Old Fashioneds:  The Timeless Elegance of a Classic Cocktail

Options abound with this versatile libation!

In the ever-evolving landscape of mixology, there’s a timeless charm that persists — the Old Fashioned. Riding the wave of bourbon popularity, this iconic drink, rooted in history and sophistication, continues to captivate the palates of both seasoned connoisseurs and budding cocktail enthusiasts alike. In this edition of “Bourbon & Beyond”, we delve into the rich history, the art of crafting, and the enduring appeal of the Old Fashioned.

The Old Fashioned cocktail traces its origins back to the early 19th century, a time when the cocktail culture was just beginning to take shape. Originally known simply as the “whiskey cocktail,” it featured a straightforward combination of spirits, sugar, water, and bitters. Over time, as new ingredients and flashy garnishes emerged, a group of purists emerged, demanding their drinks be made in the “old-fashioned” way—hence the name.

At the heart of any Old Fashioned is a carefully chosen whiskey, typically bourbon or rye. The choice of whiskey imparts distinct characteristics to the cocktail, allowing for a personalized touch. Next comes the sugar, which traditionally was implemented in the form of a sugar cube.  Personally, I prefer to use simple syrups, as I find it assimilates into the drink more effectively.  Moreover, making various iterations of simple syrups (such as the Cinnamon and Fig Demerara Syrups I use at Bin110) gives us added versatility. The final element of the recipe is bitters … with the most common being Aromatic or Angosutra.  That being said, there are countless flavors of bitters to choose from, and coupled with customized simple syrups, provides depth and complexity to the drink.  

The ingredients are then stirred in a mixing glass full of ice, for dilution as well as to add a chill to the drink.  Once sufficiently stirred, the drink is strained into a glass … preferably with a clear ice sphere or large cube.  For garnish, an expressed orange peel as well as a cherry are traditional. I’m admittedly a bit of a “cherry snob”, however, so you won’t find anything less than Luxardo or Amarena cherries in my old fashioneds!

While I think it’s important to remain true to the classic nature of the Old Fashioned, many bartenders have embraced the Old Fashioned as a canvas for selective creativity. As mentioned above, artisanal bitters, unique sugar substitutes, experimental whiskey selections, smoked…and even garnish additions like premium bacon …  have ushered in a new era of Old Fashioned variations. The only variation I personally find cringe-worthy is the muddling of fruit in the old fashioned.  That being said, one of my basic rules is that your drink is your drink, and you should have it like you enjoy it.  If muddling fruit is your thing, do it … and any service-oriented bartender should be willing to accommodate you as well!

Suffice to say, in the hands of a skilled mixologist, you should be able to find an Old Fashioned to your liking!

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