The Old Fashioned: a 1850s gentleman’s drink

It seems to me, dear guest, that we haven’t talked about old classics for a little while. And while fruity cocktails are delightful for an afternoon, good old classics remain favourites for true connoisseurs. The Old Fashioned is one such drink: a genuine old timer, associated with the first generation of cocktails from the 1850s East Coast bars. Back in these early days, only a handful of cocktails existed, and generally one per spirit (gin cocktail, brandy cocktail, etc.) and the Old Fashioned was just the Whisky Cocktail.

The Old Fashioned cocktail is technically considered by bartenders as a pre-dinner drink, like the Old Pale and the Old Time Appetizer (to be described in a later post). All three are originally whisky-based, though many people, such as yours truly, prefer bourbon, which in my experience combines very well with other alcohols. Interestingly, the Old Fashioned is prepared in steps, not unlike a cooking recipe, by mixing first sugar with bitters to create a syrupy base, and then adding spirits. It is also the preferered cocktail of Don Draper, the main character of the American series Mad Men.

  • 1 ½ oz (5cl) whisky or bourbon
  • 1 teaspoon of sugar or 1 sugar cube
  • 2 splashes of angostura bitters
  • 1 teaspoon of water
  • 2-3 ice cubes
  • 1 orange slice
  • 1 cocktail cherry with its stem

Start by combining the sugar cube (or one teaspoon of loose sugar), the angostura and the water in a large-base glass (ideally an “Old-Fashioned” glass, as presented in the picture above), and stirring them well all together. If possible, crush the sugar with a wooden spoon to form a lining at the bottom of the glass. Once your base has been created, add the ice and the whisky (or bourbon), then stir again. Finally, to decorate the cocktail, add the orange slice and the cherry. Serve with a long spoon or a stirring rod.

A fairly common variation consists in replacing the water with soda water – depending on your preference. It is also interesting to note that adding fruits (such as the cherry or orange slice) wasn’t originally part of cocktail recipes – this fruity twist was introduced in the 1930s.

To pay tribute and respect to one of the very first cocktails in History, I have recently found a little video recounting the steps of the creation of an Old Fashioned. This video varies slightly compared to the recipe I just gave you, using whisky and additional orange bitters, which goes to illustrate once more a principle that we have discussed many times together: when it comes to cocktail creation, the only limit is your creativity and your final enjoyment.

Watch it carefully, and then try it for yourself– this is one experiment you are free to try at home. Cheers!

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