In the words of the acclaimed poet, Drake, "I'm about to say a true thing": Everyone should learn to make an Old-Fashioned and keep the requisite ingredients close at hand. Old-Fashioneds have seen a resurgence as of late and why not? The warmth of the whiskey, the depth of the bitters: these are the simple pleasures of the Old-Fashioned. As its name indicates, it is a classic cocktail -- THE classic cocktail, some would argue -- and it carries with it associations of a classier, more refined bygone era. If you want some of those associations to rub off on you, make sure this drink is in your repertoire.
While there is a great diversity of opinion on what constitutes a proper Old-Fashioned, there are two main schools of thought: the Muddlers and the Purists. The Muddlers enjoy their Old-Fashioneds with a fruity side (usually orange and cocktail cherries), while the Purists embrace restraint as orthodoxy, balking at any additions beyond ice or a twist of citrus peel. For the novice, I recommend starting with this basic recipe from the IBA (International Bartenders Association):
It's a bare bones Old-Fashioned and that's a good thing. Make one for yourself and test it out. Is it too sweet for you? Too boozy? Adjust it to suit your tastes. Despite the Purists' gnashing of teeth, there is room for variation. But don't go too wild. I recently had the displeasure of imbibing a very questionable (and very expensive) Old-Fashioned at a swanky hipster bar in Loz Feliz. I suspect the problem was over-thinking this decidedly simple cocktail, in order to justify a double digit price tag. So if you feel the need to put your own stamp on this classic, please be gentle, as it is entirely possible to ruin it.
Many in my generation will have been introduced to this cocktail by the popular television show and cigarette commercial, Mad Men. Having only watched bits and pieces over my wife's shoulder, all I can only say that the show is well-acted, well-written, and generally well-made. But at the risk of sounding like a bit of a Purist myself, I must contend that Don Draper makes a shitty Old-Fashioned:
There's some debate in the comments on whether the clear liquid added was water or syrup. Frankly, it doesn't matter. In my humble opinion, Don's Old-Fashioned will be overly diluted either way (though if it was indeed syrup, then the drink is likely to be overly sweet as well). Too much water and you lose the power of the whiskey, which is, after all, the point of this cocktail. Too much sugar and you might as well drink a Jack and Coke like some déclassé prole. But I don't judge.
So now that I've shit upon on a unnamed bar and Don Draper's mixology skills, I should offer you my old-fashioned recipe. Although I use rye for almost every whiskey cocktail, I make my Old-Fashioneds with bourbon as, in this setting, I prefer its rounded sweetness to rye's sharp dryness. If you're a rye whiskey partisan, just substitute lemon peel for the orange (rye and lemon pair nicely).
That's all there is to it. Give it a try and feel free to throw copious amounts of shade in the comments.
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