By Sam Dobson
With the ever-evolving drinking culture in the United States, cocktail fads come and go like fashion trends. Swanky lounges and fancy restaurants adapt to offer the latest and greatest in mixology, but there is something on the menu that never changes. Hiding in
plain sight among exotic martinis and frozen concoctions are the classics, tried and true.
When you’ve had enough of the creative and innovative, you can’t go wrong with something as simple and timeless as the Old Fashioned.
Long before the fictional yet iconic Don Draper (Mad Men, AMC) breathed new life into an old classic, the term “old fashioned” referred to a general combination of spirit, bitters, water, and sugar. The 19th century was a time for experimentation behind the bar, but most drinkers didn’t fancy themselves the fruity, complex creations that many mixologists
were whipping up. With so many disgruntled tipplers ordering their drinks the “old fashioned way”, it didn’t take long for the Old Fashioned cocktail to earn its place among bar staples.
Often referred to as the first classic cocktail, the Old Fashioned has a much-debated history. With various recipes from the early 1800s, all with similar ingredients and proportions, there are several claims on this vintage concoction. The most well known involves an 1880s gentlemen’s club in Louisville, Kentucky called the Pendennis Club. In 1895, the recipe for the “Old Fashioned Whiskey Cocktail”, a recipe almost identical to the cocktail we know and love today, was published in George Kappeler’s book, Modern
By the early 1900s, the Old Fashioned boomed in popularity all across the United States, only to be cut down by Prohibition. After a thirteen-year stint underground, the country’s
bartenders resurfaced with a vengeance. The early Old Fashioned recipe had been forgotten during America’s dry spell and in its place were variations that called for too much fruit and too many frills.
Fast forward to the last decade or so, and there has once again been a growing interest in cocktail culture, and with it, a revival of the old classics. Among them, the Old Fashioned has since been restored to its former glory. The time-honored ingredients include a simple combination of bourbon or rye whiskey, bitters, a sugar cube, water, and a slice of orange peel for garnish. The result is a deliciously balanced libation that warms the palette and goes down smooth.
In recent years this underrated cocktail has begun to, once again, gain the recognition it deserves. Aside from its regular spot on the popular television series, Mad Men, the Old Fashioned makes several other appearances in pop culture, and is the sole subject of a 2014 book, The Old-Fashioned: The Story of the World’s First Classic Cocktail, written by Old Fashioned expert, Robert Simonson. Now the modern gentleman’s drink, this retro libation has survived a few hundred years, countless (and sometimes questionable) recipe variations, and the dry era of prohibition. I guess it goes without saying; the Old Fashioned is a cocktail that never goes out of style.