Bobby Heugel's Weekly Cocktail: The Old-Fashioned

Despite being one of the world's most iconic cocktails, few drinks are more commonly misunderstood and incorrectly made than the Old-Fashioned. Yes, after four weeks, this cocktail column is finally going to touch a controversial drink. But before anyone angrily storms away to slam nine extremely stout versions made "the right way," take a moment to consider this account of the Old-Fashioned from a historical perspective. We are seeking to reintroduce an amazingly simple and wonderful cocktail. The house Old-Fashioneds of Uncle Morris and countless other endearing, ancient, occasionally creepy, alcoholic relatives are safe.

The various Old-Fashioned recipes may produce fine cocktails, but most are anything but a true Old-Fashioned. To understand the Old-Fashioned, one must understand the essence of what a cocktail is. Unlike today, the word "cocktail" initially did not refer to a generic alcoholic beverage or mixed drink; instead, a cocktail was a specific alcoholic drink containing only a spirit, sugar, water and bitters. The cocktail was one of several different types of drinks that existed, such as flips, daisies, slings, sours, toddies, fixes, juleps and crustas.

As the lexicon surrounding cocktails evolved, bar patrons began asking for "Old-Fashioned Cocktails," referring back to drink types of another era. What they were actually requesting was an original cocktail made in the old-fashioned manner, meaning an alcoholic drink with a spirit, sugar, water and bitters. Old-Fashioneds can be made with any spirit, though Rye Old-Fashioneds were likely the most popular during this time period. But Old-Fashioneds often varied regionally and were commonly made with other locally available spirits and various types of bitters.

The recipe, after the jump.

Jamaican Rum Old-Fashioned

  • 2 ounces Smith & Cross - A Small Batch, Traditional Jamaican Rum (Spirit)
  • 1 Barspoon Turbinado Simple Syrup (Sugar & Water)
  • 2 Dashes Angostura Bitters (Bitters)
  • Combine all ingredients with ice in an Old-Fashioned glass. Stir thoroughly. Garnish with a non-muddled orange slice and real cherry.

    Today's "Old-Fashioneds" are commonly served with muddled orange slices and neon cherries and topped with soda water. The addition of orange juice and the predominant ingredient in fake maraschino cherries, benzaldehyde, is a far stretch from the drink's origins. Maybe these cocktails taste great, and if so, please continue toasting them in Uncle Morris's honor. But at best, this commonplace drink is some sort of hybrid, muddled, short Collins or modern smash. Many bartenders attempting to bridge the gap between purist recipes and modern expectations will muddle the zest of an orange into their Old-Fashioneds, which, while not traditional, doesn't dramatically alter the original identity of the drink and adds a nice orange oil quality. Garnishing with an orange slice and a cherry is acceptable as well, but if you want a true Old-Fashioned, don't attack them with the wooden stick and mash them into the base of the glass.

    So there we have it - the truth about the Old-Fashioned. Uncle Morris is probably rolling over in his grave right now. If he were here today, he would certainly dismiss this piece and reaffirm his as the official recipe. But we will give our recipe a try. You might find yourself with a new favorite cocktail, and then it's only a matter of time before you're the creepy uncle.

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