Celebrating The Original Cocktail: A Toast to the Old Fashioned

There’s something about an old fashioned cocktail that just makes you feel sophisticated. Maybe it’s the history behind it, or maybe it’s the fact that you can make so many different variations of it. 

Whatever it is, there’s no doubt that this drink is a classic! In this blog post, we’ll take a look at where the old fashioned comes from, how to make different variations of it and why it’s such a popular choice among cocktail drinkers.

Old Fashioned - The Original Cocktail

Where did the Old Fashioned originate?

The old fashioned cocktail is said to have originated in the early 1800s. It was first mentioned in a newspaper article on May 13, 1806, which described it as a “stimulating liquor…composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters.”

How did it get its name?

Have you ever learned the basics of something and then started to innovate on top of it? We do it all the time. A more recent example is something like poutine, which has three simple ingredients. Fries, gravy, cheese curds. 

But as this dish gained in popularity across Canada, we started adding more to it like lobster sauce, caramelized onions, pulled pork and many other toppings!

Eventually it can get so overloaded that you just wished you could order the plain old version that you first fell in love with.

Well the first cocktail was kind of like that. As people enjoyed drinking it, bartenders invented new iterations of the drink. 

Eventually, people also started to miss the simplicity and the flavours in the original… and began asking for their drinks the old fashioned way.

The Secret to Making the Perfect Old Fashioned

I’ve been teaching classes on making old fashioned for nearly a decade. And while there are many variations on technique, people come out of one of my workshops always say the one they just made tastes much better than what they’ve tried to do on their own!

So what’s the secret?

Well, in any cocktail with only a few simple ingredients, it’s important you use good products and the right proportions for a balanced drink.

In an Old Fashioned, you also want to be weary of how much water is in your drink (dilution) because this will impact your flavour significantly. Dilution takes place when you’re mixing your ingredients with ice to chill it and can also be introduced if you are using a simple syrup vs. a sugar cube.

Here is my method for making the perfect Old Fashioned:

  1. Place a raw sugar cube in the bottom of a rocks glass. (I use raw sugar because it’s the closest thing we can find today to the unrefined loaf sugar that would have been available two centuries ago).
  2. Soak the sugar cube with bitters. Depending on the bitters you’ve chosen for your Old Fashioned, you will need between 2-4 dashes.
  3. Measure 1 barspoon of soda water and carefully pour on the sugar cube to fully soak the sugar.
  4. Using a muddler, crush the soaked sugar cube into a paste in the bottom of your glass. It should still be grainy.
  5. Fill your glass 1/2 full with ice. Don’t fill it all the way yet with ice. You will still need to stir the cocktail, if it’s too full ice will be flying out of your glass!
  6. Add 1.5-2 oz of good quality bourbon to the glass.
  7. Using a barspoon, give the drink a stir for at least 20 seconds, longer if you want to soften the flavours of your bourbon (or if you have a hard time slowly sipping your cocktail)
  8. Fill the rest of the glass with ice.
  9. Using a vegetable peeler, peel a piece of zest from an orange. Slice off the rough sides with a knife to make it a nice, clean garnish.
  10. Rub the orange zest along the top edge of the glass, this will add a nice light orange flavour as you sip from the oils in the zest. Then place the zest on your glass.
  11. (Optional). Add a cherry to garnish if desired.

Variations on the Old Fashioned

Over the years, the recipe for this drink has changed slightly, but the basic ingredients remain the same. The old fashioned is typically made with whiskey, sugar, bitters and a twist of citrus peel. For those looking to add a bit of extra flavor to their drink, there are many different variations of the old fashioned that can be made.

If you aren’t accustomed to the booze-forwardness of an Old Fashioned, or if you have a friend or partner who falls into this camp, try muddling an orange slice with your sugar cube at the start of the cocktail. Or add some cherry juice to taste.

Another popular variation is the Kentucky old fashioned, which is made with bourbon instead of whiskey. For a sweeter drink, try adding a cherry or two to your old fashioned. Or, for a more unique twist, try using smoked whiskey or even tequila in place of the traditional whiskey. You can also try smoking your glass to add a nice flavour. Spirits With Smoke offers a smoking board with 5 different flavours to try.

Or experiment with different types of sweeteners. For example, you could try maple syrup or honey in place of a sugar cube.

No matter what ingredients you choose to use, the key to making a great old fashioned is to take your time and enjoy the process. After all, this classic cocktail is meant to be sipped and savoured! Cheers!

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