The One Drink Every Man Should Know How to Make

Think you know the Old-Fashioned? This is the Old-Fashioned. Done right. Done and done.

By: David Wondrich

Think you know the Old-Fashioned? This is the Old-Fashioned. Done right. Done and done.

The old-fashioned (est. 1800) is the Fender Strat of cocktails: It embodies the classic American combination of offhand style, swagger, and micrometer engineering. And it’s simple enough that anyone can make it yet sophisticated enough that you never get tired of it. It can be applied equally well to speed-rail bourbon and Cordon Bleu cognac, taming the one and coddling the other. It sips slow and easy when you need that, and goes down like a fireball when you don’t. The ingredients are cheap and readily available, and you can leave everything but the lemon on a shelf without worrying about spoilage. (And the lemon is dispensable.) In the fullness of time, people have come to believe that the “old-fashioned” way of making an Old-Fashioned includes mashing slices of fruit into it and even, God forbid, maraschino cherries and drowning the whole sticky mess with club soda. They might call such a thing an Old-Fashioned, but that’s not an Old-Fashioned. This is:

The Recipe

  • Place 1/2 tsp of loose sugar in the bottom of an Old-Fashioned glass.
  • Add two or three healthy dashes of Angostura bitters and a tsp of water.
  • Muddle until the sugar is dissolved.
  • Add three ice cubes to the glass.
  • Stir.
  • Add 2 oz straight rye or bourbon whiskey.
  • Stir again.
  • Twist a thin-cut swatch of lemon or orange peel over the top.
  • Add a stirring implement.
  • Let sit for one minute.

The Recipe Illuminated

The Sugar

It’s less to make the drink sweet than to give back what the melting ice is taking away.

The Glass

The standard rocks glass used by American bars these days is technically a double Old-Fashioned glass. You don’t want that. You want the single Old-Fashioned glass, which won’t make a healthy two ounces of booze look like half a drink.

The Bitters

The pungent, volatile spice of the bitters briefly masks the top notes of the liquor, so we process it as a cocktail, not a glass of whiskey.

The Water

Dissolves the sugar, without diluting the liquor. Which is the ice’s job.

The Ice

Try a little cracked ice for fast dilution and a couple of large, slow-melting cubes to keep it stable as you sip it.

The Whiskey

Let it be American and bonded (i.e., at least four years old, and 100 proof) and not too expensive.

The Twist

This is not a garnish. The dose of lemon or orange oil that you spray on the surface of the drink is the appetizer to the booze’s main course.


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I hardly doubt many people would take their Old Fashioned this way though I may try it just for taste. The traditional way (with orange and cherry and soda) works out better to a larger palate diversity. The Tom Collins family of drinks turn most people today off unless you make them with half soda and half seven-up. The old timers are gone and the pure drink tastes are forgotten. The nostalgia drinks have to taste the way public thinks they should or they will get sent back.


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