The Old Fashioned cocktail

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Cocktail drinking has seen it’s highs and it’s lows over the years. We all remember the cocktails that Delboy Trotter used to drink. Brightly coloured, fruity concoctions adorned with sparklers, umbrellas and all manner of flourishes that would cast doubt over the very moral fibre of those consuming them. The world of mixology has moved on.

There has been a recent resurgence in cocktail artistry and the trend is for fairly simple cocktails, but done very well. It is all about the quality of ingredients and the skill of construction. This philosophy lends itself beautifully to the traditional cocktails, and you can’t get more traditional that the Old Fashioned.

Back in the early 19th Century the cocktail was treated as almost medicinal and comprised of spirit, sugar, water and bitters. Bitters themselves were herbal infusionsĀ sold as medicinal tonics and were often came with huge claims of health benefits including aiding digestion. It was only in the late 19th century that the word “cocktail” started to be used to describe any mixed drink. The “Old Fashioned” became the name for the traditional recipe of the cocktail.

Having only four ingredients, and very simple ingredients at that, the Old Fashioned is a cocktail that you are pretty much guaranteed to have all the ingredients for in your booze cabinet. It is a great go-to cocktail if you are not sure what to drink and you cannot get a more manly drink. There is nothing portentous about an Old Fashioned, it is simple and raw. They are best served in very simple straight sided, undecorated lowball glasses, but use what you have available, even an old jam jar would work!

Traditionally Old Fashioned cocktails were made with Bourbon or Rye Whiskey but there is no reason why you cannot use a decent blended scotch whiskey.

You will need:

  • Lowball glass (or clean and polished jam jar)
  • 1 sugar cube (brown is best)
  • Angostura bitters
  • 1 tsp water
  • 2 measures of whiskey or bourbon
  • Ice
  • Orange
  • Cocktail Cherry (optional)
  1. First of all add the sugar cube to a lowball glass and add a dash or two of Angostura Bitters and a teaspoon of water and mash it with a bartender’s spoon or glass rod until it is completely dissolved. It is really important to dissolve the sugar completely as the crystals will not dissolve once you add the whiskey and you end up with an unsweetened drink with gritty sugar at the bottom. That is not going to impress anyone.
  2. Add your ice to the glass. A single big chunk of ice is best for an old fashioned.
  3. Pour your whiskey or bourbon over the ice and give it a good stir to make sure that everything is mixed well.
  4. Next add a twist of orange. The idea of the twist is to release the aromatic essential oils in the peel to give a hint of orange aroma to the top of the drink. The way to do this is to take a strip of orange peel (you can do this with either a knife or a speed peeler) and make sure that there is none of the pith (the white stuff under the orange skin) on the peel as this is bitter. Aim the outer surface on the peel at the top of the drink and bend the peel with your fingers to spray the oils from the peel onto the surface of the drink.
  5. Then gently rub the rim of the glass with the peel and add it to the drink along with a cocktail cherry. If we are all being proper about things we should really leave the cherry out of the Old Fashioned as it doesn’t really belong there, but I like one added.

This cocktail gets better the more you practice making it. Once you have the routine down to a fine art you can try playing with the bitters. It is quite nice to use a dash of angostura and a dash of orange bitters for a slightly more orange hint.