So, what is so special about the Old Fashioned that it warrants such a fuss? Well, the recipe of this particular libation – as we know it today – is synonymous with the original meaning of the word “cocktail” itself, in 1806 the editor of The Balance and Columbian Repository, a New York publication, first defining a cocktail as “a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters.”
At the time, whiskey was de rigueur in the States, and orders for “whiskey cocktails” became commonplace.
As the years went by, bartenders started playing around with the basic whiskey cocktail recipe, to keep it interesting, adding liqueurs in various proportions.
Most significantly, Jerry Thomas published his version of the “Improved Whiskey Cocktail” in 1876, in the second edition of The Bartenders Guide: How to Mix Drinks or The Bon Vivant’s Companion. Here, Thomas included gum, Maraschino, Absinthe and lemon zest in his recipe.
However, not everyone found these popular variations to be improvements at all, and some patrons started requesting whiskey cocktails made in “the old fashioned way”.
In 1895, the “Old-fashioned Cocktail” first made its way into print, appearing in George J Kappeler’s Modern American Drinks: How to Mix and Serve All Kinds of Cups, Cocktails, and Fancy Mixed Drinks. It follows the original definition of a cocktail, with the exception of a twisted lemon peel as a garnish.
Today, while most bars will use sugar syrup instead of sugar cubes for ease, (and more often than not, omit the cherry) the official International Bartenders Association recipe is as follows:
- 45 ml Bourbon or Rye Whiskey
- 1 Sugar Cube
- Few Dashes Angostura Bitters
- Few Dashes Plain Water
- 45 ml Bourbon or Rye Whiskey
Place sugar cube in old fashioned glass and saturate with bitters, then add a few dashes of plain water. Muddle until dissolved. Fill glass with ice cubes and add whiskey. Stir gently. Garnish with an orange slice or zest, and a cocktail cherry.
While this traditional recipe is a favourite, there are many ways to riff off it such as by using honey as the sweetening agent, or by adding smoke and spices, and indeed most good cocktail bars have their own house style.
This Old Fashioned Month, we encourage you to go out and sample a few iterations of this classic drink!
Here are some of our favourites from bars across the continent:
Hero Bar – Nairobi, Kenya
Boy Scout Old Fashioned: Bourbon, maple syrup and house-made bitters garnished with toasted marshmallow
Two Six Seven – Gaborone, Botswana
House Fashion: Gentleman Jack Bourbon, techno syrup and smoked bitters garnished with orange
House of Machines – Cape Town, South Africa
House Old Fashioned: Secret recipe garnished with orange zest
L’atmosphère Club – Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo
Smoked Cinnamon Old Fashioned: Bulleit Bourbon, Angostura Bitters and homemade cinnamon-and-coffee syrup garnished with flaming cinnamon stick
Front Back – Accra, Ghana
Coastal Fashioned: Bourbon, crème de cassis, rosemary syrup and orange bitters garnished with orange zest, rosemary leaves and blackberries