A common side effect of having a deep love for Mad Men is a new found appreciation for the prohibition-era liquor and cocktails so often featured in the show. Those taken to Don Draper’s taste note his proclivity for rye whiskey, and if it’s to be mixed, it should be an Old-Fashioned. Asking any fan of this classic cocktail the best way to make it is like asking a New Yorker where the best pizza is–a quick ticket to a million different answers. For a drink that should be so simple, it seems as if there is no –real– way to make it.
But that’s wrong, because –I– know the proper way to make one. And I’m going to share it with you.
There’s a large lore behind this particular cocktail that I won’t bore you with much of it, but if you do your own research, you’ll find its history stresses two two elements that make up the Old-Fashioned’s charm: simplicity and flexibility of rules. The supposed original recipe calls for such unspecifities as “Sugar, 1 lump…Ice, one square piece …” A variety of different recipes, all slightly different, surfaced around the same time. When I speak of a proper way to make one, I mean so-far as a framework, and less some sort of dogma. I’ll note notable trade-offs after my preferred recipe.
The Proper Old-Fashioned
- Start with an old fashioned glass (duh). The glass matters–the heavier the glass the better, and it should be sized so that after pouring in the ingredients, there isn’t too much air space up top.
- Place a single sugar cube in the glass
- Douse a healthy (7-8) amount of Angostura bitters over the sugar cube.
- Muddle the ice cube and bitters. Your goal here is to create a syrup, so try and avoid letting the sugar grains creep up the glass.
- Put ice in the glass. The bigger the ice the better, and the less amount of ice cubes the better. Smaller ice dissolves quicker, watering down the cocktail beyond desire. If you can use an ice mold that creates huge ice cubes, you should do so. If not, fill up about a third of the glass with ice.
- Let the ice melt for about thirty seconds, stirring it once or twice.
- Pour in a little over an ounce of rye whiskey, and stir 20-30 times. More on whiskey selection below, but I usually use Old Overholt.
- If you’re using smaller ice cubes, fill the glass to about two thirds of the glass.
- Repeat the above two steps, filling the glass to below the brim with ice afterwards.
- Cut or zest the skin of an orange. Do your best to avoid getting any white pith–you just want the skin. Any pith will bitter the drink.
- Cut the skin of the orange into roughly a half-an-inch by two-and-a-half inch rectangle.
- Orange kin facing the top of the glass, lightly fold the skin length wise to express orange oils over the drink. People will often look at this step as silly or unimportant, but I find it’s absolutely critical to a great Old-Fashioned
- If you can get yourself on some brandied bing cherries, put one in. If you can only find bright red Maraschino cherries, leave those for the ice cream and just go with the orange.
- I go really healthy with the bitters. Its more common go with about half what I recommend, 3-4. This is up to particular taste and how sweet/bitter you want your drink. I would not go with less than three, however.
- Other recipes call for a mix of Angostura, Orange and other bitters. I like the taste of angostura so I keep mine simple, but experimenting with the kind of bitters is a good way to start tailoring your drink. Do not eschew them though–otherwise, you’re not drinking an Old-Fashioned.
- Many popular recipes for an Old Fashioned call to add tap or seltzer water to help create the syrup, but with this being a rocks cocktail, I think that’s a really quick way to a watered down drink. I highly recommend against.
- Likewise, some recipes prefer to use simple syrup instead of the sugar. I actually think agree that it can make for a better cocktail as you avoid the grainy-bottom that comes with using sugar. It’s also a heck of a love easier. However, with me using a lot of bitters and letting the ice melt, I find the old-school feeling of actually muddling the sugar cube makes up for this ease.
- Unlike Manhattans (which should always, always use rye), Bourbon is an acceptable substitute. I think rye just makes a better drink, but I’ve had some Old-Fashioneds that were heavier on the bitters succeed using Bourbon.
- No muddling of fruit. Although I applaude Mad Men and Don Draper for introducing this cocktail to me, and appreciate his choice of whisky (see below), don’t make an old fashioned like him. Muddling the fruit makes the drink taste either like a fruit salad or, as Robert Hess would say, bitter “swamp water.”
- If you’re making this for a date, when you fold the orange peel, aim across, not down, into the drink and put a lit match in front of it. The flame will do a jump-dance as the oils hit the flame and fall down into the drink.
And there you have it. Hit me up on twitter @jacobburch if you have any of your own variations.