The Old Fashioned

December 5th, 2018

Bartender Journey Episode #263

The Old Fashioned.

I was at a sitting at a bar the other day and there was a bartender, training a young lady who was obviously brand new to bartending. The younger one asked the one who was doing the training “how long have you been bartending”. She answers “nearly 15 years”.

A ticket comes in for an Old Fashioned. Here’s a learning opportunity for the newbie, right?

She explains how to make it:

  • “Get a rocks glass
  • Get an orange slice and a luxardo cherry and muddle it in the glass.
  • Add ¼ to ½ oz of simple syrup and about the same amount of sweet vermouth.
  • Add ice and then fill nearly to the top with whiskey, (usually you should ask what type of whiskey they would like).
  • Top with club soda.
  • Put 3 or 4 dashes of bitters on top”

There are a lot of problems here. Lets take them one by one.

  • The muddled “fruit salad” Old Fashioned was an unfortunate variation on the classic recipe. Some people like them and even expect them that way, which is fine…the best cocktail for someone is the one made exactly the way they like it. But the classic recipe is water, sugar, bitters and whiskey…we’ll talk about where that description comes from in a few minutes. Somewhere along the road it became popular to muddle an orange slice and a red maraschino cherry with sugar and bitters.The muddling in an Old Fashioned is supposed to be to incorporate the granular sugar (or sugar cube) with a little water and the bitters.
  • Moving on to the second mistake in my example. THERE IS NO VERMOUTH IN AN OLD FAHIONED!   There is sweet vermouth in a Manhattan…not an Old Fashioned
  • Next…she says “top with club soda”. Yes we do want to dilute it a bit. Some books will tell you do this. Personally I add the water by stirring the whole thing in my mixing cup with ice. This chills the drink down and the melting ice adds water or “dilution”. I strain it into a glass with fresh ice.
  • Next she said to “put 3-4 drops of bitters on top”. 100% wrong. I don’t like to flat out say somebody is doing something wrong, but no don’t do that.You want to incorporate the bitters into the drink. While there are drinks which call for drops of bitters on top, such as the Pisco Sour…not the Old Fashioned.

This is my recipe, and its written almost exactly like this in Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s The Bar Book, which is more or less the final word for me personally in all matters Bartending.

In mixing cup:

Stir with ice to chill and dilute.

Strain into an old fashioned glass with one large 2” ice cube. Express oils from an orange twist (use a Y-peeler to make orange twist to order). You could also use a lemon twist, which is delicious also.

Old Fashioneds can of course also be made with Rye whiskey or even rum. I’ve seen Reposado or Anão Tequila Old Fashioneds too.

In Sasha Patraski’s book Regarding Cocktails Sasha’s protégé Sam Ross shares his recipe for an Old Fashioned variation called the Tattletale. Its made with Angostura bitters, honey a blend of a Highlands scotch and a smoky Islay scotch.

So of course, there is no end to variations and methods, but I just feel like its good to know the proper traditional way of making things before going off on tangents.

History wise:

The earliest known printed definition of the “cocktail” appeared in the newspaper the Balance and Columbian Repository in 1806. It was written in response to a reader who asked for a definition of the word. It said a cocktail is “A stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters.”

Quoting from Wikipedia, “The first use of the name ‘Old Fashioned’ for a Bourbon whiskey cocktail was said to have been at the Pendennis Club, a gentlemen's club founded in 1881 in Louisville, Kentucky. The recipe was said to have been invented by a bartender at that club in honor of Colonel James E. Pepper, a prominent bourbon distiller, who brought it to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel bar in New York City.”

Robert Simonson mentioned that it was simply referred to as a “whiskey cocktail” until the late 19th century. Mr. Simonson wrote a great book all about the Old Fashioned called The Old-Fashioned: The Story of the World's First Classic Cocktail, with Recipes and Lore. I’ll have a link to that along with the other books I mentioned.

Speaking of prohibition, as I record this today Dec 5, 2018 it is Repeal Day! This is the anniversary of the end of Prohibition in 1933. Its an unofficial Bartender holiday, or at least excuse for a party! I happened to be almost at the end of binge watching Boardwalk Empire, which was a great show on HBO about the prohibition era. Its fictional, but a lot of historical characters are in the show like Lucky Luciano, Al Capone and Elliot Ness. The show is now available on Amazon Prime if you want to check it out.

So mix yourself up and Old Fashioned. I’d love to see your version. If you could post a picture on IG and give it the hash tag


Depending how many we get, I’ll try to mention them all on the next show.

I’ll be posting mine on my IG which is BartenderJourney.

Here’s a toast:

Here’s to everything that is old.

Old friends, old times, old manners and old fashioneds.

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