The Old-Fashioned Old Fashioned

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

A drink to start the festivities

For  a Thanksgiving cocktail, I had in mind an autumnal aperitif that would  whet the apetite...a spirited libation that could take the edge off both  chilly air and holiday anxiety....yet something light enough in alcohol  not to floor us before our meal (and freely flowing wine and aquavit)  has even begun.

1 ½ oz bourbon or rye

¾ oz cider

½ Carpano Antica*

½ oz fresh lemon juice

⅓ oz Wood’s Boiled Cider**

dash angostura bitters

Pour  all the ingredients into a shaker. Fill it with ice. Shake it hard,  until it’s nearly too cold to touch. Strain the drink into a chilled  cocktail glass. Alternately: make a huge batch, ice it, and serve it as  punch.

*Carpano  Antica, an herbaceous Italian vermouth, isn’t available everywhere. If  you can’t easily find it, use another sweet vermouth and an extra dash of  bitters.

**Wood’s  Boiled Cider is a syrupy cider reduction. You could replace it with a  rich demerara syrup. Gently heat and stir 2 parts demerara (raw) sugar  with one part water until dissolved. Use what you need and keep the rest  in your refrigerator to make yourself an old fashioned when all the  guests are gone.

Bourboun Peach Smash

Peaches are ripening from coast to coast, and what could be more summery and American that a peach smash? Ok, maybe apple pie, so look forward to that recipe in the fall! For this recipe I suggest an inexpensive but good bourbon, like Four Roses Yellow Label. Depending how sweet your peaches are, adjust the lemon and simple syrup to taste.

2 oz Bourbon

1/2 peach, cut into a few pieces

1/2 oz simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water disolved together)

1/2 oz fresh lemon juice (seriously, it needs to be no older than a day)

a few mint leaves

(a sprig of mint for garnish)

Combine everything but the garnish in a cocktail shaker (I prefer a pint glass and Boston shaker).* Smash it a few times with a muddler or spoon. Shake it really hard with lots of very cold ice, then dump the whole mess into a glass. Add a bit of fresh ice. Slap the mint to bring out it's scent and use it to garnish.


*check back soon for posts and videos about basic cocktial skills in the "Tools & Techniques" section!