Old Fashioned

From Chanticleer Society

Recipe

  • 2 ounces bourbon or rye whiskey
  • 1 teaspoon simple syrup
  • 2 dashes Angostura Bitters
  • Garnish: orange twist (bourbon) or lemon twist (rye)
  • Garnish: maraschino cherry (optional)

Put the simple syrup and bitters into the bottom of a rocks (aka Old Fashioned) glass. Add several ice cubes, then top with the whiskey. Stir briefly to combine and chill the ingredients, then garnish with an orange twist (for bourbon) or a lemon twist (for rye), and optionally a maraschino cherry.


In the early 1800's this drink would have simple been called a "Whiskey Cocktail", it wouldn't be until the later half of the 1800's that a customer would need to call for an "Old Fashioned Whiskey Cocktail" if this is what they were wanting. This was because what constituted a cocktail had begun to evolve once bartenders began to experiment with adding vermouths and other ingredients to what would previously just be "spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters".

Eventually, "Old Fashioned Whiskey Cocktail" was shortened to just "Old Fashioned".

Origins

As the story goes, the Old Fashioned was "invented" at the Pendennis Club in Louisville, Kentucky. From my library, here is the oldest recounting of this story that I could locate:

"Old Waldorf Bar Days" (1931) by Albert Stevens Crockett

OLD-FASHIONED WHISKEY
This was brought to the old Waldorf in the days of its "sit-down" Bar, and introduced by, or in honor of, Col. James E. Pepper, of Kentucky, proprietor of a celebrated whiskey of the period. The Old-fashioned Whiskey cocktail was said to have been the invention of a bartender at the famous Pendennis Club in Louisville, of which Col. Pepper was a member.
One-quarter lump Sugar Two spoons Water One dash Angostura One jigger Whiskey One piece Lemon Peel One lump Ice. Serve with small spoon.[1]

While this story is often repeated, it is unfortunately incorrect. The term "Old Fashioned" when referring to cocktails can be found prior to the Pendennis club opening. Add to this the realization that this is simply a "whiskey cocktail" as it would have once been made, and the notion of "creating" a new drink and calling it an "Old Fashioned" becomes suspect.

One of the oldest in-print references to a whiskey cocktail being referred to as an "Old Fashioned Whiskey Cocktail" comes from "Modern American Drinks" (1895) by George J. Kappeler

The Old-Fashioned Whiskey Cocktail:
Dissolve a small lump of sugar with a little water in a whiskey-glass; add two dashes Angostura bitters, a small piece ice, a piece lemon-peel, one jigger whiskey. Mix with small bar-spoon and serve, leaving spoon in glass.[2]

From this, we can see that the basic construction of the Old Fashioned is fairly similar to what we have today. Noting of course that the water used here is only for dissolving the sugar (which doesn't dissolve as well in alcohol), and there isn't yet any sign of the orange or cherry that most of us today assume will be found in this drink.

If we go back even further in time however, and look at the first published collection of cocktail recipes from Jerry Thomas' 1862 "How To Mix Drinks" we find the recipe:

109. Whiskey Cocktail (Use small bar glass.)
3 or 4 dashes of gum syrup. 2 do. Bitters (Bogart's) 1 wine-glass of whiskey, and a piece of lemon peel. Fill one-third full of fine ice; shake and strain in a fancy red wine-glass.

Look at this recipe closely. It includes sugar (in the form of gum syrup, a version of simple syrup), bitters, whiskey, and a lemon peel. Besides the fact that this drink is strained into the glass, it is virtually identical to what would otherwise be easily described as an Old Fashioned.[3]

It should be easy to see from this, that the "Whiskey Cocktail" is essentially the same drink which will later be called "Old Fashioned Whiskey Cocktail", and even later simply "Old Fashioned".

References

  1. "Old Waldorf Bar Days" (1931) Albert Stevens Crockett
  2. "Modern American Drinks" (1895) George J. Kappeler
  3. Bon Vivant's Companion -or- How to Mix Drinks (1862) Jerry Thomas