We'll be playing with new combinations and clever variations on the original "cock-tail." Dating to the the early 1800's, an Old Fashioned is composed of spirit, bitters and sugar. The Old Fashioned that most people know is composed of whiskey, superfine white sugar, aromatic bitters, and a lemon twist. Occasionally you will also see a cherry or an orange muddled in to sweeten the mix. Those elements are really up to the drinker's preference. Most purists prefer it without the fruit.
We'll start the month of right by discussing the basic elements of an Old Fashioned and what options are available.
THE BASIC RECIPE
2 oz Spirit
2 ds bitters
1/2 tsp superfine sugar
Combine the ingredients in the base of an Old Fashioned glass or rocks glass. Stir or muddle to dissolve sugar. Add a large ice cube or sphere to chill. Garnish as required.
|Preparing the garnish for a bourbon Old Fashioned, ca 2012.|
While the original Old Fashioned was likely made with brandy or rye whiskey, the Old Fashioned is a family of cocktails, like the sour, and can be comprised of almost any spirit. Mayahuel's Oaxaca Old Fashioned uses tequila and mezcal as its base spirit. PDT's Benton's Old Fashioned uses a Benton's bacon-infused bourbon. My go-to cocktail at home last year was a Rum Old Fashioned made with Flor de Caña 12 yr Rum.
Traditionalists will call for an aromatic bitters, like Angostura, but in recent years the bitters market has exploded and there are so many more fun options to try. But, what are bitters? Basically, bitters are the spices of the cocktail world. Bitter makers take their unique combination of spices and bittering agents and infuse them in a high proof spirit, creating a very potent, very flavorful liquid that is not intended to be consumed on its own, but added in very small qualities (or dashes) to season a cocktail. Most cocktail bars carry Angostura Aromatic Bitters, Orange Bitters (Angostura or Regan's), and Peychaud's bitters. Some unique bitters currently available? Check out Bitter Queen's Bangkok Betty Thai Spiced Bitters, Bittermen's Hopped Grapefruit Bitters, or Dr Adam Elmegirab's Teapot Bitters.
For a whiskey Old Fashioned, most recipes call for superfine sugar, but you still have stir or muddle the sugar to get it to dissolve. In a need for speed, many bars have gone to using syrup, because it's sweetener in liquid form. With a more health-conscious public, there are more sugar options available at most grocery stores, so the drinking public can choose to avoid GMO's in white sugar. Sweetening options that I use in my cocktails range from pure cane sugar, turbinado sugar, agave nectar, maple syrup, sorghum, molasses, and honey.
Squeezing the oil from a lemon peel over the surface of the drink is the traditional garnish for a whiskey Old Fashioned, but what happens when you change the base spirit? I've used orange or grapefruit oil for a tequila or rum old fashioned. But, surely there are other options. Perhaps we could try misting the top of a gin old fashioned with orange flower water...
COMBINING THE INGREDIENTS
An Old Fashioned calls for a bit of dilution, but you don't need much. Some old-school bartenders are accustomed to adding a splash of club soda to help dissolve the sugar. Some modern bartenders prefer to use a liquid sweetener or syrup (as noted above). The other option is to grind the sugar into the spirit and bitters with a muddler.
Ice matters. Don't grab those cubes that have been sitting in your freezer for 6 months and have absorbed the smell of whatever else you've been storing along side them. Use fresh ice. I prefer large cubes or spheres, because they have less surface area and dissolve slower. You want your Old Fashioned chilled, not watered down.
Bartending in Wisconsin? Then you know all about the Brandy Old Fashioned and how essential muddling fruit into this particular Old Fashioned is to your guests. Some people just like it sweet, and I've learned living in the South not to stand between a guest and their sweet tooth. Some variations add a secondary spirit, such as in the Old Fashioned cocktail's sister, the Sazerac, which calls for an absinthe or Herbsaint rinse.
And those are just the basics. This month we'll be pushing the envelope of this seemingly simple ratio of ingredients. In addition to my own work, I'll be hosting Mixology Monday this month, with many brilliant and creative cocktailians taking on this challenge as well. Many happy drinks to come!