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In 1806, the first documented definition of a cocktail was a good glass of whiskey, a few dashes of bitters mixed with sugar and a dash of water, garnished with a twist of lemon.
Since then, this old-fashioned cocktail has undergone a few changes. Amidst all the variations the modern mixologist concocts behind the stick these days, it’s no wonder we all hark back to the days of yore. Historic, simplistic and delicious, if done right, this classic will live on for another 200+ years…
How to make the perfect old-fashioned whiskey cocktail
2 ounces bourbon or rye
1 tablespoon of sugar
0.5 ounce seltzer or water
3 dashes of Angostura bitters
1 lemon zest
In an old fashioned glass, mash together the sugar, seltzer water and bitters. Breaking up the lumps will not only sweeten the cocktail, but also give it a bit of rustic texture. Add Bourbon and good crushed ice. Stir well with a bar spoon and garnish with lemon zest.
While the ingredients above include the classic, old-school original, at first there may have been variations on the base spirits. Rye, Genever… but you can’t go wrong with this version.
It is believed that during the Prohibition era, whiskey was not of the same quality, which is why you saw muddled orange and cherries come into the picture.
Over the decades certain proportions of ingredients have been expanded, and not too long ago I was served something more like a highball whiskey with lots of fruit.
At Liberty National, this is the version that we believe is best suited to our members:
old fashioned liberty
2 ounces cask strength bourbon
0.5 ounces of simple gum or simple syrup
4 dashes of Angostura bitters
1 dash of Reagan’s orange bitters
1 orange zest
In the mixing glass, combine the bourbon, simple syrup and bitters. Add ice, mix well (15 units) with a bar spoon and strain into an old-fashioned glass with a large ice cube. Garnish with an orange zest.
Pro tips for mixing at home:
-Use an excellent base spirit!
Whether you decide to go with bourbon or rye, make sure it’s high quality. I prefer to opt for glue or cask strength for these avant-garde cocktails.
Using a vegetable peeler, cut a nice healthy slice. Cut the sides with a paring knife. I also like to flambé the zest on the cocktail while expressing the oils. It gives a nice subtle hint of charred flavor.
Make sure your ice cream is relatively fresh and not sitting in the freezer for weeks. Ice sometimes has the ability to pick up odors which can affect the overall result of your cocktail.
Also invest in a full-size silicone ice cube mold. For the duration of sipping this cocktail, a large cube will dilute the cocktail more slowly while keeping the drink cool.
It may not make or break a cocktail, but it does raise the bar. Having the right glass for your cocktail is very important in the bar business. An old fashioned/rocks glass will somehow improve the taste of this cocktail.
Another tip: Although you can buy simple syrup, it’s very easy to make your own at home. Basic simple syrup is made by mixing water with granulated sugar (1:1) bringing it to a simmer, then stirring until dissolved. For heavy simple syrup, the ratio is 2:1.
I absolutely prefer using gum syrup for an old fashioned cocktail, and really any spirit-dominant cocktail that calls for simple syrup. Gum arabic is flavorless, but it adds a lush texture and slight stickiness to a cocktail that ties it all together. The gum also prevents crystallization of sugar, so once mixed you can store it in the refrigerator for about a month. If you have time, give it a try.
Simple gum syrup (Demerara)
12 ounces demerara sugar
6 oz. of water divided into 2 oz. and 4 oz. servings.
2 ounces gum arabic
In a small plastic container, mix gum arabic and 2 oz of water. Stir with a fork to combine, then cover. Let stand overnight or until gum is completely dissolved by water. There will be a light layer of foam on top.
In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and the remaining 4 ounces of water. Heat gently until the sugar begins to dissolve, then stir in the gum arabic mixture. Remove from the heat, let cool and store in a squeeze plastic bottle. Store in the fridge for up to a month.