It doesn’t get much more classic than an Old-Fashioned, which is apocryphally touted as ground zero for America’s cocktail culture. The origin story goes something like this: back in the day when distilled spirits and herbal tinctures (aka bitters) were prescribed as medicinal tonics, apothecaries and physicians would recommend easing the harshness of spirits with a touch of sugar, honey, or other sweetener (oh hey, Mary Poppins). Tavern keepers improved on this model by adding a bit of citrus and serving their customers’ medicinal doses chilled with ice, which also reduced the perceived pungency of the alcohol.
Flash forward a few decades and barmen in the late 1800s started making drinks by request "the old-fashioned way"...
in protest against what their patrons saw as unnecessarily elaborate cocktail chicanery of fruit juice concoctions, fussy garnishing, and flashy shaker work. Ironically, the basic Old-Fashioned recipe was hijacked after Prohibition and by the 1980s had turned into just the sort of muddled-fruity-watery vulgarity that the 1880s bartenders had been protesting.
Cocktail history, dear friends, is a fickle bitch.
While the classic Old-Fashioned is often presumed to be whiskey-based, we’ve had sublime Old-Fashioned experiences at some of our favorite bars (damn, we miss our neighborhood bars and their beautiful, sparkling clear bigass ice cubes) with aged rum, cognac, barrel-rested gin, and even reposado tequila bumped up with a titch of smoky Mezcal. Think of it as a ratio rather than a recipe: it’s more about the proportion of the ingredients than the spirits themselves.
- 2 ounces rye or bourbon
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 3 dashes aromatic bitters (such as Honest John, Bitters Lab, or Angostura)
Method: To the serving glass add the sugar and bitters; stir until sugar starts to dissolve. Add the whiskey and a large ice cube, stir until the sugar is incorporated. Express the oil from the orange zest over the cocktail, then drop the swath in the drink.
- 1 ounce reposado tequila (keep it local with New World Distillery Rabbit and Grass Agave Spirit made in Eden, Utah)
- 1 ounce mezcal (suggested: Bozal Ensamble)
- 3/4 teaspoon agave nectar
- 3-4 dashes mole or tiki bitters (suggested: Bittermens Elemakule Tiki Bitters)
Method: To the serving glass add the agave nectar and bitters, stir until combined. Add the booze and a bigass ice cube, stir until agave nectar is incorporated. Flame the oil from the orange swath over the cocktail, then drop the zest into the drink.
And until we can all meet up in our favorite watering holes again, send some love to our friends in hospitality via One Small Miracle, the Downtown Alliance Tip Your Server campaign, and Utah’s Hospitality Tip Jar (Venmo: @UtahsHospitality-TipJar).