Wednesday, February 3, 2010

That’s No Way to Make an Old-Fashioned

One afternoon between Christmas and New Year’s, I walked into a Financial District bar and ordered an Old-Fashioned, no fruit.

“An Old-Fashioned,” said the bartender. “That’s like a Margarita with bourbon?”


I talked him through the drink. He was game. Nice guy.

When I started drinking bourbon Old-Fashioneds with my friends in my 20s, I liked them, at least as much as any other mixed drink I had ordered, anyway, though some of the elements seemed to come together a little oddly. There was that mishmash of muddled orange and denatured cherry, and the grainy sugar crust on the bottom. And often there was so much soda that the drink seemed waterlogged.

I've since learned that what seemed weird there wasn’t really part of the drink in the beginning, and that the Old-Fashioned actually started out as a Margarita with bourbon. Kidding.

David Wondrich explains in his great book Imbibe! that to 19th-century Americans, the Old-Fashioned was a way of asking for the most basic sort of cocktail: spirits, bitters, maybe a citrus peel, a little sugar, a little water to melt the sugar but only that much. The Old-Fashioned customer liked booze and wanted to taste it. (Me too.)

The Old-Fashioned is a formula with variable ingredients: the base, bitters and citrus peel can change, but the drink is made the same way. In the case of all Old-Fashioneds, they're cocktails by the ancient definition, a bitters thing with no sour element. (Sorry, bourbon Margarita fans.) And for me, a citrus peel isn't essential, but you might as well have it. Old-Fashioneds still seem like themselves with a splash of soda water, but they should be kept boozy. They're not highballs. Technically, Wondrich tells us, a teaspoon of curacao would make it a Fancy Cocktail, though in place of the syrup and with no lemon or orange peel on hand, this seems close enough (old fashioned enough?)--especially after two or three of them.

Old-Fashioned Rye Whiskey Cocktail

2 oz rye (Rittenhouse 100 proof)
1 tsp simple syrup
2 dashes aromatic bitters (Fee Bros Whiskey Barrel Aged)
lemon peel

In a heavy-bottomed, low glass (an "Old-Fashioned glass"), bruise the lemon peel with a muddler in the bitters and syrup. Add a little ice, spirits, and a very small splash of water. Stir gently.

1 comment:

  1. Huzzah to your correct Old Fashioned. That's about all I have to say.


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