As a Londoner you will probably have observed an Old Fashioned being lovingly and laboriously stirred down in an elegant mixing glass. The lengthy process sees ice cube after ice cube individually added until the drink is at the perfect dilution to pass across the bar – after being ceremoniously zested with an orange peel to release all those rich aromatic oils.
It may surprise you to know however, that it is just us who serve the drink that way. The rest of the world has figured out a shortcut to getting the drink into waiting hands and mouths at a fraction of the fabled 15 minutes of production. Yep, as with everything, us Brits maybe like the ritual a lot more than actually sipping the cocktail.
But that’s just it – an Old Fashioned is so much more than a drink. It’s the original definition of a cocktail (spirit, sugar, water and bitters), it’s a slice of history and a moment of reflection and sophistication. It’s also still something in this world we’re all happy to wait for, which is rather special. But as in all classics, the mythical cigar and old leather armchair has had an update. If an Old Fashioned is your tipple of choice, then allow us to welcome you from the 1800s into the 21st century with these updated recipes.
Calling for equal parts rye whiskey to calvados with a splash of sugar and two dashes of Peychaud's Bitters, the Harvest cocktail is a more complex yet lighter drinking experience. Calvados is undeniably a beautiful spirit which brings to the drink plenty of fresh orchard fruit flavours while the rye underpins this with its spice and vanilla, bringing a balance that the classic Old Fashioned could learn from. Stirred down and served over ice, with an aromatic orange zest to garnish this looks like the original but its taste brings vibrancy to the foreground.
Oaxaca Old Fashioned
A spicy and smoked version of the classic uses mezcal and reposado tequila at its base. Sweetened with agave syrup rather than sugar and rounded off with the classic Angostura Bitters the drink has the soft woody undertones of its bourbon forefather but they are almost eclipsed by the incredibly vegetal, peppery and fiery agave spirits. Delightful, but certainly not for the faint of heart.
Benton’s Old Fashioned
Described in the PDT Cocktail Book as ‘the crossroad of haute barnyard and barroom,’ this cocktail combined everyone’s favourite piece of pork with a frankly smashing bourbon. Invented by New York bartender Don Lee, the bourbon is left to rest for four hours with melted bacon fat before the mixture is frozen, at which point the now-solid fat can simply be scraped off (although the bourbon is then filtered through a cheese cloth to ensure there’s not any bits left) and voila, you have a bacon fat-washed bourbon which is as mouth-wateringly good as it sounds. Combine this with maple syrup to sweeten, a few dashes of those all-too crucial Angostura Bitters and an orange zest to create the pleasure that is a Benton’s Old Fashioned. You’ll find rifts of this original fat-washed Old Fashioned scattered around town, but for the original you’ll either need an adventurous home bartender or a flight to NYC.
If an Old Fashioned and a Sazerac had a baby it would be The Bachelor. Invented by Chris Flannery-McCoy from Maison Premier in Brooklyn (the very best New Orleans themed bar in the world), the cocktail calls for Meletti, a sweet amaro, aged rum – the original was made with Diplomatico – , absinthe and five dashes of Bitter Truth Aromatic. The Bachelor is served like an Old Fashioned on the rocks and is garnished with a grapefruit twist whose oils perfectly compliment those aniseed undertones. But it’s the rich amaro and candied orange and caramel notes of the rum that make this drink shine.
Named after an American General’s nickname – coined after the toughest of woods – this cocktail is actually not too heavy-hitting. As a quick aside it’s worth noting that this particular General went on to become the seventh President of the US and founded the Democrats. In this list his namesake is in fact the first of two low-ABV drinks. An Old Hickory combines sweet vermouth with a small measure of dry vermouth and a health attack of orange bitters. Modern adaptations also use Peychaud’s Bitters to further tie the drink back to its New Orleans roots. Served over ice and garnished with an orange zest, this cocktail is a great call when you need a drink but don’t want to feel the full effects of whiskey.
Our second low-ABV drink also combines both sweet and dry vermouth but unlike the Old Hickory, the Diplomat puts the balance in favour of dry vermouth and adds maraschino liqueur and aromatic bitters before being stirred down and garnished with a lemon twist. It’s certainly less sweet than an Old Hickory but equally as tasty – perhaps this one is a better early evening sipper as opposed to a nightcap.
Isoamyl Acetate Old Fashioned
Thanks to all our developments in culinary science since the invention of the Old Fashioned, it was only time before someone realised they could tamper with the simple recipe and create something possibly greater. That person was Tristan Stephenson, co-owner of Fluid Movement and author of many a spirit and cocktail book. Tristan named his twist after an ester or powerful flavour molecule called isoamyl acetate which is best described as banana and one he found heavily present in Jack Daniel’s. To highlight this Tristan decided to make a banana sugar which he describes the process for in his book The Curious Bartender. Having then discovered Tennsesse walnut and banana bread he decided to combine his whiskey and banana sugar with walnut bitters, knowing they would also (apart from tie into his theme) complement the corn characteristics of the whiskey. It was this cocktail Tristan entered into the CLASS Bartender of the Year in 2011. You won’t be surprised to learn he won.