The Old Fashioned

When I think of the most basic bitch of classic cocktails, the first thing that pops into my head is the Old Fashioned. It is the cocktail in which the word “cocktail” was first used as vernacular for a beverage with spirit, bitters, sugar, and water back in the early 1800s. So how did it get the name old fashioned, and why is it not simply a cocktail? At the Pendennis Club, a gentleman’s club in Louisville, Kentucky, the whiskey based cocktail became the Old Fashioned, because patrons asked for a cocktail made the old-fashioned way, and it’s most popular form was with whiskey. It’s simple: Whiskey, sugar, bitters, and water, but thanks to the current buzz around pre-prohibition cocktails, where the drinks are smooth, boozy, and fresh, the Old Fashioned has come back in style in a very big way (don’t think I’ve forgotten about Mad Men. They helped a lot too).

 My first old fashioned I ever ordered was concocted by muddling a cherry, orange, and sugar in the bottom of a rocks glass (also known as an OLD FASHIONED glass), filled with chipped ice and topped with Whiskey. It was horrendous and turned me off of the spirit for almost five years.

When I started bartending at a bar that appreciated craft and pre-prohibition cocktails, I was required to at least try the cocktails I was making. I watched as my owner delicately placed a large ice cube into the glass, poured two ounces of rye whiskey on top, three dashes of angostura bitters, and a spoonful of house made simple syrup. He stirred over and over again until the cocktail had reached his desired level of dilution. “I hate whiskey,” I said as he slid the glass over to me. He grinned, and said, “have you ever really HAD whiskey?” I pondered that question for a moment, and finally took a sip. No. Right then and there, I knew the answer was no. I could taste the breadiness of the rye, the sweetness of just a dash of sugar, the slight bitterness of orange oil he expressed over the top of the cocktail and around the rim of the glass. The ice melted so slowly, leaving the cocktail drinkable to the last drop instead of a watered down mess.

I fell in love with whiskey right then and there, and I haven’t stopped loving and appreciating it since. It’s a simple cocktail to make, but this cocktail is anything but basic to the taste buds. They were certainly doing something right back in the 1800s.


Old Fashioned Recipe:

2 oz. George Dickel Rye Whisky 

Bar spoon of sugar or simple syrup

3 dashes Angostura bitters

Stir until the glass feels cold (this depends on what kind of ice you’re using. Larger cubes with less surface area will dilute slower than small cubes with a lot more surface area. Many whiskey & cocktails bars will have the former, because no one really wants over diluted whiskey)

Orange peel garnish


Of course, there are several variations to this recipe. In essence, an old fashioned is any spirit with sugar, bitters, and water, but it’s most common form is whiskey based. If you see someone break out the cherries and muddler, they’re doing it wrong. Run for the hills, because no fruits should be harmed in the making of an old fashioned. It’s sacrilege. If you’re anything like I was years ago, when the only whiskey you’ve tasted has been in the form of a fruit cocktail or mixed with coca-cola, I urge you to try the Old Fashioned. You’ll be in for a sweet surprise.