The Old Fashioned is one of a few common cocktails for me, both when I’m at home and when I’m out. However, when ordering one at a bar, the likelihood of something going mildly to terribly wrong is disturbingly high.
That in mind, I present the Top 10 Ways Bartenders Screw Up My Old Fashioneds, followed by instructions for how to make one properly.
This is not a girlie drink. I do not want a garnish with an orange peel and a cherry attached. A plain swizzle stick is fine.
An Old Fashioned is served in an old fashioned glass. Why do you think they call it an old fashioned glass? Don’t get cutesy with me. The sides of the glass should be straight, unless your bar has only stupid angled glassware, in which case I’m not sure why I’m there in the first place.
There was an Angostura bitters shortage last year, and I think a number of bartenders never stopped scrimping. 2-3 generous dashes is appropriate. If I can’t taste the bitters, you did something wrong.
(7) Default Liquor
If you are just pouring from the well instead of asking for a liquor preference, you are cheating me out of a chance to tune the drink to my mood. Unlike a vodka drink, an Old Fashioned’s taste changes considerably based on the type and brand of liquor used. Whiskey, rye, and bourbon are all appropriate choices. I tend to choose different ones at different times.
This is just bartending 101, but don’t serve me in a glass you just took out of the dishwasher. Bars ought to keep chilled glasses anyway, but if you don’t, then fill one with ice for a bit while you measure the liquor. Then dump and mix.
(5) Fruit failure
The fruit in an Old Fashioned is an integral part of the drink. If you’re just dropping in a cherry and an orange and the end, may God have mercy on your soul. The fruit should be muddled along with the sugar and bitters. And when I say muddled, I mean lightly disturbed, not mashed into a heap.
(4) Sugar packets
The glass should be prepped with Angostura bitters and simple syrup. Any bar that doesn’t have simple syrup pre-prepared and chilled is mismanaged. It’s appropriate to muddle a sugar cube as an alternative. But dumping sugar packets in the mix and hoping for the best? Unforgivable. (Yes, this has really happened to me.)
(3) Cocktail shakers
Why are you putting my Old Fashioned in a cocktail shaker? Are you crazy? This should be a felony.
While getting a bit of juice from the maraschino cherries into the mix is inevitable, there shouldn’t be more than that. By no means should you be using cherry liquid as a shortcut, to substitute simple syrup. If my drink is pink you are my enemy.
(1) Soda water
Yes, I know this was once common practice. But it’s simply wrong. Utterly, completely wrong. If you absolutely insist, give it a splash and only a splash of soda water, and use it to dissolve the sugar cube; do NOT top off the glass with soda water, ever. But really, just don’t.
All that said, here’s how to make an Old Fashioned properly.
1. Start with a chilled old fashioned glass.
It shouldn’t be frosted, it just ought not be room temperature either. If needed, fill with ice and leave sit for a bit while you cut fruit and gather materials. Fill another glass 2/3 with fresh ice for use in the final cocktail. If you make your own iceÂ from a block, fashion a single, large cube that will fit in the glass.
2. Prepare liquor.
Measure out 1.5-2oz of your choice of whiskey, rye, or bourbon (this is a slightly larger measure than standard; if it’s too strong for you, go with a standard shot). An Old Fashioned is mostly liquor, and these sorts of spirits have distinctive tastes, so don’t scrimp. Feel free to try different spirits.
My preference for the drink is Bulleit Bourbon, because it offers a very high rye content and the absence of phenol, which reduces acidity.
Here’s why I measure out the liquor so early: you can take your metal shot measurer and nest it in the glass of ice you set aside. This will lower the temperature of the liquor before you mix it.
3. Add sugar.
If you have prepared, chilled simple syrup, just coat the bottom of the glass. If you’re starting from a sugar cube, drop the cube in the glass, saturate it with 2-3 dashes of Angostura bittres (I sometimes use more; I like the taste). Use your muddler to dissolve the sugar. The optimal consistency is relatively viscous; it should be able to coat the sides of the glass.
What’s that? You say you don’t have a muddler? Unacceptable, go buy one.
4. Prepare fruit.
An Old Fashioned has an orange slice and two maraschino cherries. I prefer to use clementines instead of oranges, partly because they are sweeter and generally tastier, partly because it means I won’t have the rest of a giant orange sitting around, and partly because they are a better size for fitting in the bottom of an old fashioned glass. Because of the smaller size of the clementine, feel free to use two slices. Don’t put the fruit in the glass until the liquor is cold.
5. Coat and muddle.
Rotate the glass to coat the bottom and at least half of the sides. This will spread out the sugar and bitters and help the drink mix itself when you add ice and bourbon. Then drop in the fruit and muddle them. You don’t want to muddle them too much, just enough to break apart the fibrous pith.
6. Ice, pour, and stir.
Add the ice you set aside; go ahead and fill the glass to the brim. Then pour the bourbon or rye over it, and give the works a turn or two with a swizzle stick or a cocktail mixer. If you’re really feeling fancy, drop a lemon twist on top or over the lip of the glass.
And there you have it. Now stop screwing them up.