One of the most recognized drinks in the stable of cocktails, the Old Fashioned is as iconic as it is delicious. This deceptively simple cocktail is made up of three ingredients – a ton of whiskey, sugar, and bitters. This drink is about as basic as it gets but can be made wrong if the maker doesn’t understand the purpose of each ingredient and how they mesh together.
Most Old Fashions, if made correctly, are about 80 percent whiskey. You can’t skimp on this either. It’s literally the foundation of the drink. There’s much debate when it comes to the correct whiskey and the real answer is…the one you like best. Taste is subjective. Go with what you enjoy most.
Tradition would say to use a sugar cube but we ain’t go time for that! Plus, sugar cubes are a pain to find and they don’t dissolve all the way, so you end up having grains of sugar floating in your drink which looks awful. Skip that crap and go with a rich simple syrup. It’s easy to make and it can last forever. Combine 2 parts sugar and 1-part water in a pan. Set the heat to low and stir the mixture until the sugar is dissolved, don’t let the syrup boil though.
Bitters are made by concentrating the flavors of spices and tree bark in alcohol. So, remember, when you pick up your classic bottle of Angostura, a little goes a long way. Two to three drops are all you need. Any more and you’ll begin to overpower and cover up all but the most aggressive flavors in the whiskey you choose which will make for a terrible-tasting drink.
Don’t forget your orange peel. This simple addition to your Old Fashioned makes a world of difference. With a vegetable peeler, peel a two-inch slice of orange skin over your drink so the oils that fly off from the peel fall into your drink.
Welcome to the world of Old Fashions.
Elements of an Old Fashioned
Whiskey: Both rye and bourbon offer different flavor profiles. Bourbon is slightly sweeter and rounder, whereas rye introduces a peppery bite. Either way, you’ll want something high in proof (over 100) as this extra alcohol will stand up to the dilution from melting ice. Try Knob Creek, W.L. Weller Antique, Booker’s, Old Grand-Dad, Baker’s, Wild Turkey 101, Wild Turkey Rare Breed or Rittenhouse.
Glass: The Old Fashioned is one of the few drinks in existence that has a glass named in its honor. The ideal glass should be between eight to 10 ounces, with a thick heavy bottom.
Ice: This is a sipping cocktail, but you don’t want that expensive booze turning into a watery mess. Avoid small cubes and pick up rubber molds or invest in an ice sphere.
Sweetener: While simple syrup works well, other options are to sub in honey, maple syrup or agave nectar. But, make sure to dilute these with equal parts water.
Bitters: There are dozens of new bitters on the market. The best, however, is still the most common: Angostura. Two healthy dashes will do the trick. Chocolate or walnut bitters work well in this drink if you can find them. I also like Dale DeGroff’s pimento bitters.
Technique: The most balanced Old Fashioned is made by stirring the drink with ice for about 20 to 30 seconds and then straining that mix over fresh ice.
Garnish: Orange twist, lemon twist or both.