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Mixology

The Best-Kept Secrets Behind Great Old Fashioneds

January 31, 2012 By: Robert Plotkin

America’s Great Neo-Classic Cocktail


Credit for originating the Old Fashioned goes to the Pendennis Club, a gentlemen’s club in Louisville, Ky. In the mid-1880s, the Old Fashioned was popular with the members, one of whom was bourbon distiller Colonel James Pepper. It is said that he introduced it to the bar staff at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in Manhattan. That proved to be its gateway to the world.

The Old Fashioned of that era differed from its present incarnation in one significant way. Constructed in a whiskey glass, the recipe called for a smallOld Fashioned lump of sugar, two dashes of Angostura Bitters and a little amount of water, ostensibly to hasten the sugar dissolving. It further instructed the barman to add a jigger of bourbon as well as a piece of lemon peel and to mix the ingredients with a spoon. The spoon was to be left with the guest. So where’s the muddled cherry and orange that so defines today’s Old Fashioned?

The now accepted version can trace its lineage back to Prohibition. Times were rough and bootlegged whiskey was even rougher. The muddled cherry and orange slice were no doubt a necessary response to the inferior liquor. With Repeal, the Old Fashioned sported a new look and loads of fresh fruit character. Along the way, the water in the original recipe was replaced with a splash of seltzer — charged water — and the Old Fashioned was on its way.

The drink’s timeless appeal lies in the interplay of the whiskey and murky, muddled base. The cocktail once again proves the adage about the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Here are the best-kept secrets behind America’s greatest Old Fashioneds:

Spirit Options

The drink was born and bred to showcase whiskeys, and with few exceptions, the Old Fashioned is an ideal vehicle for serving whiskey of all nationalities. Bourbons, ryes, Canadians, Irish and the malts of Scotland are at home in the cocktail. Brandies also are well adapted to the muddled fruit mélange of the Old Fashioned. In Wisconsin, the drink typically is prepared with brandy. Applejack and Calvados are excellent substitutes as well.

And then there’s Southern Comfort. For generations, the classic American liqueur has been popularly featured in Old Fashioneds. The liqueur’s semi-sweet character and bourbon and peaches flavor melds seamlessly with the muddled fruit and bitters. For example, the New Orleans Tribute — a signature cocktail at the Refectory Restaurant in Columbus, Ohio — is a muddled Old Fashioned made with Woodford Reserve Bourbon and Southern Comfort.

The 33 Restaurant & Lounge in Boston has made famous the 33 Old Fashioned, a delectable drink prepared with fig and almond-infused Jim Beam Black Bourbon. The award for sheer innovative wizardry goes to Master Mixologist Scott Beattie for his Burley Old Fashioned. His muddled masterpiece features 12-year old Weller Bourbon infused with Burley tobacco.

Finally, the New Age Old Fashioned is appropriately named. Its recipe features a muddled base comprised of a half-ounce of limoncello, a cherry, a lemon slice and an orange slice. The drink is finished off with a double shot of premium bourbon and a splash of chilled champagne. The drink is exceptionally flavorful and effervescent.

Muddling the Works

For many a bartender, the Old Fashioned was a groundbreaking cocktail. It was the drink that needed to be muddled. Now an increasingly frequent tactic for introducing the flavor of fresh ingredients into a cocktail, for decades the Old Fashioned was the only such example in contemporary mixology.

Altering the composition of the muddled base in an Old Fashioned will significantly change how the drink tastes. Two such examples include the Knob Creek Old Fashioned, which is prepared with a muddled peach slice instead of the conventional cherry and orange slice, and the Santa Anita Old Fashioned, which is made with muddled raspberries and an orange slice.

In parting, the only regrettable thing about the Old Fashioned is its name. The cocktail is far from being a relic or out of step with contemporary trends. To the contrary, few drinks are more perfectly aligned with what people are looking for from the cocktail experience, namely brilliant fresh flavors in an easy-to-drink style.



Old Fashioned Recipes

Classic Old Fashioned
3 dashes Angostura Bitters
1 orange slice and Maraschino cherry
1/2 oz. simple syrup
2 1/2 oz. Bourbon or Rye Whiskey
Splash club soda

In a double rocks or Old Fashioned glass, build the bitters, orange slice, cherry and simple syrup. Muddle the ingredients and add ice. Top with bourbon or rye and add a splash of club soda.

33 Old Fashioned
A specialty of 33 Restaurant & Lounge created by Jenn Harvey.
1 orange slice and Maraschino cherry
1/2 oz. simple syrup
2-3 dashes Angostura Bitters
1 1/2 oz. Fig and Almond-Infused Jim Beam Black Bourbon

In a chilled highball glass, build the orange slice, cherry, simple syrup and bitters. Muddle the ingredients and add ice. Top with bourbon.

Burley Old Fashioned
A specialty of Cyrus Restaurant created by Scott Beattie.
1 Seville orange wheel
1 sugar cube
1/4 oz. seltzer
2-3 dashes Angostura Bitters
1 1/2 oz. Burley Tobacco Infused 12 year Weller Bourbon
Two Amarena cherries, for garnish

In a chilled bucket glass, build the orange wheel, sugar cube, seltzer and bitters. Muddle ingredients and add ice. Top with bourbon and garnish with cherries.

New Orleans Tribute
A specialty of The Refectory Restaurant created by Julie Mulisano and Kevin McClatchy.
1 orange slice and Maraschino cherry
1/4 oz. soda
2-3 dashes Angostura Bitters
1/2 tsp sugar
2 oz. Woodford Reserve Bourbon
1/2 oz. Southern Comfort

In a chilled bucket glass, build the orange slice, cherry, soda, bitters and sugar. Muddle ingredients and add ice. Top with bourbon and Southern Comfort.

Angus Scotch Old Fashioned
2-3 dashes Angostura Bitters
1/2 oz. simple syrup
1 orange slice and Maraschino cherry
2 1/2 oz. Scotch
Splash club soda

In a double rocks or Old Fashioned glass, build bitters, simple syrup, orange slice and cherry. Muddle ingredients and add ice. Top with Scotch and a splash of club soda.

Apple Old Fashioned
3 dashes Angostura Bitters
1 orange slice and Maraschino cherry
1/2 oz. simple syrup
2 1/2 oz. Laird’s Applejack Brandy
Splash club soda

In a double rocks or Old Fashioned glass, build the bitters, orange slice, cherry and simple syrup. Muddle the ingredients and add ice. Top with the brandy and a splash of club soda.

Raspberry Old Fashioned
3 dashes Angostura Bitters
1 orange slice
5 fresh raspberries
1/2 oz. simple syrup
2 1/2 oz. Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage Bourbon
Splash club soda

In a double rocks or Old Fashioned glass, build the bitters, orange slice, raspberries and simple soda. Mudle the ingredients and add ice. Top with bourbon and a splash of club soda.

Peach Old Fashioned
3 dashes Angostura Bitters
1 peeled peach slice
1/2 oz. simple syrup
2 1/2 oz. Knob Creek Small Batch Bourbon
Splash club soda

In a double rocks or Old Fashioned glass, build the bitters, peach slice and simple syrup. Muddle the ingredients and add ice. Top with bourbon and a splash of club soda.


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