The Old-Fashioned really is the quintessential cocktail, comprised of whiskey, sugar, bitters, water and not much else.
Look at the first use of the term cocktail in this country, way back in 1806, and see how closely it matches the current Old-Fashioned
This newspaper describes a “Cocktail [as] a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters – it is vulgarly called a bittered sling, and is supposed to be an excellent electioneering potion inasmuch as it renders the heart stout and bold, at the same time that it fuddles the head. It is said also, to be of great use to a democratic candidate: because, a person having swallowed a glass of it, is ready to swallow anything else.”
I’d argue that this definition still works. A cocktail is a spirit-based drink with additional ingredients to sweeten, dilute, and flavor it. But when people started ordering “Old-Fashioneds” in the middle of the 19th century, they were saying they wanted the original, as opposed to one of many more complex mutations that had evolved since. Today’s Old-Fashioned still hews very close to this proto-cocktail.
Don Draper’s Old Fashioned
Let’s watch this fantastic clip from Mad Men, where Don Draper mixes an Old-Fashioned for Conrad Hilton. I’ll go through it step by step, discuss Don’s approach, how it’s different from the current approach, and throw in a couple other options I’ve heard about that you can test out for yourself. The Old-Fashioned is a great drink to tailor to your own taste.
|What Don Draper Does||Analysis||My recipe, plus variants|
|Don leaps over bar.||Illustrates virility, but completely optional.||Walk around bar or use kitchen counter instead.|
|He drops a sugar cube in each old-fashioned glass.||This is definitely the way to go. When the drink has a glass named for it, it’s probably for a reason. And the sugar cube leads to a pleasing variation in sugar concentration as you sip.||IDWDDD (I do what Don Draper does). Some opt for simple syrup, but I’d call that a mistake|
|Don asks, “Rye OK with you?” holding up a bottle of what looks like Canadian Club.||Again, points for Don. Bourbon is sweeter than rye, so with drinks that are heavy on sugar, go for a nice sharp Rye. I’d opt for something nicer, since this drink is all about the liquor.||IDWDDD, but Bourbon is certainly acceptable.|
|He soaks cubes with bitters, fills mixing glass with ice, and eyeballs a nice pour of rye.||Check, check, check. You can measure, but there’s not much by way of proportions to get right here, so eyeballing it is safe, and suave.|| Angostura bitters are traditional, but orange bitters work as well. |
See my notes below for how I build the drink differently than Don.
|Don pours some kind of seltzer into mixing glass.||He starts to go off track here, at least from how we do it today. Looks like he’s got 1 part seltzer to 3 parts Rye going, which is pretty heavy on the seltzer. Plus, I’d argue for adding a splash of seltzer on top once the drink is all built, rather than losing carbonation by pouring a drink with the fizz already incorporated.||How much seltzer or club soda you add is purely up to you. I fundamentally believe that this is supposed to be a boozy drink, so I just use a splash.|
|Breaks up sugar cubes with muddler, after the bitters have had some time to soak.||Perfect technique, but see my notes.||I add a cherry and an orange slice, then muddle. Old fashioneds have swung back and forth between fruity and boozy over the years, so do what works for you. I say some fruit is key, but pineapple is right out.|
|He stirs desultorily and pours into each glass.||This is kind of strange – I bet Don would get some side-eye for doing this today. Mostly, people build an old fashioned in the glass, and it’s the perfect occasional for your oversized ice cubes.||I also go about this in a largely different order. I soak the sugar in the bitters, then add the fruit. Muddle, then add a large ice cube. Add the booze and a splash of soda, then stir a bit.|
|Don garnishes with orange.||AOK in my book.||I garnish with a homemade maraschino cherry (because and a broad slice of lemon rind, but again, this is personal.|
Old Fashioned Cocktail
- 2 oz Rye (or Bourbon)
- 1 Sugar Cube
- 2 Cocktail Cherries
- 1 Orange Slice
- 1 Lemon Twist
- 1 dash Angostura Bitters
- 1 splash Soda or Seltzer
- Soak sugar cube with bitters, muddle with 1 cherry and orange slice
- Add ice cube and Whiskey, stir
- Top with a splash of seltzer
- Garnish with cherry and lemon twist
Good luck with your electioneering!