I have long held the belief that the Old Fashioned is truly the window into the bartender’s soul. The manner in which bartenders approaches this classic recipe can reveal their preferences and philosophies, not only to this one cocktail, but to drink-making as a whole. Does the bartender reach for the bourbon automatically, or does he/she instinctively grab the closet bottle of rye?
Perhaps, your favorite bartender even chooses to ignore whiskey altogether, and instead opts for brandy or rum. But why stop there? After all, any cocktail lover who has never experienced the elegance of a beautifully crafted Tequila Old Fashioned is truly missing out.
Simply deciding the spirit of choice—or spirits for those feeling adventurous—on which to base an Old Fashioned opens the door to an endless array of imbibing opportunities.
Although the Old Fashioned has long been defined as consisting of only four ingredients ... those few constituents do not limit its possibilities.
Although the Old Fashioned has long been defined as consisting of only four ingredients—bitters, spirit and sugar, plus water added from ice dilution—those few constituents do not limit its possibilities. If anything, these parameters are what open it up to endless variation because once a bartender understands the roles of those ingredients, it becomes quite simple to create a bespoke version.
As expected, the spirit serves as the recipe's bedrock, but just like a world-class actor stuck reading from a shoddy script, the talent of the spirit can only carry the drink so far, particularly if the other ingredients are out of sync. Too much sugar and the drink can become cloying. Likewise, too light on the bitters and the cocktail can taste bland, similar to a plate of French fries prepared with no salt.
Yet, even if the first three components are balanced, there is a still a chance that the level of dilution can muck it up. Every well-trained bartender knows that not enough water in an Old Fashioned can leave the cocktail a little too tight, and stingy with its appeal. On the other hand, too much water will leave the drink feeling wimpy and structure-less. But of these two options, I will always pick the former because when served over ice, an under diluted cocktail will eventually open up, but an over diluted cocktail is ruined forever.
Despite its seemingly simplicity, there's still plenty of margin for error in crafting an Old Fashioned. But pre-batching this drink before an evening of entertaining is one way to cut down on variables that could go wrong, like lack of consistency.
BATCHED OLD FASHIONED RECIPES
Below are three recipes for mastering the Old Fashioned in bulk. Each formula will produce fifteen cocktails, but depending on the size of the group, the recipe can scale up or down quite easy with a little bit of math. Also, don’t worry about making too much, as the drink will last indefinitely if kept capped in the fridge. And if you prefer an extra cold libation, simply pop the pre-batched cocktail in the freezer an hour or two before guests arrive.
Once you get the hang of these, don't be shy about playing a game of mix and match with a variety of spirits, bitters and sugars. Aged rum with Boker’s Bitters and muscovado simple syrup could be sublime, but you won’t know until you try it, right? Also, certain spirit brands might require more or less sugar depending on proof, time in the barrel and other factors.
BOURBON OLD FASHIONED
An American classic.
7 1/2 ounces water
3/4 ounce Angostura Bitters
2 1/2 ounces simple syrup (feel free to increase or reduce slightly depending on your sweetness preference)
30 ounces bourbon
Add all ingredients to large pitcher and stir to combine. Cover and store in fridge. To serve, pour over ice and garnish with a lemon twist.
Created by Mickey McIlroy of Attaboy, NYC
1/2 ounce water
3/4 ounce orange bitters
2 1/2 ounces brown sugar simple syrup* (feel free to increase or reduce slightly depending on your preferences)
15 ounces rye whiskey
15 ounces apple brandy
Add all ingredients to large pitcher and stir to combine. Cover and store in fridge. To serve, pour over ice and garnish with an orange twist.
*Prepared with one part brown sugar to one part water.
Circa late 1700s/early 1800s
7 1/2 ounces water
3/4 ounce Angostura Bitters
2 1/2 ounces simple syrup (feel free to increase or reduce slightly depending on the sweetness of the whiskey)
30 ounces Cognac or Armagnac
Add all ingredients to large pitcher and stir to combine. Funnel into labeled bottles. To serve, pour over ice and garnish with freshly grated nutmeg.