by Kevin Barrett | photography by Nick Pironio
2 ounces bourbon (Evan Williams 1783 or Old Weller 107 are perfect)
1 sugar cube or, preferably, ⅛ to ¼ ounce simple syrup
2 to 3 dashes Angostura bitters
Orange peel to garnish
Add all ingredients. Add ice. Stir. Pour. Garnish. Drink.
No muddling. No fruit. No soda water. And, for the love of good cocktails everywhere, no cherry juice. I’m glad we got that out of the way. The old fashioned is the simplest of drinks—appropriate in any weather, even this heat—and, it seems, the simplest to mess up. It’s whiskey, sugar, and bitters. Oh, and don’t forget the ice and an orange peel. How can you mess that up? There are so very many ways, but usually it’s by adding one of the things in the previous paragraph. It’s a classic. Don’t try to improve it or add your own signature style to it. An old fashioned is like a bartender’s secret handshake. I order one. You make it. If it’s good, then I order other cocktails. If it’s bad, I’m drinking beer or wine at your bar.
Now, with all that being said, I’m going to tell you how to improve an old fashioned and add your own signature style to it. Not really, but there are countless derivatives of the classic. There’s the American Trilogy, the tequila old fashioned, the maple old fashioned and an aged-rum old fashioned. Maybe they’re all offshoots of the Sazerac, but that’s a conversation for another article.
First, a proper old fashioned. Don’t make it like they do in Mad Men. I watched an episode in which Don Draper was explaining how to make the drink, and all I could think was, “No, Don, you’re doing it wrong.” Prohibition destroyed the American liquor industry and, eventually, gave us mobster movies. The repeal of prohibition was the beginning of the destruction of the craft cocktail industry. I guess you have to put more effort into a drink when you’re using bathtub gin. By the ’50s, people were muddling fruit in their old fashioneds. By the ’80s, everyone was using bottled sour mix. In the early 2000s, we were in the midst of the dreaded “Everything is a Martini” era. A martini is gin and vermouth. That’s it. I don’t care how much pomegranate juice is in it or what glass you’re serving it in. Anyway, we got through that, and it only took about 100 years for America to recover from Prohibition. Don Draper wasn’t the only victim of a poor old fashioned. There have been countless victims.
The old fashioned is simple and delicious, the way a classic should be. My two favorite places to have one are my bar and my kitchen. Unfortunately, I can’t invite you all to my kitchen, but feel free to stop by the bar. There are a few other places around the Oak City to get a good one, but you can figure that out on your own. If you want to bastardize the recipe, which we all have, don’t call it an old fashioned. It’s something else then. And leave your soda gun at the door.
An Old Fashioned Primer
You can build it in an old fashioned or rocks glass, but I prefer to use a mixing glass and then pour it into a glass over fresh ice. About the ice: I don’t recommend using the ice out of your freezer. You don’t want it watery. Buy some silicon ice molds on Amazon so you have bigger, denser cubes that melt more slowly.
About the simple syrup: I like to use it because it’s more exact, and I don’t want sugar granules in my drink. It’s like chewing on sand. Remember, one part sugar, one part water.
About the bourbon: Use rye whiskey if you prefer. Use Canadian whiskey if you hate America, but despite your feelings about our beloved country, I still can’t figure out why anyone drinks Canadian Whiskey, unless you’re Canadian or you just have bad taste. Now, if that’s still not good enough, here are some alternatives that are based on the same style. Most of these are time-honored classics, and they all have a spirit-forward taste. None of them has soda water.
1 ounce rye whiskey
1 ounce Captain Applejack Bonded
1 brown sugar cube or, preferably, 1/8 to ¼ ounce brown sugar simple syrup (same as simple syrup, but made with brown sugar)
2 dashes Regan’s orange bitters
Lemon peel garnish
Tequila Old Fashioned
2 ounces Anejo (aged) tequila
1/8 to ¼ ounce agave nectar
1 to 2 dashes Angostura or orange bitters Lemon or orange peel garnish
Maple Old Fashioned
2 ounces bourbon
¼ ounce maple syrup
1 to 2 dashes Fee Brothers Old Fashioned bitters
Orange peel garnish