My recent forays in to the world in gin cocktails has turned up several fantastic drinks, including the Martini and the Aviation, but there’s only so much gin you can drink before you start to wish for something a bit different. So tonight I’ve gone back to my favourite spirit (which I’m amazed I’ve yet to mention on this blog), possibly my favourite ever cocktail, and the first classic cocktail I ever made – the Old Fashioned.
The Old Fashioned is a real dinosaur, dating back to the 19th century, and has a long and somewhat unclear history. As with any cocktail this old its recipes are many and varied. All contain the essential ingredients of Bourbon, sugar, water and bitters, but also add additional ingredients, some of which work well, others that, well… don’t. Of course this presents something of a problem when trying to order an Old Fashioned at a bar, as you’re never quite sure what you might end up being served.
I learned this the hard way last year whilst on holiday in New York City. My two friends and I were at a fairly upscale restaurant (which will remain nameless) and after the main course I decided that I would skip dessert and instead order an Old Fashioned. When the waitress returned with a hi-ball glass I was a little concerned, but my Britishness held me back from querying it. What I had been given did indeed contain bourbon, but also contained soda water and a slice (not the zest) of orange, which ruined the drink I was used to. I’ve since read many similar stories, and now know to be a little more careful when ordering drinks.
The choice of bourbon can make a big difference to your Old Fashioned. Of the brands I’ve tried, I found Knob Creek and Woodford Reserve to be my favourites, and despite loving it in a Manhattan found Makers Mark a little too sweet for an Old Fashioned. Unfortunately I’m out of Knob Creek at the moment, so tonight I’ll be using Woodford.
- 2 shots Bourbon
- ¼ shot sugar syrup
- 2 dashes Fee Brothers Old Fashioned Aromatic bitters
- 1 dash Angostura bitters
- 1 slice orange zest
- Twist orange zest in the bottom of an old-fashioned glass, and add bitters and sugar syrup. Add ice, and one shot of bourbon, and stir well. Add more ice and the final shot of bourbon, and again stir well. Top up with ice as desired and add small straw for stirring.
Most recipes call for just Angostura bitters, but I find adding the Fee Brothers bitters works nicely. Similarly, some purists decry the use of orange zest, but I really like the additional layer of flavour it brings. The key to a great Old Fashioned is taking the time to stir it in the glass, which cools the drink and adds water making the bourbon more palatable. I use sugar syrup rather than regular sugar as I hate discovering a few left over granules in an otherwise smooth drink, which I’ve found can happen sometimes no matter how much you’ve stirred the drink!
As you might expect the predominant flavour in an Old Fashioned is the Bourbon. Although the amount of bitters added is tiny, their effect is definitely noticeable, helping to bring out the flavours of the Bourbon. Many consider it to be a winter drink given the “warming” properties of Bourbon, but I think it works great at any time of the year. Very simple, yet so complex, the Old Fashioned has survived during three centuries for very good reason, and is undoubtedly my favourite cocktail.
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