Legend has it that the Old Fashioned was one of the first cocktails ever created. The story is that it was conceived at The Pendennis Club, Louisville, Kentucky in the late nineteenth century, and having been popularised by local bourbon distiller Colonel (of course!) James Pepper, it was taken to New York to be enjoyed by such luminaries as Sterling Cooper’s own Don Draper.
There is much to support the Old Fashioned’s claim to be one of the oldest known cocktails. You will see from my Bittered Slings post that it neatly fits the early criteria of a bittered sling or cocktail, as it contains just the liquor (in this case whiskey), bitters, sugar and water (in this case frozen).
Whatever its vintage, however, the Old Fashioned is a punchy cocktail for those who hold no truck with paper umbrellas and sparklers getting in the way of their imbibement. The exact composition is something that enthusiasts can argue about for days. Does an Old Fashioned require rye or bourbon? A muddled orange? A cherry? The earliest known recipe (dating from 1895 no less) instructs:
Dissolve a small lump of sugar with a little water in a whiskey-glass; add two dashes bitters, a small piece ice, a piece lemon-peel, one measure whiskey. Mix with small bar-spoon and serve, leaving spoon in glass. – Kappeler (1895). Modern American Drinks: How to Mix and Serve All Kinds of Cups and Drinks.
Now aside from running the risk of poking your eye out with a bar spoon, this recipe neglects the now expected hint of orange. For that reason, my preferred method is as follows:
- Place a sugar cube (or a teaspoon of sugar syrup or sugar), three dashes of bitters and a dash of water in a mixing glass.
- Muddle (i.e. mush up) until the sugar dissolves and you are left with a syrupy paste. Don’t scrimp on the muddling, the sugar needs to be fully dissolved before the whiskey is added or it won’t bind properly.
- Add a two ice cubes and a measure of whiskey.
- Stir gently (thirty times).
- Repeat steps three and four.
- Strain into a rocks glass (also known as an od fashioned glass) with or without ice (your preference).
- Garnish with a twist of orange or lemon peel or a cherry.
Finally, by no means even consider adding soda water or *gasp* lemonade.
What you are left with is a small glass of pure cocktail history: spirits, sugar, water and bitters.