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A True Old Fashioned

August 31, 2003

DrinkBoy posts about a drink that we share an affection for: the Old Fashioned. The Old Fashioned is as Robert describes, a drink with a venerable history to its name. I won't go into details, but do read the link for a great rundown of its history.

Instead I want to focus on the construction of the drink. Firstly, I agree that extraenous ingredients like the cherry are just un-needed. The point of an Old Fashioned, to me at least, is a more pleasurable way to drink a rough liquor, usually Bourbon (given it was after/during prohibition, where most liquors were, shall we say, hardly finished). A good old fashioned will take the edge from a good bourbon, allowing for a broader aroma to appear.

Let me take a step out a second to explain this.

Adding alcohol to spirits does a number of things, but mostly when you pour it into a glass, the first experience you get of the liquor is the intense alcoholic 'aroma'. It's the feeling that makes your eyes water when you smell a whiskey or a bourbon. (less so with the clearer [simpler] spirits).

To counter this, and allow for a greater absorbtion of the range of aromas, it's advised to 'cut' a whiskey or a bourbon with a little water. The water should be fresh, distilled water (to ensure clarity in flavor) and you should add no more than half or less the quantity of bourbon.

So you take the edge off, lose the dominant aroma, and get to taste the recessive flavors.

Ok. Back to the Old Fashioned. If I am making an old fashioned for a more experienced customer, then I will tend to use Woodford Reserve. To quote their site, Woodford Reserve is "a super-premium small batch bourbon with roots at the Labrot & Graham Distillery (circa 1812)" and "a National Historic Landmark in the bluegrass region of central Kentucky."

For all its history, it's a very cultured Bourbon, that lends itself to an Old Fashioned. (alternatively, if none is available, Wild Turkey, Bullet, and Rip Van Winkle are good. Our house pouring Bourbon is Makers Mark -- but it doesn't have the same effect.)

The construction is what makes this drink a drink to remember. I prefer to make it like this:

Take one sugar cube (brown is better) and place it on a napkin rested on top of a heavy tumbler. liberally soak the sugar in angostura bitters, making sure it's covered. Tip the sugar cube into the glass, being sure that no angostura enters the glass -- just on the sugar.

Muddle the cube into the bottom of the glass. You are turning the sugar into a rough paste here, and the more you muddle it, the more likely it'll integrate into the drink.

At this point, replace the muddler for a bar spoon, and add a couple ice cubes. Then, slowly build up the drink by adding dashes of bourbon whilst agitating the ice cubes together. This gently dilutes the bourbon, mixing in the sugar and a little water from the ice. Keep adding ice and bourbon till you have a drink that is about a half inch from the top of the glass. (You want about 50ml of Bourbon or so, which fits with ice in a standard tumbler)

If made right, you should have very little sugar, if any at all, at the bottom of the glass.

To finish the drink, obtain a fresh orange peel, rim the glass with both sides of the peel, and twist into the drink.

This method serves to gently encourage each element to merge together, without the gross dilution that would be achieved by shaking it. Made well, this potent cocktail is a perfect end to a great evening.


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listed below are links to sites that reference A True Old Fashioned:

» the old fashioned from the anti-mega outboard brain

A True Old Fashioned - [ Home is where the heart is. Apparently. ]... [Read More]

» Meet from Cruft

I went to the SoCalWUG meeting tonight. It wasn't the best, but it was fun. Probably the best part was [Read More]


I guess I have two comments here...

First is that the notion of "The [added] water should be ... no more than half or less the quantity of bourbon" is a tad distressing. That is just way too much water in my mind. To two ounces of bourbon, I would never add more then 2 teaspoons of water, any more then that and I feel you would be diluting the whiskey.

Second... I've been making my Old Fashioned's with simple syrup, often with syrup made from Turbinado (raw) sugar, which adds a certain depth of flavor that I like, especially with the spicier Rye's. By using simple syrup you will never get any grit from undissolved sugar. While the careful muddling of the sugar into a semi pre-dissolved paste makes for good show when making an Old Fashioned, if using simple syrup does just as good (if not better) job, then why not use it?

Yes -- I guess i'd agree with you on the water to cut a whiskey, but i'd definitely add a bit more than two teaspoons.

The problem I have with using simple sugar with an old fashioned is that I am then left without a good way of getting angostura into the drink without turning it into something it's not. Besides, I make an Old Fashioned well, imho, and don't end up with grit at the bottom.

I find that Angostura bitters mixes quite well with the simple syrup, then add ice, bourbon, give several stirs to chill the drink down and add some dilution, garnish, pop in a few straws, and you're done.

Frankly, I also think that the flavor of orange works quite well with bourbon, and so the way I "really" make my old fashioneds, is to first put down a half-wheel of orange (1/8 inch thick slice) then add the simple syrup and bitters, muddle this, but not too firmly, you are just working out a little bit of the essence. Then add the ice, bourbon, etc.

Next time you make one, instead of muddling the orange into the drink, instead take a cut of orange peel, and rim the glass and twist into the drink. Don't drink through straws. It gives a very different taste.