THE OLD FASHIONED
We've all heard the rooster crow a little too loudly at six in the morning. We've all had a little too much punch over politics with the gentlemen from the Pendennis Club the night prior. We've all woken up in 1880 Bourbon County, Kentucky and longed to ease our punched up bellies with a ‘hair of the dog', so we stumble into the kitchen, throw some random shit together in a glass and call it a “cocktail”.
Alright that isn't your life but if you're anything like me, The Ugly Drunk, you'll share a few similarities with the imbibers of old who were drinking cocktails before your great-grandma was a speck of dust in someone's misty romantic eyes. Before I go on telling you about how your ancestors swooned one another with an Old Fashioned in hand, I must first explain the birth, the death, and the resurrection of the Old Fashioned. To save us some time, I'm going to be rudely brief with history and stay focused on 1800 and on.
The combination of sugar, water, bitters, and booze has been around for hundreds of years, but in 1806 someone dared to ask the editor of The Balance and Columbia Repository in Hudson, New York, “What the fuck is the definition of the word Cocktail?” The answer was this a potent concoction of spirits, bitters, water, and sugar… now kindly shove off. At least I like to believe he told them to shove off. That marks the first documented definition of the word. Let's jump to Bourbon County, Kentucky the year is 1880 and a bartender at the Pendennis Club makes a “cocktail” with Bourbon, sugar (either muddled sugar or gum syrup), bitters, and ice. The same poor, nameless bartender titles it an
“Old Fashioned” in honor of a local bourbon distiller by the name of Colonel James E. Pepper. The Colonel snatched up the recipe in a bourbon-fueled frenzy, saddled up his horse, and galloped all the way to New York. The Colonel likely kicked open the door to the WaldorfAstoria Hotel shouting about his “Old Fashioned Cocktail” as he bought a round for everyone, launching the recipe into history. There you have it: the word Cocktail and Old Fashioned were synonymous up until the prohibition, which we'll skip over for the moment so I have an article to write in the future.
It's 1950 New York Don Draper walks into a bar, ogles a lady or two, and saddles up to the bartender to order an Old Fashioned. Being the traditionalist I am, I wanted to punch John Hamm in his smooth, parted hair when he instructed the barkeep to muddle the cherry, add rye, and dilute it with club soda, but my tiny fists of fury would have been uncalled for. Despite my protests, I can’t do anything about how they were made and consumed at that time. The true blooded, simple combination of an Old Fashioned had become overly garnished – much like your Mormon mother’s 1950s JellO. People were throwing in oranges, cherries, lemons, pineapple, berries – anything – and calling it an Old Fashioned. Delusions of grandeur had swept over post World War II and everyone demanded something more lavish to ease the nerves. Fanciful Vodka cocktails had stormed smoky jazz clubs while the Old Fashioned slipped into the quiet hands of old men refusing to let go of tradition.
Close to forty years later, someone somewhere, stumbled upon their grandfathers drunken ramblings of of an Old Fashioned made properly and thought, “by god, I'm sick of all these neon cocktails and booze smoothies!” and traveled back to the glory days of Old Fashioneds. From there it's history (at least our current history). With the help of many wonderful cocktail dorks, nerds and enthusiasts the Old Fashioned came crashing back and can now be enjoyed, (hopefully with only muddling sugar, not a hodgepodge of fruit) in bars all across the world! But hey, if you aspire to be the womanizing Don Draper, why not give it a shot? Maybe there's sexual magic mojo in all that muddled cherry.
A side note on the Old Fashioned: any spirit can be used gin, brandy, rum, tequila or anything of the sorts and it’s still an Old Fashioned. I can't stress that enough.
Muddling sugar may be fun, but be cautious and ensure all the little sugar grains at the bottom are dissolved, otherwise your last sip is just as bad as your last sip of poorly filtered coffee. Bear in mind, sugar is only there to take the edge off the the liquor, not to make it overly sweet you're not making candy booze for chrissakes!
The Ugly Drunk prefers his Old Fashioned the old fashioned way with:
• 2 oz Bourbon (A bourbon with some heat is my preference but is up to taste)
• 2 Barspoons of Sugar (Simple syrup does the trick nicely but if you feel like muddling a sugarcube, have at it. However, be weary of using gum syrup as it can be rather thick)
• 2 Dashes Angostura Bitters
• Build in rocks glass or stirring glass. Stir until preferred dilution. Garnish with orange twist and one Griotte cherry.
*Jacob is a bartender at Bar X (155 E. 200 S.). You can catch him Monday nights serving Old Fashioneds and a slew of cocktails to help ease you into your work week. Tell him ugly sent ya'!