It’s just a blend of whiskey, bitters, sugar and ice, but the Old Fashioned is one of the all time great cocktails. What we love about it is that it’s so versatile, so we’re showing you how you can upgrade your Old Fashioned this Christmas.
The Old Fashioned dates back to the late 18th and early 19th century when it was known simply as a ‘cocktail’. A cocktail was a specific kind of mixed drink consisting of a spirit, usually whiskey or rum, with water, sugar, and bitters. Bitters such as Stoughton’s Elixir, patented in London in 1712, were all the rage in early America. When new-fashioned cocktails appeared in the mid 19th century made with outlandishly modern things such as vermouth, absinthe, or Curaçao, some old-timer said something like, “enough with all these contemporary concoctions, I want an old-fashioned cocktail, dammit!”, and the name stuck.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Pour the bourbon into a rocks glass and add a few ice cubes. Add the syrup and bitters, stir vigorously, add some more ice and garnish with an orange twist.
Now that you have perfected the original cocktail, it’s time to get creative.
Most Old Fashioneds today are made with bourbon or rye whiskey but that isn’t how things have always been. The original cocktail ingredient was Cognac and if you look through old bar books there are recipes for ‘cocktails’, ie. Old Fashioneds, made with Jenever (Dutch gin), Irish whiskey, rum, and even Sauternes. An Old Fashioned is a great way of showing off the quality of an aged spirit whether that’s a single malt Scotch whisky, an añejo Tequila or a Jamaican rum. Really any aged spirit should work. In fact it doesn’t have to be aged – we’ve tried some very nice mezcal Old Fashioneds.
Traditionally sugar granules were used to make an Old Fashioned, which is why the cocktail needed a lot of stirring to dissolve the sugar. It’s much easier to use sugar syrup but you could really use anything to sweeten your Old Fashioned, like maraschino cherry syrup or honey. If you’re using Tequila, try agave syrup, if you love an orangey flavour profile then use Grand Marnier, and if your whisky was aged in a sherry cask why not up the sherry quotient with a dose of PX?
But rather than sweeten your spirit, why not use a spirit that’s already sweetened? This is where rum is your friend. Delicious spirits like Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva rum from Venezuela don’t really need sweetening. Or what about spirit drinks like Howler Head made with American whiskey and the magic of real bananas, or Jaffa Cake Rum which does exactly what it says on the tin.
Bitters are the ingredients that turn your Old Fashioned from a cold sweetened spirit into a cocktail. Most of us reach for Angostura, and very nice it is too, but there are dozens of other bitters you can use like Peychaud’s. If you’re using a chocolatey spirit why not accentuate that with chocolate bitters or go for the chocolate orange effect with orange bitters?
Things can get very heated, so to speak, when the subject of ice comes up. Who can forget Dr Nick Morgan’s rant about too much ice in his Negroni? So we will tread carefully here. You can just throw everything in together with ice and then stir but there’s more than one way to make an Old Fashioned. In fashionable cocktail bars of the sort that the Master of Malt team spend most of their time in, it’s not uncommon to stir the spirit, sweeteners and bitters in a jug with ice and then strain into a rocks glass with one enormous ice cube in. Supercool.
Everything is better with bacon right? Well at least to some Old Fashioned enthusiasts. You can add bacon to your cocktail by giving your bourbon a fat wash (mmmmmm, fat wash). Simply fry some streaky bacon and pour the fat into a large jar. Eat some of the bacon, but not all. You will need to save one rasher for later. When the fat has cooled, top up the jar with bourbon or whiskey (around half a bottle). Give it a shake and then leave it in the fridge overnight. Remove the solidified fat which will be sitting on the top and strain the whiskey through a cheesecloth (this technique would also work with chorizo and nduja). You’re now ready to make a Bacon Old Fashioned, use maple syrup to sweeten and garnish with a piece of bacon.
An Old Fashioned needs a garnish. This could be as simple as an orange twist expressed over and dropped in but as Jeanette Winterson so wisely advised, oranges are not the only fruit. Limes go brilliantly with rum while light Scotch whiskies love a bit of lemon or grapefruit. To add some roasty flavours, why not dry out citrus fruit slices in the oven?* You can do it with apples, bananas and all kinds of fruit. It’s a great way of using up a surplus. It’s a bit controversial but a maraschino cherry is hard to resist especially if you use the syrup to sweeten your drink (see sweetener section). But don’t get carried away with garnishes: you must resist the urge to turn your Old Fashioned into a fruit salad.
*Slice them thinly and place in a baking sheet on a low temperature in the oven for four hours. This will use a very small amount of gas or electricity but if you’re feeling efficient, you could make this the thing you do after your Sunday roast when the oven is already nice and hot.
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