An iconic motif in legendary storylines for the past century, the Old Fashioned takes on any character. It was the gangster’s choice in the speakeasies of dingy Prohibition lore; today it is the shoot-and -nap gourmand’s choice in reservation-only speakeasies. But mash up a maraschino cherry in there, and it is also your grandmother’s favourite drink.
The OG Old fashioned, born in 1881 in Louisville Kentucky in one Pendennis Club, was an easy cocktail of bourbon, bitters, club soda, muddled sugar, and ice. So easy that it became everyone’s favourite whiskey cocktail to experiment with. The oldest cocktail is also the most reinvented or to some, the most bastardized one.
On New Year’s Day in 1936, The New York Times got an earful about that. The letter was penned by a grouchy old-timer, who signed off as “Old Timer”. Old-timer had struggled through the Prohibition and emerged into a new era of bartending blasphemy. His sentiments on what the era did to the poor Old Fashioned:
“Time was when the affable and sympathetic bartender moistened a lump of sugar with Angostura bitters, dropped in a lump of ice, neither too large nor too small, stuck in a miniature bar spoon and passed the glass to the client with a bottle of good bourbon from which said client was privileged to pour his own drink. In most places the price was 15 cents or two for quarter. Nowadays the modern or ex-speakeasy bartender drops a spoonful of powdered sugar into a glass, adds a squirt of carbonic to aid dissolution, adds to that a dash or two of some kind of alleged bitters and a lump of ice, regardless of size. Then he proceeds to build up a fruit compote of orange, lemon, pineapple and cherry, and himself pours in a carefully measured ounce and a half of bar whisky, usually a blend, and gives one a glass rod to stir it with. Price, 35 to 50 cents. Profanation and extortion.”
My favourite part of the letter was a little later on: “…there are a few old-time bartenders working now and they commit these crimes with tears in their eyes”, purportedly because the present generation prefers to mask the taste of alcohol. Wow, Mr. Old Timer’s lament tops any ‘cocktail renaissance’ debate we’d find in Jigger and Pony or PDT. If he were here and saw the $25-a-glass price tags, he’d probably drink himself to the point where he tastes no difference.
Lucky for him, there are other variants besides the ‘fruit compote’ Old Fashioned. I, for one, am all for playing around with classics. And I think the Old Fashioned is made for that. Its
subtle, sweet whiskey base makes for effortless alchemy– of taste and personality. It’s a golden brown glimpse into who you are, and the kind of night you’re trying to have.
So if you’re an attention-getter with attention to detail…your Old-Fashioned comes with the flaming orange twist. It’s a recipe that says “There’s substance to my spectacle.” Here’s why.
Open flames at the bar will get any head to turn. Anytime. But here, theatrical pyrotechnics are part of the recipe. They add an aromatic complexity to your cocktail. When you flame an orange peel, you’re caramelizing its essential oils just over the surface of your drink, simultaneously spritzing and burning them. The exuberant citrus notes of the zest mellows into a subtle, charred aroma.
Not every cocktail works with the flamed orange peel– delicate ingredients tend to be quelled by the intoxicating singe The flame orange peel needs a liquor that can stand up to its bold smokiness. The robust brown whiskey, sweet at its core, is the perfect accomplice (think bourbon honey-glazed ribs). The flaming citrus oils swoops in, turning the honeyed harmony a shade bittersweet.
Dark rums, aged tequilas, and brandy work too, and in some cases even vodka. In fact, the original flaming technique was done on a martini in Chasen’s, an old 1930’s Hollywood hangout by a bartender named Pepe Ruiz. He named the concoction, the Flame of Love dedicated to a regular called Dean Martin—a vodka and fino sherry Martini with a long, elaborate flamed twist. Dean, Pepe and Old-Timer definitely ran in different circles.
- 60ml Whiskey (or Bourbon or Rye whiskey)
- 10ml Angostura bitter
- 2 Brown sugar cubes
- 1 Orange peel (coin size)
- 1 Old Fashioned glass
- Step 1 In an Old-Fashioned glass, muddle 10 ml Angostura bitter and 2 brown sugar cubes.
- Step 2 Add few large ice cubes.
- Step 3 Pour 60 ml of Whiskey (or Bourbon or Rye whiskey) onto the mixture.
- Step 4 Hold a firm-skinned orange in one hand, and use a sharp knife or vegetable peeler to cut a coin-sized strip, taking care to avoid the flesh.
- Step 5 Strike a match and wait a moment for the sulphur from the match head to burn away. (Lighter fluid affects the taste and doesn’t look as good.)
- Step 6 Hold the flame near the drink’s surface. With the skin side of the orange facing the flame, quickly squeeze the peel until the citrus oils are expelled, ignited, and land in the drink.
For some flair:
Some bartenders throw away the citrus peel but I’d leave it on there. It’s a sexy garnish with a multisensory affect– everytime you take a sip, your nose gets a whiff of citrus to prime the rest of the experience.
If you’re keen to learn how to stir like a pro: