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The Old Fashioned

in courtesy of
I had a look into my statistics - and it seems, that most of you, my readers, are interested in cocktail recipes.

My Mojito post is doing still very well in the hit-statistics - even more surprisingly - the post about the El Diablo is strong - actually the post with the most hits ever [of my blog].
So I decided to write up a post about my absolutely favorite. I think this drink is not only the forebear of all cocktails - it is also more than the king - it is the emperor of bar-drinks.

Check out the first quote in print which was published in 1806: "a mixture of spirits of any kind, water, sugar and bitters, vulgarly called a bittered sling."

Looks like an Old Fashioned - doesn't it?

But where is the name coming from. We can be quite sure, that there was in the mid 1800's a new breed of drinks coming up. Those mixed with wine aperitifs - which were most of the time vermouth.
The predecessors of Manhattan and Martini [or Martinez] were the "new fashioned" cocktails... leaving the conservative formula a bit behind as old fashioned.

But the Old Fashioned is everything but outdated. It is actually one of the prime examples of drinks, which can perfectly highlight the quality and character of a distillate. And while there is usually a limit of quality of spirits, which indicates when you should refrain of mixing it, the Old Fashioned is exception of the rule - I can't really think about one spirit which has a too high quality, which should prevent it from mixing.
Louis XIII Old Fashioned - well why not [ok, this was pragmatic - in reality I wouldn't do it, just because of the price - and because there are other products which are as good, but are sold for a fraction of the price - but then I would also drink these products neat before I would order Louis XIII]?

Like always, if it comes to a cocktail {category}, lets have a look on the specific ingredients and decide, what is appropriate, what is a new attempt [besides of being slightly blaspheme] and what is a no-no.

The flavors of an Old Fashioned is built around typical barrel aromas - hence the base should be an oak aged distillate. The classic Old Fashioned is definitely based on Straight Rye whiskey - but any good oak aged spirit will do! Añejo Tequila? Check. Aged Rum? Perfect. Single Malt? Yes off course. Brandy? Why haven't you asked this earlier?! Bourbon? Bien sur!

The better the spirit the better the Old Fashioned.

Old Fashioneds on the base of gin, vodka or any other white spirit? No, please. It is funny, but for me, it just doesn't really work. Lets say it is like a Prius, with a body kit [moronic]! Thanks - but no thanks... The spirits just don't have enough aged character to let the drink sing!

And then there are some Old Fashioned recipes around, which mix different spirits; e.g. tequila with mezcal...

I was never a big fan of mixing different spirits. The more precious the ingredients, the more we have to appreciate their character. How can you value the character of a good spirit, if you are mixing it with another? You can't. So from my side - use one spirit - otherwise it is not an Old Fashioned - opinionated-alchemist approved!

No really: the virtue of an Old Fashioned is, to taste the base spirit in a much more appreciative way - you taste all the facets of the spirit, but it doesn't have a burn; and you can drink it longer [obviously it is lower in alcohol than the pure spirit]. The dilution is balanced with the little sugar used [not really to make it sweet, but to keep it together] and the bitters.

This is a minefield. I am quite pragmatic and say, that you should use a rather tasteless sweetener - but traditionalist would say, that you should only use a white sugar cube - and some non-conformists would say, that it isn't progressive enough, and you should be able to use a liqueur.
But well - lets keep it like that - the sweetener can be lightly flavored, however should stay with the aromatic of the base spirit.
Traditionally - a white sugar cube is the perfect vehicle to impart sweetness as well as a hint of zesty notes, if you rub it on an orange.
Brown sugar? A good pick for rum. The additional molasses flavors would rather work good - however be aware of the fact, that brown sugar isn't dissolving well in cold liquid. Hence it could increase your already long preparation of an Old Fashioned significantly.
Simple syrup? I always found it a sacrilege to use simple syrup. Yes it is more or less the same as white caster sugar - and dilution should be not a problem, but it just doesn't feel right, and it doesn't play with the ritual [see below].
Honey: depends on you - I would give it a careful yes.
Agave Syrup: yes - for tequila and mezcal definitely - for other spirits - maybe [then it comes to the same problem as simple syrup].
Artificial sweetener? Please leave directly my blog!

