Call Me Old Fashioned
Listed as one of the six basic drinks in David A. Embury’s The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks and described as “one of the four pillars of mixological wisdom” by drinks historian David Wondrich, the Old Fashioned, like all things old and venerable, has a plethora of variations and contradicting rules. Originating in the late 1800s the eponymous Old Fashioned, followed by years of revision and reimagining, it is better thought of as a genre of cocktail, rather than a clear cut drink.
At its most basic (and like many cocktails once broken down), you have an element of sweetness, a touch of something aromatic or flavoursome and the alcohol itself – historically rye, bourbon, whisky, or brandy if you’re in Wisconsin.
As such, the basic format for the Old Fashioned looks something like this:
5ml gomme, sugarcube, or other sweetener
Dash of bitters
Traditionally an Old Fashioned is served in a tumbler with a large ice cube and garnished with orange rind.
Lets just quickly break down each of these ingredients…
While conventionally a sugar cube muddled with bitters is used, almost any sweetener will do.
Bartenders often substitute the cube for gomme, significantly cutting down on preparation time, with no noticeable change in taste. This is also a good place to explore flavour variations. One could use, for example, orange syrup to highlight the traditional orange slice or rind garnish, or honey to sweeten a particular bourbon for example. Any number of various sweeteners are acceptable. The main goal when it comes to sweetening an old fashioned is to highlight the flavours of the spirit and the bitters. It should be noted however, that the old fashioned is not traditionally a sweet or garish drink. 5 millilitres of maple syrup or gomme (or for the traditionalists, a sugar cube), is plenty.
Angostura Bitters and their place in Melbourne’s cocktail scene are what ‘Gladwrap’ is to cling-wrap or what ‘Band-Aids’ are to the adhesive bandage. Suffice to say Angostura bitters is ubiquitous with the Old Fashioned. This however need not be the case, and without going into too much detail, here are just a couple of alternatives that we’re quite fond of. Similar to the sweetening agents discussed in the paragraph above, when mixing drinks each ingredient should be added with regard to the others. For example – avoid mint bitters if you’re using an orange rind garnish.
The spirit again is often a contentious issue among ‘mixologists’ – but it shouldn’t be. Originally when cocktails were being created in the USA, they’d use whatever was dark and on hand. Bourbon, Irish whiskey, brandy and whatever else passed as alcohol during prohibition.
Today, recipes exist for Old Fashioned cocktails made with bourbon, rye, whiskey, Scotch, rum – even Four Pillars are taking initiative and advocating for gin (perhaps a nod to the original ‘Old Fashioned Gin Cocktail’ described in Jerry Thomas’ Bartenders Guide, 1862).
When it comes down to it, there are no rules, only justifications. The proof is in the pudding – if you can pour a drink others love, that’s fantastic. If you’re the only one who likes your new take on an Old Fashioned – no worries – all the more for you.
At the end of the day all an Old Fashioned needs is a generous dose of booze, a splash of bitters and a bar spoon of gomme. The Concrete Boots take on this timeless classic involves house-smoked whiskey paired with maple syrup and a dash of the ever-present Angostura Bitters, and come served in a tumbler with either an orange rind or dehydrated orange slice. Try one – our ‘Smokey Joe’ is our humble homage to this “pillar of mixological wisdom”.
There remains however near limitless possibility for variation and experimenting within the Old Fashioned. The ability to reimagine and the intrinsic focus on complementing the spirit of the drink rather than overpowering it, is perhaps the best explanation for the cocktail’s longevity.
Whenever I’m trying to convince a friend to get into whiskey an Old Fashioned is where I start. The bitters mask the nose of the spirit and the sweetness can dull the strong heat of the alcohol while allowing the flavours present to shine through. An easy drink to knock back too quickly and a pleasant one to sit on. The Old Fashioned is one of my personal favourites, whether mixed at home or at the bar.
XOXO, JO’D for CB