The Old Fashioned cocktail is an example of the edict less is more. While strolling around Savannah eating and drinking I sampled
one, two, several Old Fashioneds. The first poured by a bartender at the Olde Pink House was a flamboyant affair full of oranges, lemons, cherries and topped off with club soda. It was a tasty mixture, and I ordered a second from the new bartender who came on during a shift change. He looked in my glass and asked what I was drinking. When I told him an Old Fashioned, he sighed and we chatted about the mass of muddled fruit in my glass. While mixing my second drink he quipped “I have no idea what she made you, but that isn’t an Old Fashioned.” His offering consisted of whiskey, bitters, sugar and an orange peel. It was simple and allowed the whiskey, Woodford Reserve, to shine.
It turns recipes for the Old Fashioned are varied, and both bartenders mixed what they believed to be the correct incarnation of this classic cocktail. In Renewing the Old Fashioned by Robert Hess the evolution of the cocktail is documented. In 1895 George J. Kappeler published a receipe for the drink in Modern American Drinks with the following instruction; “dissolve a small lump of sugar with a little water in a whiskey-glass; add two dashes Angostura bitters, a small piece ice, a piece lemon-peel, one jigger whiskey. Mix with small bar-spoon and serve, leaving spoon in glass. 100 years later the simple cocktail recipe evolved into a more complicated version as detailed by Charles Shumann in American Bar: The Artistry of Mixing Drinks. This version called for “1 sugar cube dashes Angostura bitters 2 oz Bourbon soda stemmed cherry orange lemon” and instructed the bartender to “(p)lace sugar cube in an old-fashioned glass, saturate with Angostura, add orange and lemon wedges, press with a pestle, add Bourbon, stir well, add ice cubes, fill with soda or water, stir again, garnish with cherry.”
After some additional delicious experimentation at my home I am firmly in the KISS camp of Old Fashioned making. While adding fruit makes for an interesting drink it masks the characteristics of the bourbon. You can make an Old Fashioned with bourbon or rye, and for the following recipe I used Jefferson’s.
2 oz whiskey
1 sugar cub
2-3 dashes Angostura bitters
Place sugar cube in bottom of rocks glass. Add two to three dashes of bitters. Add whiskey and ice and stir well until cold. Garnish with an orange peel.