Early cocktails set out to soften spirits with ice while adding a little of something sweet and balanced by something bitter - simple and yet so effective. This basic method is still the basis of the Old Fashioned, which became recognised throughout the 1800s as American Whiskey improved in quality and found its way into mixed drinks. As bartenders began experimenting and creating ‘improved cocktails’ our hero drink gained its name from cocktail purists as a nostalgic look back to those ‘Old Fashioned Whiskey Cocktails’.
Making an Old Fashioned really is simple.
You can hear a plenitude of methods but I am going to teach you a very easy way, as I was taught by Sasha Petraske when I worked at Milk & Honey. He was the don of classic cocktails, but always very progressive in the methodology, searching for the scientifically best way and most efficient way to reach the perfect end result. Many say that you can use just sugar syrup in your Old Fashioned, pre mixed liquid sugar. For me I believe that that by using a sugar cube you have some gradual change to the drink over the course of its life. This cocktail, more than any, is a journey, a story, that changes in the glass, starting strong and ending refreshing as the ice melts. The gradual melting of the sugar granules in the glass add a little body to the weaker finish.
So beginning with the sugar cube, you then dowse it in your chosen bitters. A drop of soda water, no more than a teaspoon full, will help soften the cube for muddling. Go at it with your muddler, or toddy stick as they were known, and grind to a paste. Then add your entire 50ml of spirit at once. Many will tell you that you should add the spirit bit by bit, but this is overly complicating thing. Then add one ice cube. Our goal is to dilute the cocktail enough to take the burn of the spirit off, and make it accessible. We are looking to add 20mls of dilution, which handily is roughly an ice cube. By adding only one you will find that it is diluted more easily by the spirit. Give it a quick stir to mix the sugar, then you can leave it while you turn your attention to the twist.
To cut your twist you are trying to make a ribbon of the skin. Finally fill the glass completely with ice and stir for a good ten second. Express the oils of your twist, tuck into the glass, and take a sip!
We’ve chosen six products which we feel all make fantastic Old Fashioneds – surely one of them is sitting on your drinks trolley!? Now’s the time to get mixing.
While the brand Woodford Reserve is modern, the distillery itself is said to be the oldest in Kentucky, and where Elijah Pepper perfected the art of distillation. The distillery was the site of many an innovation, changing the methods of making whiskey for the better, including developing the use of Sour Mash, where the acidic residue of the stills is added to the fermenting vessels, helping to create character and prevent bacteria forming. They have the only heat cycled warehouse in the area, where they heat and cool the warehouse to maximise the barometric pressure, ensuring the whiskey penetrates the barrels to their fullest. They also host, unusually, some large copper pot stills in their distillery. Most bourbon is made on the more efficient continuous still, but Woodford incorporates the oilier, heavier spirit that a pot still gives, in a more historic fashion of distilling. Along with their 100 year old Cypress wood fermenters, they go about business honouring the methods developed at their distillery as many as 200 years ago, albeit with a modern twist.
TASTE: This deep amber whiskey has a complex aroma of vanilla, mint and molasses. Pleasantly sweet to the taste with notes of brown sugar and spice that give way to oak, toffee, dark fruit and anise. This whiskey finishes long and smooth with serious depth. will make a superb classic Old Fashioned, with traditional sugar and citrus twists.
Named after the natural paths formed by migrating buffalos that enabled pioneers to cross into new lands, Buffalo Trace Distillery is longest continuously running distillery in Kentucky. With a history dating back over 200 years, Buffalo Trace has become a pioneer in the Bourbon industry by constantly honouring tradition while embracing change. Proudly the owner of the title 'The worlds most awarded distillery' - earned through an uncompromising dedication to the craft that is distillation, Buffalo Trace is also listed National Historical Landmark. Under the watchful eye of Master Distiller Harlen Wheatley, the distillery is pushing forwards innovation in the Bourbon category with many experimental aging techniques, small batch releases and single oak projects.
TASTE: Rich and deep aromas from the heavy char, a number 4 or alligator char, so called because the flames burn the oak staves for 55 seconds, until completely cracked like the back of an alligator. This enables the spirit to really get into the oak, extracting all that wonderful vanilla, coconut, and baking spice characteristics that American white oak can offer. This will make a superb classic Old Fashioned, with traditional sugar and citrus twists.
