this from Jeff Wilcox's Flickr page which is awesome.

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

This entry was posted in Bartender Re-Education Plan, bitters, hand cut ice, whiskey. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Bartender Re-education: The Old Fashioned

  1. The drink that is most likely to make me smile (and simultaneously wince if we’re deep in the weeds) when it comes across the service well or from a customer is an Old Fashioned.

    We use 2 tsp of Gomme Syrup in ours at 320 rather than .5 oz of simple. It’s such a simple, elegant, and masculine drink. I love it.

  2. Exceptional recipe, I had all but written off Old Fashions as the worst kind of syrupy sweet fruit-cup madness, lingering on the bar in front of forgotten men in tattered suits. Like all drinks of old nobler origins thrive in the hearts of the faithful. Thank You.

    • caskstrength says:

      when some one starts to muddle fruit into your old fashioned it is OK to just walk away

      • Don says:

        Funny what you are saying, but yet you show Don Draper….who in Season 3 I believe made an old fashioned for Mr. Hilton and muddled the fruit, and then topped with club soda….sacrilege!

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  4. Brian McMillan says:

    I used to think the Manhattan as the king of cocktails. Now I know it is unquestionably the old fashioned whiskey cocktail. There are no subtractors.

    • caskstrength says:

      I think of the Old Fashioned as Kronos or the Allfather, the Manhattan and the Negroni are clearly the 2 strongest of his offspring.

  5. Jared Hirsch says:

    I almost completely agree. My only exception to this is your claim that it need be an aged spirit. The same recipe is fantastic with flavorful non aged spirits as well. I love a Pisco Old Fashioned, Aquavit Old Fashioned, and Gin Old Fashioned.

    • caskstrength says:

      I’m with you aged spirit is the general rule. Kevin Langmack over there at the Knee-High Stocking Co was making a killing a couple years back doing Ketel One old Fashioneds. Tricking dude-bros into enjoying flavor.

      I personally really enjoy a Genever Old Fashioned and there are a couple of new world gins that I find unpalatable unless they are in an Old Fashioned.

      But as for Pisco, of course that works, Pisco has tons of great flavor all by itself and is great for an Old Fashioned.

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  11. KRG says:

    I asked a bartender at a local wing joint for an old fashioned last night. She never heard of it . Also knew nothing of bitters . This was in Kentucky , the bourbon heartland!

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