So much has been said about the old fashioned that I will not embarrass myself by trying to describe its history, but I will describe my ideal of how to make one. I often make variants by employing a different base spirit or a flavored syrup. The old fashioned cocktail is a template as much as it is a particular drink, and yet, made with rye, simple syrup, and angostura bitters, it is the perfect platonic ideal of a what a cocktail ought to be. The very first cocktails were little more than bitters and sugar added to a base spirit, and all evolution of modern cocktails has flowed out of such a marriage of flavors.
Somehow in the dark ages of drinking, the 60s to the late 90s, the old fashioned was twisted and perverted into a drink with a pulverized fake maraschino cherry, and a smashed up orange and sometimes, god forbid, a drink topped with club soda or–almost unthinkable–sprite. But this marvel has returned to us, probably in large part because of the show Mad Men. You’ll never be Don Draper, but even so, holding an old fashioned will add 25% to the classiness of any outfit.
2 oz base spirit (Buffalo Trace Bourbon)
1 barspoon (1/8 oz) simple syrup
dash of bitters
Cut a fat piece of orange peel, and then trim it with a knife into a perfect rectangle. Make sure not to leave any pith on the peel. Place it in the bottom of the glass, and pour the simple syrup on top. Using a muddler, carefully smash the orange peel, just enough to squeeze out its oils. Add the bitters and the whiskey, and then pour the drink into a tumbler filled with ice. Stir, and then pour the drink back into the old fashioned glass, over ice.
To make the drink look perfect, a single large ice cube is best. You can make your own at home with this tovolo ice cube tray.
There are those who will build the old fashioned in the glass, but neglect to stir it. This results in an inferior drink, because it will not reach the necessary temperature, nor will it reach the appropriate dilution. A counter-intuitive aspect of making excellent drinks: slightly more dilution can result in a more intense flavor, as an overly strong alcohol burn can numb and overpower the palate.
Some will make this drink with a sugar cube instead of simple syrup, and they will use the bitters to break down the cube. Such a method is more laborious, and its only advantage over syrup is slight; the granulated sugar will help to macerate the orange peel, and will produce a superior experience of orange oil. I confess I do not usually trouble myself with this, but I appreciate the ritual.
Coming soon: old fashioned cocktail variants.