My first Old Fashioned, bourbon muddled with cherries and orange slices, eased me from sipping Shirley Temples toward savoring potent libations. It was a drink I’d heard of. It sounded serious and adult, and earned me approving looks from bartenders and gentlemen.
Now (with a few years of bartending behind me) I make one by stirring a little simple syrup and bitters into whiskey, then garnishing it with a twist of orange peel. The Old Fashioned means many things to many people, but the constants are: a brown spirit, bitters and sugar. Despite lowbrow associations, there’s nothing wrong with the muddled fruit version. In fact, famed cocktailian Gary Reegan is a proponent. In Wisconsin they make them with brandy and top the drink off with sweet soda.
In its purest form, the Old Fashioned is the quintessential cocktail. Its ingredients comprise what was originally called, simply, a cocktail. It was supposed to be medicinal; I take comfort in one after a particularly long day, or at the onset of a cold.
Adding bitters and sugar to a brown spirit is like adding salt and pepper to food. It enhances its inherent flavors. Put a little absinthe in the mix, and you have an improved cocktail. Make your improved cocktail with rye and Peychaud’s, and you have a Sazerac. In any case, a mist of oil from a citrus peel really sends it over the top.
Old Fashioned Cocktail
This recipe is for an old-fashioned Old Fashioned. It’s a good formula for experimenting with combinations of spirits and bitters. You might try different sweeteners too (adjusting the proportion accordingly), like honey, maple, agave, or liqueur.
2 to 2 ½ oz bourbon, or other brown spirit
¼ to ½ oz simple syrup*
a few dashes bitters
lemon or orange twist
Measure into a mixing glass, stir with ice until chilled, and strain over rocks
*equal measures of sugar and hot water dissolved together