The Old Fashioned

Let’s get old, old fashioned…

The Old Fashioned

We’re going to carry on keeping things simple for a little bit longer. Today we look at the wonderfully spartan Old Fashioned, which may have a fair claim to being the first cocktail. Especially if we’re being very strict about the word “cocktail”. Technically a cocktail is a drink made only of spirit, bitters, sugar and water but gradually has come to mean any mixed drink. How much do we care that we say cocktail instead of mixed drink? Not much, but there it is. Like the Collins, we should consider the Old Fashioned a family of drinks as it can be made with any of the brown spirits. The Old Fashioned is one of those few drinks where we can break the rules and use a higher end spirit. Why? Because there are no other ingredients to mask the nuances of our chosen spirit, other than the sugar and bitters which we use very sparingly. Consider it a way of taking you favourite spirit and just giving it a little tweak. It’s a contemplative drink to enjoy slowly at the end of a long day and most definitely not to be sipped before your evening meal is over. The Old Fashioned is such a good drink that it can only be properly enjoyed in quiet solitude and, if at all possible, a comfortable armchair.

Yet things have not always been so civilised for the Old Fashioned, like so many other great drinks, took a bit of a beating in The Dark Ages (c.1970 – 2000) where it was transformed into something of a fruit salad of muddled orange and cherry pulp. Thankfully those practices have largely been stamped out and we have returned our elderly old friend to his rightful place at the head of the table – it seems there’s still a few more years in the old duffer. We can even cruelly taunt those dark days by ironically skewering a slice of orange peel and a cherry and hovering them over the liquid without touching it. Revenge is a dish best served cold. Ice cold.

While Cognac or Rye were likely the first spirits to get the Old Fashioned treatment we can make a great OF with any good whisky, aged rum, anejo or resposado tequila and even mezcal (yes, I know it’s not brown but it really works). Choosing a sweetener, bitters and garnish that compliments the spirit is a great way to lift your Old Fashioned even higher. For example, if you use Canadian whisky try a teaspoon of maple syrup, for rum demerara syrup, tequila, agave syrup. You get the drift. Whisky and Cognac go well with orange peel, rum with lime, tequila grapefruit (or lime). In terms of bitters have a look at what you’ve got, if that’s just Angostura, fine, but if you have a wider collection this is exactly the cocktail to be trying it out on. It is important to consider the sweetness of the spirit when choosing your sweetener: rum or Bourbon will need less sweetening than Scotch or Cognac. The bitters will also play a crucial role. As always, this is a balancing act and great care pays yet greater dividends.


Old Fashioned

2oz spirit of choice (bad day? 3oz then)

1 teaspoon of simple syrup or alternate sweetener

1 or 2 dashes of bitters of choice

Stir with ice and strain into a DOF glass containing one large chunk of clear ice. Some purists skip the ice but then make sure the glass is well chilled.

Toast whoever came up with this great drink – sadly we have no idea who that may have been.


The picture shows a Rum Old Fashioned made with Plantation Barbados rum sweetened with one teaspoon of 1:1 syrup, bittered with two dashes of Angostura bitters and garnished with lime peel.

What? Oh, that? Its a Leica M4 with a 50mm Summicron from 1967.

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