“What can happen to an Old-Fashioned?” – Tyler Fitzgerald (Jim Backus), It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)
Martin Doudoroff has a pretty good rant about the Old-Fashioned, and his history of the drink is echoed closely by Ted Haigh, otherwise known as Dr. Cocktail, a source whose accuracy and knowledge I am unwilling to impugn. Both roundly disparage the midcentury version of the Old-Fashioned, with Haigh calling it an “ugly slurry that has nothing to do with the original drink.” In their estimation, an Old-Fashioned is rye or bourbon, bitters, a wee bit of sugar, even less water (or none) and, perhaps, a twisted or muddled bit of orange or lemon peel. No cherry. No orange wedge. No club soda.
Historically, they are almost certainly correct. But the fact is that the Old-Fashioned evolved, and in the middle of the twentieth century, it had become a fruitier, sweeter concoction than it once was. Perhaps this iteration of the drink simply needs a new name (maybe a “Don Draper”?) In any case, the midcentury version is an important piece of cocktail history, and should not be dismissed. Besides, dare I say it, it tastes better than the old-fashioned Old-Fashioned.
This is one drink where I don’t really measure much of anything, maybe because I’ve made it so many times, although I don’t really remember ever measuring. Here’s what you’ll need.
Rye or bourbon whiskey*
Bitters (I usually use Angostura, but sometimes Peychaud’s)
Traditionally, the recipe calls for a sugar cube to be soaked in a couple dashes of the bitters, but simple syrup just makes things so much easier.
Cut the orange in half, then cut a round about 1/4 inch thick from the widest part of one of your halves. Then cut this in half. Pour simple syrup into the bottom of an old-fashioned glass, just enough to cover the bottom of the glass (you can adjust this amount for your own sweetness preference as you become more familiar with the drink). Add two or three dashes of bitters, the orange slice, and a maraschino cherry. Pour in a splash of club soda, roughly enough to just cover the orange slice. Muddle all this together. With a muddler. Add rye or bourbon – I guess I usually pour in about three ounces, or a bit less. Stir briefly. Add a few ice cubes and another small splash of soda. Drink.
You almost can’t go wrong with this drink, unless you can’t stand the taste of whisky. In which case, why are you reading this blog? The sweetness will vary a bit, and the liquor you use can have a big impact, but on the whole, this one is foolproof. It’s probably the one drink I make more than any other, and with good reason. Five livers.
* I almost always use rye; I just think it works better with the other ingredients. A few years ago, rye was not easy to find, and your options were limited, but currently rye is having a major renaissance. There are actually some amazing ryes made right here in New Mexico – the fifteen-year old Taos Lightning is the best I’ve had. It will also set you back about $80. So in general, I use George Dickel rye; it’s one-quarter the cost and about 80% as good. Much better bang for your buck, especially if you’re going to waste it in an ugly slurry like this.