Generally, I focus on classic or “vintage” cocktails from the 1920s and 1930s, culled from various bartending guides published during those years, or from more recent volumes mining more obscure sources of that period. But for the next few posts, I’m going to highlight a few selections from Robert Simonson’s new book, The Old-Fashioned. Within, he gives a solid history of that particular drink, followed by contemporary reinterpretations from various bartenders around the country.
Now, many of these drinks (including today’s), I would actually hesitate to call an “old-fashioned.” But the old-fashioned took its name from the fact that it really boils down to a combination of base spirit, a bitters of some sort, and a sweetener (usually sugar or simple syrup, sometimes a touch of sweet liqueur like curaçao). Indeed, looking back at the oldest bartending guide I have in my collection, almost every cocktail follows that formula, with other ingredients only rarely included. Thus, when the “old-fashioned” came along, it was a reference to how cocktails used to be made. So, the argument could be made that any cocktail featuring primarily those three ingredients qualifies, regardless of whether the base spirit is whiskey or rum or gin or what have you.
Many of the recipes in Simonson’s book also feature rather complex DIY ingredients – homemade shrubs and bitters, bacon- or peanut-infused bourbon, and so on. Now, I’m sure those sorts of things are very tasty, and if you are a big DIY’er or have the resources of a top-flight cocktail bar at your disposal, go for it. But I’m more interested in simplicity. I don’t want to spend hours or days making my drink. So I’m going to give those sorts of recipes a pass. But there are several in the book that are quite easy, and this is one of them, courtesy of Phil Ward at Manhattan’s Death & Co..
2 ounces Plymouth gin
1/2 ounce St. Germain elderflower liqueur
2 dashes orange bitters
Stir together in an old-fashioned glass with ice (larger chunks preferably), and then squeeze a twist of grapefruit over the drink, dropping it in afterward.
As a “regular” old-fashioned should be pretty whiskey-y, so this is pretty ginny. The St. Germain adds some almost melon-like sweetness. Meanwhile, the grapefruit twist, which I was kind of excited about, doesn’t seem to provide as much flavoring as a lemon or orange twist usually does. But what it does provide gets along nicely with the orange bitters, giving a faint citrus hue to the whole thing. Still, I wasn’t overly impressed, but if you like a good strong gin drink, you might be. Three livers.