The Old Fashioned – a journey.
As drinks go, the Old Fashioned must be up there with the Cosmopolitan and the Mojito in terms of being an icon. A simple mix of American whiskey, sugar and bitters – most recently popularised by Don Draper of Mad Men fame, the Old Fashioned is arguably as old as mixed drinks themselves.
A form of the drink is first mentioned in Jerry Thomas’ Bartender’s Guide, precursor to the many, many books on mixed drinks available today. Mr Thomas details a recipe for an Old Fashioned Holland Gin cocktail, requiring sugar, ice, Angostura bitters, lemon peel and Holland Gin (Holland Gin is a reference to Genever, a precursor to modern gin and the link between gin and whiskey).
There are many claims to have invented the original Whiskey version of the drink which come after Jerry’s guide, but our opinion is that it was victim of prohibition and the tendency of bartenders throughout history to make best use of what’s available, even if specified products were not.
Prohibition, in an American sense refers to the Volstead act. This piece of legislation which came into effect on January 17th 1920 effectively criminalised the production, sale and consumption of Alcohol across the United States. Some would have given up drinking altogether, but many carried on their drinking habits in hidden venues, raucous illicit drinking dens known a speakeasies – the modern appropriations of these have been immensely popular over the last couple of years in large cities with strong drinking culture.
As you would imagine, the prohibition of alcohol would have had a huge influence on what was available to the average bartender and over the 13 years it was in force, availability of exotic, foreign made liquor such as Genever, specified by Mr Thomas above would have been minimal. This would likely have meant substituting illegal spirits made on American soil and regions, much like bartenders have a tendency to use what’s available. The French for example, blessed with generations of world-class grapevines make Brandy, the Caribbean with its sugar cane makes Rum and North America, renowned for grains – particularly rye and corn, makes Whiskey.
It’s easy to see how, with such a colourful and turbulent past and a lack of a centralised body of records, that the history of such an iconic drink could be shrouded in such mystery. What isn’t a mystery however is the easiest recipe you’ll ever find for making a great Old Fashioned every time.
For this, you will need the following:
- Whiskey of your choice: Preferably American, although you can use almost anything
- 1:1 sugar syrup: Mix caster sugar and cold water in equal parts
- Angostura bitters: You can now buy these in most big supermarkets
- Orange peel: A long slice, pith removed. Use a peeler if you struggle with a knife
- Cubed ice
- A rocks glass: Something reasonably large and chunky works best
- A stirrer: This can be anything, in a pinch, use your finger
- A big chair or sofa: Use this afterwards to test your drink
Into your rocks glass combine 50ml of your chosen whiskey, two dashes of angostura bitters and 5ml, or a teaspoon of sugar syrup. Fill your glass 70% full with cubes of ice and give the mixture a short stir, approximately 8 to 12 turns. Pinch the orange zest over the top of the mixture to release the oils and use as a garnish, placing it next to your stirrer unless using your finger to stir. Retreat to your sofa or chair and nurse your drink, prodding the ice with your stirrer to encourage it to melt, the added water will open up new flavours in the whiskey.
The best thing about the Old Fashioned is that it is supposed to be a journey. It’s a drink that is best enjoyed slowly with either great conversation or deep thought and an appreciation that some of the best things in life take just a little bit of time.
Let us know how you get on making your Old Fashioned, you can find us on most social media platforms @copperpotbar, so give us a follow, share us about and keep an eye on our site for more opinions, news, recipes and chat.