The Old Fashioned

maurice amon old fashionedIt was brought to my attention that today is the anniversary of the Old Fashioned cocktail.  This cocktail has a strange history, and is a great example of the wild variations of recipes in the cocktail world.  Anyone who needs to exist in a world of black and white need not look to get into the field of bartending.  Next time you’re at a bookstore, take a walk over to the food book section, and then find the very small section of books about drinks.  Open up a cocktail recipe book and pick a drink you’ve never heard of at random.  Now find the same recipe in three more books.  I bet you’ll find that no two recipes match exactly.

It’s easy to understand how this would be possible.  Any bartender will tell you that even within a bar, there can be variations of recipes.  Great bars work hard to achieve consistency between bartenders, giving their customers the same drink experience every time.  I can think of a few bars where, when being trained by a legacy bartender, was told, ‘oh, they SAY to make this drink like THIS – but here’s how to make it really great!’  Even the training was encouraging coming up with variations!

The Old Fashioned is the original cocktail.  The earliest use of the word cocktail was in the early 1800’s, where it was described as spirits, bitters, sugar, and water.  Any spirit could be used, but it only became a cocktail with the addition of bitters, sugar, and water.  In the coming years, there was great innovation in cocktails, with additional spirits and liqueurs added, different mixers, and of course the removal of bitters, sugar, and water.  Once new drinks began gaining in popularity, some folks began to ask for an ‘old fashioned’ cocktail.  They simply wanted what was originally considered a ‘cocktail.’  They might order whisky, they might order gin, but they wanted that simple, original mix.

Today, ordering an Old Fashioned typically means you’re going to get bourbon whiskey, though its not strange to hear customers request another type of whiskey.  Customers who know, typically choose their specific spirit as part of the request.  Lately the request on Long Island is for a Bulleit Old Fashioned, with the implied understanding that I’ll make it with Bulleit bourbon (as opposed to their rye, which is also popular).  With all of the throwbacks to speakeasies and classic cocktails happening, I wonder if customers will start asking for Gin Old Fashioneds…