Let me say this clearly – I am an Old Fashioned type of girl. Not, to my regret, in an Eartha Kitt way but because of my loyalty to this oldest and most delicious of cocktails.
The first Old Fashioned I ever had was at The Player in Soho (this was way back when it was still a decent bar – sadly it’s lost its friendly vibe and the drinks have also gone downhill). It sounded strong and sensible, a proper drink with proper antecedents and no fancy nonsense about it. A drink for people who take drink seriously. Even, dare I say it, a masculine drink?
This all sounded a bit of a challenge – so naturally I ordered one.
I remember it was a reasonably busy night but instead of looking at me wearily (the usual response to idiots ordering a complex drink at busy periods) the bar tender’s face lit up. It was his favourite drink and when I told him that although I was a whisky lover I’d never tried one before, he went all out to make me the best he possibly could. Ten minutes later I was in liquor heaven.
That barman’s name escapes me now but his version of the Old Fashioned remains the benchmark to which all others must live up to. It was all in the stirring. This guy added the drink in layers, stirring in a cube of ice at a time. I don’t know if this is usual practice but the result was as smooth as silk without being watery and I haven’t had anything as good since.
In fact, I’m usually so disappointed I now rarely order an Old Fashioned in bars – after all if I want Bourbon on the rocks well, that’s what I order…
I’ve since realised the technique used by the bartender at The Player was probably the influence of Dick Bradsell who, according to this article The perfect old fashioned cocktail, was himself influenced by the legendary David Embury. Embury’s recipe is in the article so I won’t duplicate it here but my version below is from the same school.
I used to have a bottle of a liqueur-style orange bitters and I’d add a dash of this with every layer of Bourbon – not an authentic Old Fashioned but damn gorgeous nonetheless. I can’t trace the brand now so I tried making this with Fee Brothers orange bitters but the result lacked the complex flavour you get with Angostura.
Perhaps the moral here is that it’s best to be old fashioned when serving an Old Fashioned?
4 ice cubes
Soak sugar cube in Angostura, add a dash of water and muddle till sugar dissolved.
Add 1 measure of Bourbon and 2 ice cubes. Stir until ice cubes a little melted – about 30 stirs. Add another measure and 1 ice cube and stir in (repeat). Squeeze a slice of orange peel over drink and add to glass (with a maraschino cherry if you like).
Tip: If you don’t like the possibility of undissolved sugar giving a grainy finish to your drink, use a little sugar syrup in place of the sugar cube. I do, plus I enjoy the way the cube soaks up the pink of the Angostura - it’s all part of the ritual.