Ah, the Old Fashioned! Is there a perfect cocktail? I don’t think so. In its purest form, the recipe stretches back to the 1800’s when its name was simply the "Whiskey Cocktail". Whiskey, bitters, sugar, and water come together to create a drink that is so much better than simply the sum of its parts. A true classic!
From beer and sports bars to upscale speakeasy’s and cocktail bars, everyone is putting their own spin on the old-fashioned and adding it to the “signature cocktail list”. This is easy for most bars to achieve as the recipe is so recognizable that most consumers can see the Old Fashioned underneath all the dressing up the drink received and is willing to give the drink a try because they know it has “good bones”. The other reason that more and more bars are doing a spin on the old-fashioned is due to the incredible ease and adaptability of this classic recipe. With a few small changes like the bitters combination, syrups used, infused whiskey and so on it becomes astoundingly easy to make a signature old fashioned.
Now let’s talk about all those variables and ways you can make a great signature old fashioned at home.
First off let’s go over the things you’ll need to get started
Fruit of choice
Mixing glass/ large side of a shaker tin
a mixing/ bartender’s spoon,
Re-sealable jars/ bottles.
1 sauce pot
As you will be mixing this whiskey to make a cocktail, there is no need to spend an arm and a leg on a premium bottle. That being said, with how much the recipes rely on the whiskey you choose for a base, you will find this is a drink where you definitely get what you pay for.
The traditional choice for an Old Fashioned as Rye will balance well with the sugar and give the drink a spicy character. Top suggestions are Rittenhouse, Sazerac, Knob Creek Rye, Lot 40.
Bourbon will make an overall sweeter old-fashioned as it is a naturally sweet whiskey and then compounded by the sweetening agent you choose. If you are going to use a bourbon to make an old-fashioned, try a higher proof bourbon so that the flavor doesn’t get washed out. Top suggestions are Henry Mckenna, Knob Creek, Blanton's, Old Forester Signature 100, Four Roses Barrel strength.
This is probably the second largest decision when considering an Old Fashioned and the one that is the easiest to play around with because of the ease of making a syrup and the low expense of sugar.
Choosing a sugar cube as your sweetening agent will save you time from having to prepare a simple syrup and if properly stored will stay shelf stable for quite a while. There is something gratifying about dousing a sugar cube with bitters and muddling it in order to make the drink, in fact, I actually find the process of making an old-fashioned this way quite therapeutic. The negative to this method is that it usually gives the drink a very grainy texture which can give the drink an uneven sweetness with some sips containing more granulated sugar than others.
This method takes a few minutes to prepare and is very easy to do at home. 1 cup sugar, 1 cup water boiled until the mixture turns clear. Put into a bottle and refrigerate. Using this method give the drink a smoother texture and an even sweetness throughout the drink.
This is where syrup becomes the stronger choice for making an old-fashioned. The simple rule of thumb I heard is to make an infused syrup is 1 cup water, 1 cup sugar, and 1 cup berries. While the mixture is overheating, muddle the berries into the syrup and strain before bottling.
With the wealth of new Cocktail Bitters companies out there, now there is no excuse to settle for Angostura and Angostura Orange when you're making drinks at home. You can find all sorts of specialized aromatic bitters that can impart a spicier flavor, orange bitters that are drier. You can also get bitters in almost any flavor imaginable I personally love adding a dash of cherry bitters alongside the standard aromatic and orange bitters.
Fruit-Infused Old Fashioned's are on the rise. You can easily muddled in a fruit of choice if you so desire (like blueberry) or keep it classic with an Orange peel. The easiest way to add a fruit based accent is via Infused Syrups but feel free to experiment to your hearts content. Write your own recipe- If you like it, that's a win in our book!
Large cubes or spheres should become standard when serving at home. With the luxury of your own freezer and budget, there is no reason for freezer door ice. Luckily the large cube and sphere molds have gotten very popular and can be found on Amazon for cheap and at every bed bath and beyond these days so repeat after me people "no crappy ice".