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History of the Old Fashioned Cocktail
The art of mixing cocktails began in earnest in the United States in the early 1800s, where a cocktail was defined as a simple mixture: just spirits, bitters, sugar, and water. By the 1880s, however, mixologists were experimenting with all kinds of additional flavors, from curaçao to fruit juice. While plenty of drinkers enjoyed the new flavors, many others called for a return to the “old fashioned way” of mixing drinks—they wanted a simple drink made of spirits, bitters, sugar, and water. Pretty soon, bars and bartenders were making a variety of drinks they called “the old fashioned.”
3 Ways to Modify an Old Fashioned
As a drink that’s been around since the 1800s, there are lots of opinions on exactly how to make the best Old Fashioned.
- Fruit. While the original recipe didn’t call for any fruit, orange slices and lemon peels became a common garnish in the early 1900s, which evolved into using a pinch of orange zest in the drink, substituting the Angostura bitters for orange bitters, or even muddling the sugar with a citrus peel. Try different levels of fruit flavor in your Old Fashioned to see what you like best—but remember that the drink is supposed to have a strong whiskey flavor, so if it tastes like orange juice, you’ve gone too far.
- Ice. The ice in an Old Fashioned acts not only as a way to chill the cocktail but as a careful diluter, melting slowly to temper the sharp flavor of the whiskey. The amount of dilution in your Old Fashioned depends on the size of ice you use. Small ice cubes (like the ones that come from standard ice-makers and freezing trays) often melt quickly, so many bartenders opt for one large ice cube (such as a two-inch ice cube) or for large ice spheres to get the right dilution.
- Sweetener. The original recipe calls for granulated sugar, which you’ll muddle with the bitters and a splash of water until it dissolves. This can be time-consuming, and if you aren’t diligent, it’s very possible you’ll end up with a gritty, grainy final product. If you find that granulated sugar isn’t working for you, feel free to replace it with a teaspoon of simple syrup instead. Learn how to make simple syrup here.
Classic Old Fashioned Recipe
Prep Time3 min
Total Time3 min
- 1 sugar cube (or 1 teaspoon simple syrup)
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
- Dash of water
- Ice cubes
- 2 ounces bourbon whiskey or rye whiskey
- Optional: Orange twist, lemon peel, or maraschino cherry, for garnish
- Place the sugar cube in a rocks glass and add the bitters and water. Muddle (using a muddler or wooden spoon) until the sugar is dissolved. (If using the sugar syrup, simply stir the syrup, bitters, and water together.)
- Fill the glass with ice and add the whiskey.
- Stir with a bar spoon or other tall spoon until mixed. Garnish with an orange twist, lemon peel, or cherry, if desired. Serve immediately.
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