The Old-Fashioned is one of the most popular bar drinks, though recipes vary widely from bartender to bartender.
Never underestimate the power of a simple drink. The Old-Fashioned, or Old Fashioned, sans hyphen, if you wish, is one of the six basic drinks in David A. Embury’s classic The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks. At its most basic, it is a rocks drink made with nothing more than an American whiskey, such as bourbon or rye, and a sugar cube doused with bitters. Twist a lemon over it, and you’re done.
You look confused. You say you distinctly remember your last Old-Fashioned having an orange slice floating on the top of the ice, donning a neon red maraschino. Truth is, there are countless recipes for the Old-Fashioned, and everyone likes hers or his uniquely. The self-proclaimed Purists eschew all traces of fruit, and prefer their Old-Fashioneds pared down to the basics. The self-proclaimed New Purists add fruit, such as orange and cherry, but decry its muddling. Those who enjoy rococo presentations, we’ll call them the Revelers, love all the fruit muddled, and even a splash of soda on top. (This would be anathema to both Purist and New Purist.) Never has a drink inspired so much brouhaha.
We do have a standard way we enjoy our Old-Fashioneds, and probably would align ourselves with the New Purists. But we’ve got to say, in the hands of the right bartender, a fruit-free Old-Fashioned is a study in balance; contrarily, a muddled Old-Fashioned can boast layers of deep flavor. Regardless of how you like this drink, what’s probably most important to you is the ratio of whiskey to sugar. The sweeter your drink, and if with muddled fruit, the better it’s going to pair with salty and rich appetizers such as barbecued chicken on skewers, or ones that have a nice portion of grilled steak. The following is our go-to recipe for the Old-Fashioned. Normally, we use rye or bourbon, usually at a proof between 90 and 110 when we’re drinking it without an accompanying app. (Try between 80 and 90 proof when you want to pair with food.) Also, Angostura bitters is standard in our home, but we dance all over the barroom floor and have been known to use other brands of aromatic bitters, and orange bitters as well. Feel free to embellish at will. After all, getting to the bottom of how you like your Old-Fashioneds is one of life’s delightful dilemmas.
2 ounces rye or bourbon
3 dashes bitters
1 sugar cube
1 cherry, such as marachino, marascha, or brandied
1 thin orange slice
1 lemon twist
standard-sized ice cubes
Place a sugar cube in a rocks glass and douse with bitters. Add 1/2 teaspoon water and muddle until the sugar cube has broken apart. Fill with ice cubes. Meanwhile, shake the whiskey and bitters in ice and strain into the glass. Add the orange and cherry. Twist lemon over the glass and drop in. Add a small straw.
Photos © Steve Schul, Cocktail Buzz