Taking you guys from classic American whisky to the cutting edge we have a delicious treat for you in the form of Starward. Founded in 2007 by David Vitale, a Melbournite who wanted to reflect the fantastic culture of his home city, as well as harnessing the aging power of their famous weather which, as Crowded House sang, can encompass four seasons in one day. The whisky is made from 100% Australian malted barley, and is uniquely aged in Australian wine barrels, formerly used to hold ‘Apera’, an Australian fortified wine, similar to sherry. The barrels are carefully selected, retoasted, and resized before being filled with new make spirit, and being aged for 3 years.
TASTE: Starward is incredibly fruity, with orchard fruit and citrus, as well as raisin all present. Mixed into an old fashioned the incredible fruit nose and palate is elevated, bringing forward the toast of the cask. Try with a lemon twist and experiment with a dash of Angostura and orange bitters too.
Nikka From The Barrel
Japanese whisky is such a runaway success these days, with bottlings fetching enormous sums and often selling out. All of this can be traced to one man, Taketsuru. He studied in Scotland and fell in love with whisky, dedicating himself to learning about the spirit. In 1920 he married his wife, Rita, and returned to Japan, set upon opening a distillery. Not without hiccup he eventually succeeds with the Yoichi Distillery. At first everything was done in the manner to mimic Scottish whisky making, but the Japanese tradition for constantly striving for perfection through innovation sees Japanese whisky developing its own style. Though often it presents much as a Scottish whisky, new traditions such as clear wort, and Japanese oak such as Mizunara became part of Japanese whisky, creating a wonderful and expressive style that often is described as having purity.
TASTE: Nikka from the barrel is a blend of malt whisky from the two distilleries that Taketsuru built, Yoichi and Miyagikyo, lain over a framework of grain whisky. The result is incredible complexity, and bottled at barrel strength. This will give you an incredible structure to your Old Fashioned, and leaves you at liberty to choose your citrus twist, whether the brightness of lemon, or inviting freshness of orange. For bitters perhaps running with classic Angostura for an elegant serve.
For those of you who like something different, the rum Old Fashioned is a fantastic and easy drinking alternative to the whiskey classic.
Here we have a rum that makes a cracking Old Fashioned, and made in the Cuban style. The Cuban government encouraged early adoption of progressive distilling techniques towards the end of the 1800s, enabling them to make cleaner alcohol than previously possible and so their rums have a lighter body, making them approachable and wonderful cocktail ingredients due to the fact they are completely dry, allowing you full control over the direction of your cocktail. Their aging techniques often deploy older barrels, that give more restrained wood notes. Havana 7 is a blend of aged rums, of a minimum seven years and older, and their delicate tannins and vanilla notes from the Cuban aging process work very well with the demerara sugar, giving a lovely toffee apple note.
TASTE: dry, with aromatics of cedar, vanilla, sweet tobacco, and cocao. This is an open door for experimentation, explore maple syrup, sugar, or honey. Classic Angostura bitters will accentuate many of the spice notes in the rum.
Diplomatico is a Venezuelan rum made at the foot of the Andes, its location chosen to be in close proximity to the sugar mills. Venezuela is a country heavily influenced by Spanish distilling practices, brought over by Colonisation. The Spanish distilled wines to make spirits like Brandy De Jerez, and they would age them in a complex blending technique using a series of barrels, called soleras. Much like Brandy De Jerez, Spanish colonies tend to a sweeter style of rum, as you can see with Diplomatico. The distillates are a blend of lighter column stilled rum, heavier and oiler pot, and batch kettle, blending these different marques to create a complex and approachable rum. Diplomatico Reserva Exlusiva is a blend of rums with a minimum age of 12 years.
TASTE: A real sipping rum, this has an inherent sweetness, which can either be used with the standard recipe for those with a sweeter palette, or perhaps cut the sugar cube in half if you want the flavour and body. Rich dried fruit character, cocoa, and orange all abundant on the nose and palette. I’d recommend exploring using both lemon and orange twists on this, for an incredible citrus bouquet.
For a time America was obsessed with the digestif properties of bitters and would drink them liberally. Good digestion has always been associated with long life so they bitters have long been treated as an elixir. When added to cocktails they supply depth, balance and complexity, and without bitters we don’t have an Old Fashioned. We’d recommend starting out with Angostura bitters to make the most classic incarnation of this cocktail but if you’re feeling adventurous – you’ll notice a real difference when using either Bob’s Chocolate Bitters or Peychaud Aromatic Bitters dashed over your sugar cube.
If you'd like to attend a tutored Old Fashioned Experiment to find your perfect combination, DrinkUp.London hosts regular sessions for just £10 at TT Liquor - check them all out here.