If 22 years behind the stick has taught me anything, trends definitely come and go, particularly the popularity of specific spirits and drink styles. Liqueurs such as Tattoo and Aftershock have come and gone, replaced with other sugary spirits to make a purist cringe, such as Sour Apple Pucker and Fireball Whiskey (which is not a whiskey at all but rather a cinnamon liqueur produced to look like whiskey). I’ve seen the rise of flavored vodkas, followed in suit with flavored tequilas and whiskeys. Thank goodness no one has attempted the madness of a flavored scotch, but you never know in this day and age.
Understanding why so many different styles of libations exist is simply because of the competitive nature of this business. Yes, people, the world of bartending and the spirits involved are, in fact, a business, although many of us drink slingers may see it as an art or a craft. Distillers and bar owners, cocktails and their creations, despite whatever the trend, will and always first and foremost, be a BUSINESS.
With this said I would like to discuss this matter, focusing on a fabulous, simple classic, the Old Fashioned. A very simple drink to make, yet just as much, a very simple drink to screw up. Bitters, Sugar, Water, Whiskey-the four main ingredients that make up an old-fashioned. Fruit? Eh….but maybe. Many traditionalists believe that in the mid 20th century, Old Fashioneds were widely consumed with muddled fruit, primarily oranges, and cherries. This is where the argument between bartenders begins. What is the true and proper way to make an old-fashioned?
The answer is simply this: THE WAY THE GUEST WANTS IT.
What was that?? THE WAY THE GUEST WANTS IT.
Folks, it doesn’t get any easier than that. Yes, there is a basic blueprint for creating an old-fashioned, but please let’s not make the drink any more difficult than the simplicity of it calls for. It is a balanced, bitter, sweet, whiskey cocktail, plain and simple. And if using simple syrup, even better (wink, wink). Here are two methods of Old Fashioned production you may see bartenders do….
- The “Traditional” style Old Fashioned:
Muddle an orange slice and maraschino cherry along with a dash of Angostura Bitters and a bar spoon of sugar or sugar cube. Fill with ice and add 2oz of Whiskey. Then a splash of Club Soda garnished with ANOTHER orange and cherry-picked together (flag is the name of this garnish).
- The classic/modern day/purists’ Old Fashioned:
In a double rocks style glass, muddle a few dashes of Angostura Bitters with a bar spoon of sugar (or a half an ounce of simple syrup) and a splash of water. Doing this creates essentially a homemade bitter syrup in the bottom of the rocks glass. Add ice and 2 ounces of whiskey/bourbon. Give it a basic stir with a bar spoon to balance out the cocktail and twist an orange peel over the cocktail allowing the oils to fall into the drink. Discard or place the peel in the drink.
LET’S NOT FORGET HOSPITALITY
There you have it, people. Two methods you will find most bartenders producing this classic. Personally, I believe in the second method, the more simpler style. But who am I to say that the first style is wrong if that’s the way the guest wants it? Our attention to detail as crafty bartenders sometimes leaves out the most important detail of all…..hospitality. Being a bartender means exactly that. We tend to the needs of guests at the bar. If a guest wants muddled milk duds in their old fashioned and I have access to them, then guess what’s going to get muddled in their drink? You got it! Bartending is solely about service, plain and simple. Just as this drink should be. Any bartender who refuses service to a guest based upon a drink recipe is simply defeating the purpose of their job and ultimately losing out in the end, by way of a lesser tip and even worse, a lost regular.
In conclusion, I want to say this. Use the simpler method as the base style to create your Old Fashioned’s. Go with bitters, sweetener, whiskey and if necessary a splash of water (if using simple syrup, water isn’t necessary because it is already part of the simple syrup-that was the point of the water anyway). Minimize the garnish…an orange peel at most and then go from there. If a guest orders an Old Fashioned from me, I see it as an opportunity to create a custom experience for them. I ask them questions such as, “is there any particular way you prefer it?” Because ultimately it is this standard of hospitality that always wins. Recipes exist as a base for creating something but they are not free from modification. Knowing the most popular recipes is great, but understanding the gesture of hospitality and what the guest wants is even greater. Save the pretension for roller coaster bragging. At least that’s a bit more interesting. Here’s a look at the way I make my old fashioned….or at least when the guest isn’t directing me in a custom way.