Classic Cocktail: The old fashioned

To follow Katja’s post on the smoked panna cotta, I decided to pair it with a classic amongst classics : the old fashioned. Mainly because the smokiness of the panna cotta will add some length in mouth for the whiskey cocktail, making it also a very good candidate for a smoked cocktail.

Anybody who knows a bit about cocktails knows about the old fashioned. Back into modern bars because it was brought back into light by Don Drapper in Mad Men, but also because every book about cocktails has a chapter/page/twist on this classic whiskey drink.

Reason is, the old fashioned, according to most cocktail historians, is one of the first mixed drinks ever invented or first cocktail, right along the Sazerac. No wonder they use it in every movies/tv show to show a character stuck in their ways, unable to adapt to the modern world like Drapper.

But this being a classic, there’s about the same number of ways to make it as there is bartenders. I tested that theory once as I was having a drink in bar with a trainee who didn’t know yet what an old fashioned was so we started the “How do you do it?” discussion. As expected, 3 bartenders, 3 different answers. There’s also a very long list of videos on how to make one on Youtube, also with some very bad examples.

The ingredients list is pretty short:  Whiskey, bitters and sugar. That, pretty much everybody agree. The garnish is another discussion…  Traditionally, according to Jerry Thomas in my reprint of his 1887 Bartender’s guide it’s an orange peel. It can be seen a slice of lemon, a slice of orange instead of a zest and a cherry for the fruitier versions you can find . So we’re already with 3 variations of the cocktail just on garnish… Then comes the discussion on weither you should use Rye or Bourbon…. Oh and the sugar ? Raw sugar or syrup ?  You can find all variations in very respectables cocktails books. The right answer ? I’ll give you two versions, both very enjoyable, the rest is yours to find 🙂

For the classic, you just put 2 dashes of angostura bitters in a glass 1/3rd full of ice and add 15ml of syrup and 60ml of bourbon. Express an orange zest over the glass and voilà. An old fashioned. I like a cherry in mine, so you’ll find one here.

This is the lazy way. If you wanna add some flair in the making, you can put a sugar cube in the glass with the cherry, soak it with bitters, muddle that and then add ice and bourbon. In all cases, give it a swirl at the end with a bar spoon, it gives a more balanced drink.

Something you’ll also see if the bartenders wants to get fancy, is putting the sugar cube or granulated sugar on a cocktail napkin over the glass, then soak it with the bitters. That way, you’re sure that you won’t get too much bitters and just an evenly soaked sugar.

Here’s a very bad way of making the “fruit salad” version of the old fashioned :

Obviously having no idea of what she’s doing. The recipe can be found under the name “US muddled fruit version” of the Old Fashioned in the Difford’s Guide, and call for the drink to be shaken, something most bartenders would be reluctant to do.

Here you can see it made by Don Drapper, in an episode of Mad Men :

He uses rye instead of bourbon and added a splash of club soda to mix it. Sometimes mentioned, the splash of soda adds lightness to the drink and can make the whiskey shine if you’re using a more peppery rye instead of the sweeter bourbon.

Here’s another version with water, more academic :

And I could go on and on and on with videos showing basically the same stuff. To make things more interesting, i decided to end that list with a variation of the drink :

Let’s call that a Modern Fashioned just for fun. Here’s what you’ll need :

60ml Sonoma County Distilling wheat whiskey
15ml Angostura amaro
20ml vanilla sugar syrup (1:4 ratio)
15ml roibos cold tea
1 dash cinnamon bitters
Garnish with an amarena cherry and an orange twist

Using Sonoma County Distilling products again, i there chose the less sweet wheat whisky (description here) because I wanted to use an Angostura amaro instead of the bitters, to make a moreDescription of the amaro can be found here.

The amaro will then sweeten the drink quite a lot, so I added a very light syrup (125g of sugar for 500ml of water) that I twisted by incorporating about 5g of vanilla sugar in the mix. The vanilla will actually blend together the herbal notes of the amaro with the spiciness of the next ingredient, rooibos red tea. Cold, of course. With then an extra dash of cinnamon bitters, the drink is spicy yet sweet to taste in what will really surprise your mouth in a good “Ouuuuh, I need another sip of that” kind of way.

To make it, just pour all the ingredients in a mixing glass with ice, and fine strain in a chilled martini glass, and garnish with a amarena cherry and an orange twist.

You can also shake the drink with an orange zest, which would make it really pop in a citrusy way. I like the stirred, more bourbon forward version personally.


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