As a bartender I find that I’m constantly being asked what my favorite cocktail is, to which I have always replied that I don’t have a favorite cocktail, but that what I truly enjoy is change and when I frequent my local watering hole it is a rare occasion indeed that I would order the same drink twice.
Another question that I’m often asked is what the “best” cocktail is, to which I have to reply that there is no such thing as a “best” cocktail. I usually then bring out the analogy of shoes (I used to mention cars, but that was lost on much of the fairer sex). I ask what they would consider to be the “best” pair of shoes. There is usually a pause to which I answer the question for them: “Best for what? Dancing? Hiking? Boating? Work? Winter? Summer? The shoes that one chooses depend upon the time, your needs and your attitude. It is the same with a cocktail”.
Having said that, it has come to my conclusion that while I may not have a “go to” cocktail, I definitely have a favorite style of libation: that of the venerable Old Fashioned.
While it may be true that I can’t recall the last (or first) time that I have actually ordered an Old Fashioned in a bar, panning over some of my older posts I became aware that I’ve mentioned the Old Fashioned or a variation of it several times, which got me to thinking: whenever I’m at home, nine times out of ten, when I’m wanting of a cocktail, I’m going to make myself an Old Fashioned or similar concoction. And while I may not be able to remember the last time I ordered an Old Fashioned in a bar, it wasn’t that long ago that I ordered one of its more famous variants: the Sazerac. But I digress.
The Old Fashioned refers to, of course, the Old Fashioned Cocktail. It was as early as the 1870’s when the discerning drinker began to tire of all the new cocktail variations and just wanted an old fashioned (or original) cocktail, which as I’m sure we all know by now, consisted simply of a spirit, water, bitters and sugar. There was no ice in the finished drink (one must realize that ice during this time was a luxury, and would never have been just given away to a customer’s unless absolutely necessary!) and heaven help the barkeep that threw in a fruit salad of orange and cherry: such an action was liable to get the man shot! The Cocktail was a simple drink, made in simpler times, but oh the chorus of angels that made their presence known when this amazingly deep and complex concoction was first put to the imbiber’s lips and past his gullet.
2 oz rye whiskey (or quality dry bourbon)
3 goodly dashes of Angostura aromatic bitters
1 sugar cube (or ¼ oz rich simple syrup)
dash of club soda (if not using simple syrup)
place the sugar cube into a chilled mixing glass
wet the cube with Angostura and soda
crush the cube with a muddler
add rye and stir
add ice and stir until well chilled
strain into a chilled rocks glass
garnish and add ice at your own peril
As great as the Old Fashioned is, as with most things in life, there is always room for improvement. Those that are familiar with my recipes know that I am always looking for ways to add or compact as much flavor and complexity as possible when creating cocktails, and to this end, I’ve come up with the Cubed Old Fashioned. In this variation, I’ve tripled the number of spirits, I’ve tripled the types of bitters and even complicated the sugar by making a syrup with three ingredients, not one of which is water (more on this later). In the creation of the Cubed Old Fashioned, I’ve added just as much flavor as is humanly possible, and the only way to go further would be to add a scotch or absinthe rinse. Sometimes one has to just let things be (as hard as that may be for the likes of this bartender).
My “eureka!” moment for this cocktail came when I decided to create an Old Fashioned within the Old Fashioned by making a syrup to replace the normally used sugar out of the ingredients that one would find in a traditional Old Fashioned. In other words, I replaced the water with rye and bitters when making the syrup, and for added complexity I employed turbinado sugar instead of refined white sugar (demerara or raw sugar will work wonders as well). I’ve now made other syrups using this technique and am in absolute love with how they enrich cocktails. Good examples have been a Caipirinha syrup using lime peel, cachaca and white sugar, as well as Margarita syrup with tequila, orange bitters, sugar and honey. As you can see, the possibilities are endless and the syrups don’t have to be used solely with the cocktails after which they are named.
Enough talk, let’s mix up a:
CUBED OLD FASHIONED
¾ oz Remy VSOP (or any good cognac)
¾ oz Appleton V/X (or any good rum)
¾ oz Rittenhouse 100 (or any good rye/bourbon)
½ oz Old Fashioned syrup
1 dash Bitter Truth Xocolatl Mole bitters
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 dash Angostura orange bitters
stir all ingredients with ice
strain into a chilled rocks glass filled with one giant ice chunk
garnish with orange zest and brandied cherry resting on the top of the glass
Old Fashioned Syrup
200 mL Bourbon or rye
100 mL Angostura bitters
550 mL Turbinado sugar
3 star anise
stir ingredients in a pot over low heat until all sugar is incorporated
strain and funnel into a sanitized bottle
add 1 oz of bourbon/rye to help preserve your syrup
While I don’t ordinarily add ice to my Old Fashioneds, the Cubed Old Fashioned is so complex that I feel it requires a large chunk of ice. If you don’t have a large chunk of pristine ice on hand (and the sad reality is that few of us do), the least you can do is order one of these trays. If both options fail you, try the drink without ice, as small ice cubes will just muck up the dynamics of this powerful, yet elegant libation.
Try other iterations of the Old Fashioned by subbing out the sugar/syrup with a variety of liqueurs (St Germain, Crème Yvette, St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram, Fernet, or Canton ad infinitum) or swapping out the spirits and bitters and you’ll find that this is a cocktail that has no bounds. Leave comments below to tell me of some of your newfound Old Fashioned variations, or experiments with new types of flavor-packed syrups.