The Old Fashioned is considered by many to be closely tied to the origin of the term “cocktail,” making for an excellent first recipe post. The story of the birth of the Old Fashioned is dubious - however, the folklore goes that the first use of its name referred to a bourbon drink served in the 1880s at a gentlemen’s club in Louisville, Kentucky called the Pendennis Club. The recipe is said to have been invented by a bartender at that establishment and popularized by a club member (and bourbon distiller) Colonel James E. Pepper. Eventually, the Colonel made his way North and introduced his favorite libation at the Waldorf-Astoria’s famed hotel bar in Manhattan. The rest, as they say, is history.
The Old Fashioned was presumably named after the short rocks-glass that it is served in, often referred to as an “old fashioned glass.”
So - what exactly goes into this truly original cocktail? Well, there are a few “must-haves” which include:
1-2 parts scotch whisky, rye whiskey or bourbon
1 sugar cube
2-3 dashes of angostura bitters
1 orange wedge and maraschino cherry to garnish
This combination, essentially, makes for the classic chemistry of the drink. The devil is in the details, however, and purists often get into arguments when it comes to how to properly accessorize an Old Fashioned. Some use seltzer water to top off the drink. Some garnish with a variety of citrus fruits (this tends to be a West Coast thing and can be called a San Diego Old Fashioned). Some use maraschino syrup or simple syrup in lieu of the sugar cube. All of them claim to be right.
The fact is, you can make it any way you want, but my preferred technique for this cocktail comes from the classic 1948 guide The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, an essential tome of 6 recipes penned by noted New York lawyer and liquor enthusiast David A. Embury. In my mind, he’s the OG “mixologist.” From The Fine Art:
Pour into one old-fashioned glass 1-2 teaspoons simple syrup and add 2-3 dashes of angostura bitters. Stir with a spoon to blend, then add about 1 oz whiskey. Add 2 large cubes of ice (can be cracked but not crushed). Fill glass about 3/8” to the top with whiskey and stir again. Twist an orange peel and drop in the glass. Stir. Garnish with a speared maraschino cherry.
As you can tell, Embury took the actual “building” of the cocktail very seriously and emphasized slow stirring and incremental additions of the spirit. Any way you cut it, as long as you treat this historic recipe with respect and use the best liquids and garnishes available (Embury was famous for stating that a drink is only as fine as its least premium ingredient) - you’ll end up with a classic concoction sure to both impress and refresh.