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Friday Afternoon Cocktail: The Old Fashioned

I had the pleasure recently of meeting VodkaPundit (pictured at right, with yours truly and Will Franklin), a true gentleman of letters and of liquor. Knowing his arena of expertise, I inquired as to his favorite cocktail of the moment – and was stunned to learn that did not contain the ingredient of his liquid nom de guerre.

“No,” he told me, “I’m drinking Old Fashioneds.”

The Old Fashioned is a classic, and there are many ways to make them. Here’s one of the earliest recipes, from the 1895 edition of Modern American Drinks by George J. Kappeler:

“Dissolve a small lump of sugar with a little water in a whiskey-glass; add two dashes Angostura bitters, a small piece ice, a piece lemon-peel, one jigger [1.5 fl oz or 44 ml] whiskey. Mix with small bar-spoon and serve, leaving spoon in glass.”

There is a wide variance in styles and approaches, but the center of a good Old Fashioned is good bourbon. VodkaPundit’s preference is for Gentleman Jack, which makes for a sweeter, smoother Old Fashioned. My own preference is for Blanton’s or Woodford Reserve, but there are many other directions you could go in depending on your tastes.

What is key, from my perspective, is not to overwhelm the Old Fashioned with too much fruit. If you order an Old Fashioned in a less than ideal establishment, you’re likely to end up with a mashed up cherry and a big slice of orange in your glass. This is an insult, primarily because it is taking up space – more fruit means less bourbon!

Thus, I present my modified Old Fashioned recipe, which is simple:

  • 2 shots bourbon

  • Sugar Cube
  • 1 dash Fee Brothers Old Fashioned Aromatic bitters
  • 1-2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 1 slice orange peel

Put the sugar cube in the bottom of your Old Fashioned glass. Wet it down with a dash of Angostura bitters and, if you have it, Fee Brothers’ Old Fashioned Aromatic (not required, but I recommend it). Muddle the sugar cube around the bottom of the glass with a spoon or muddler – if you like, you can add a dash of club soda to spread it a bit more (I recommend against it). Add a slice of orange peel if you feel like it – that’s the most fruit I’d ever recommend – and a nice chunk of ice. Finally, pour in bourbon. I have 2 shots up there, but Kingsley Amis’s recommendation was simpler: “a huge slug of whiskey.” And that’s the most important part.

  1. Mel Foil

    So, I’m guessing that you’re not Mormon?

  2. Diane Ellis
    C

    I love a good Old Fashioned.  Thanks for your recipe — I’ll try it soon.

  3. Basil Fawlty
    Dietlbomb: Bourbon is good in an Old Fashioned, but Rye is better. And don’t bother with the sugar cube. Just put a teaspoon of sugar in there or–even better–simple syrup. Dissolving a cube takes forever. I’m ok with taking my time to make a good drink, but c’mon already. Also, put the peel in last after you twist it over the drink. It makes it more zesty. · 9 hours ago

    Not to go seriously off-topic here, but Rye is also my preference for the Manhattan.  It’s like taking a trip back in time.

  4. Matthew Gilley

    All who prefer rye over bourbon are Philistines. With apologies to Fred Cole, there oughta be a law….

  5. Dietlbomb

    Bourbon is good in an Old Fashioned, but Rye is better. And don’t bother with the sugar cube. Just put a teaspoon of sugar in there or–even better–simple syrup. Dissolving a cube takes forever. I’m ok with taking my time to make a good drink, but c’mon already. Also, put the peel in last after you twist it over the drink. It makes it more zesty.

  6. Robert Barraud Taylor

    I agree with Dietlbomb.  Rye is best, and simple syrup makes it easier.  David Wondrich has a great recipe in Imbibe! for a pre-Prohibition Old Fashioned, which turns out to be a sort of whiskey sour straight up: syrup, muddled with a dash of lemon juice, a dash of bitters, stir with the Rye, decant, drop in a lemon peel.  Bracing.  He quotes Don Marquis, the brilliant author of Archy and Mehitabel, who would supposedly belly up to the bar and growl, “Make me an Old Fashioned without the damned fruit salad.” 

    My dear mother, on the other hand, prefers something more akin to Ben’s recipe; well, without the bitters, and with extra cherry juice.   Bit of a sweet tooth, I’m afraid.

  7. Robert Barraud Taylor

    Oh, and an Old Fashioned with rye and orange bitters is worth the experiment. 

  8. Patrickb63

    Speaking from the heart of Bourbon country, it appears someone has finally found a good use for that Tennessee rotgut.  I would suggest as much fruit and sugar as possible, to make it palatable.

  9. Basil Fawlty
    Matthew Gilley: All who prefer rye over bourbon are Philistines. With apologies to Fred Cole, there oughta be a law…. · 1 hour ago

    Faddist.

  10. Southern Pessimist

    The first old fashioned I ever had was at the Commander’s Palace in New Orleans in 1971. It was the featured drink that night served for 10 cents. Those were the days.

  11. Jimmy Carter

    I could do without the fruit….

  12. SooperMexican

    Old-time Americans used to drink Old-Fashioneds as a breakfast drink. For seriously. A hundred years ago they believed it was actually unhealthy unless you did so. When I order mine, I watch to see if the bartender reaches for cherries. If they do, I pay for the drink and leave the “establishment” immediately. A mediocre bartender will at least ask. An excellent one will size up the cut of your jib, and serve it to you with very little fruit and certainly no cherries. Rye is best.

  13. dash
    SooperMexican: Old-time Americans used to drink Old-Fashioneds as a breakfast drink. 

    Reading the post, I was going to comment*: You call it an Old Fashioned, I call it breakfast, but you beat me to it! 

    Oh and FWIW, I’m in the minority. I like the cherry: it adds fiber. Sue me.

    * I would have written sooner, but I was “digesting” my “breakfast”…

  14. Susan in Seattle

    This brings back memories: my grandfather’s favorite cocktail was the Old Fashioned.

  15. Ben Domenech
    C
    Basil Fawlty

    Dietlbomb: Bourbon is good in an Old Fashioned, but Rye is better. And don’t bother with the sugar cube. Just put a teaspoon of sugar in there or–even better–simple syrup. Dissolving a cube takes forever. I’m ok with taking my time to make a good drink, but c’mon already. Also, put the peel in last after you twist it over the drink. It makes it more zesty. · 9 hours ago

    Not to go seriously off-topic here, but Rye is also my preference for the Manhattan.  It’s like taking a trip back in time. · 14 hours ago

    Rye is my preference for a Manhattan as well, but not for an Old Fashioned.

  16. Indaba

    Vodka Pundit does the best drunk blogging.

  17. Caryn

    This sounds like a perfect waste of Blanton’s, though.  That is some sublime stuff with nothing more than a sliver of ice!  And I’m not a Bourbon drinker.  Give me single malt scotch…

  18. Umbra Fractus
    Caryn: This sounds like a perfect waste of Blanton’s, though.  That is some sublime stuff with nothing more than a sliver of ice!  And I’m not a Bourbon drinker.  Give me single malt scotch… · 4 hours ago

    If it’s not Irish, it’s cr*p!

    (Seriously. I hate whiskey generally, but I can stomach Irish.)

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