While a decade ago, this would be a very short paragraph, the selection of bitters really exploded. Not available in all regions, you might have a rather big selection of different bitters in most metropolises.
However I would rather go for aromatic bitters - as they are exactly mirroring and amplifying the aged oak aromas of the respective spirit.
Angostura Bitters is still classic and definitely appropriate. But now you have as well Fee's [barrel aged bitters], The Bitter Truth [Jerry Thomas decanter bitters or aromatic bitters] and a lot of others.
For further bitters [like orange, chocolate, lemon, celery etc.pp], which are not your typical aromatic bitters, be carefully - you might add them additionally, but you don't want to overdo it.

At the end, you don't need much. You need just to saturate the sugar cube [or use rather the same amount in other sweeteners - I would say ca. 2.5 ml].

If you don't use simple syrup, you need water to dissolve the sugar or dilute the agave syrup [...].
You don't "fill up" the drink - you just add around 20 ml to dissolve the sugar.
Any drinking water would do - due to the small quantity and the function as dilutant, you could even use soda water [usually an open can is always around me - that's why I use it most of the time]. Your drink won't be fizzy because of that.

After the main preparation, an Old Fashioned will never get any additional soda water.

The ice:
The ice is key, for a good Old Fashioned - analogue to simple syrup, small unimpressive ice might do the job, but would never impress anyone. Big ice cubes are giving you more control about the dilution as well as give the guest the opportunity to avoid of having a watery mess after 10 minutes of "drinking time".

The glass:
The old fashioned glass is not called old fashioned glass without a reason. Nuff said.

No fruit! There is no muddle of fruit whatsoever! Never. People who muddle fruits in their old fashioneds should be water-boarded [yes this would be a little bit harsh - but at least a life-time lesson, which they won't forget].

A large orange twist would do.

The Ritual:
Yes - the Old Fashioned is all about the ritual. You could make easily pre-fix an Old Fashioned and store it in a keg - but the experience would not be the same.
Because of this ritual, you should never ever order an Old Fashioned with a very busy bartender.

That's why quite evenings are a haven for bar flies - as they can have [not only] an Old Fashioned without the quietly spoken curse of the bartender [you don't want to be cursed by a bartender or by a chef...].

But you can do a good Old Fashioned at home [without bothering your busy bartender and without getting a curse, because of exactly this reason] yourself:

Take a sugar cube. Rub it on top of a properly washed orange on all sides of the cube, so the cube turns... well orange.
Soak the sugar cube with your aromatic bitters.
Drop the rubbed and soaked cube into your old fashioned glass.
Add little water [max 20 ml]. Use the small muddler on the back of your quality bar spoon [you always asked yourself, why you would need it - now it is the time] and muddle and dissolve the sugar completely. Don't proceed until all sugar grains are dissolved [and yes you can use a different muddler, which spoils only a little the experience].
Add two proper cubes of ice and 20 ml of good straight rye.
Stir and stir and stir [maybe 10 seconds].
Add another two of your proper cubes of ice and another 20 ml of your good straight rye.
Stir and stir and stir [...].
And add another of your two proper ice cubes and another 20 ml of  good straight rye whiskey.
Stir and stir and stir.
Add some more ice, if you wish [or don't if you don't] and spray the orange oils from the twist over the drink - the add the twist as garnish.

Enjoy - and be proud on yourself, that you are a mature lady or gentleman who knows what to enjoy in life!

One more point - which is hurting my feelings. Jeffrey posted a controversial post about a Wisconsin styled Brandy Old Fashioned. This would include muddling fruit [which you still shouldn't do]. And you also should use crushed ice. I cannot have a more different opinion about this - the drink is ok, if you would call it WsBOF - or Wisconsin styled Brandy Old Fashioned - but in my world you simply should not call it Brandy Old Fashioned. Not after ten-thousands of moronic bartenders muddled maraschino cherries and old orange wheels in the 80's [some even to today]. After all, the Old Fashioned is a drink from the early 18's when Wisconsin was not yet around [ok, this was widely exaggerated and a joke - but you get the drift...].

So while I really like Jeffrey for most things he is posting, he gets a big NO for this one.
But what would be bartending without controversy?


  1. I was watching Grey's Anatomy yesterday and an elderly doctor on the show ordered an "Old Fashion" - I had wondered what that was and now I know! Think I'll order one next time I'm at a quiet bar to give it a try.

    1. It is an amazing drink, if the bartender can do make a proper one. Don't allow any fruit in your Old Fashioned and you supposed to be fine...

      You need to like the taste of a good bourbon [and the bar should have one - or even better a Rye - which is currently unfortunately unavailable in the UAE] - but if you do - it gives you everything what you like of the whiskey without the burn...


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