Ah…it’s that time of the year again and no matter what your alma mater (GEAUX TIGERS!), there’s nothing that makes a win, or a loss, better than bourbon this time of year. One libation that both beginner and aficionado can agree is supremely deserving is the Old Fashioned.
The Old Fashioned can chart its origin back to 1806, when an editor of an upstate New York newspaper (in an attempt to clarify a reference in the previous week’s edition) gave definition to the term “cocktail.” The editor wrote, “Cock-tail is the stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters.” With a recipe also laid down in 1806, the Old Fashioned is older than the martini and the daiquiri, but the drink’s muddled history could be why “the Old Fashioned was one of the last cocktails the cocktail renaissance came to understand,” says Robert Simonson, NY Times drinks writer and author of The Old Fashioned.
The drink began as a “whiskey cocktail,” a morning eye-opener with bitters, sugar, water and whiskey…yikes! In the 1930s, bars started tweaking the whiskey cocktail by muddling fruit in the bottom. Some think it was part of newfangled campaign of “improved” cocktails, or perhaps a “necessity” of Prohibition to disguise the swill being poured. No matter the reason, patrons began asking for an “old-fashioned cocktail.” The debate over whether cherries and oranges should be included in the drink continued through the 20th century, a phenomenon coined ‘the fruit wars’ by Simonson. Even in the early 2000s, ordering an Old Fashioned likely would result in a drink with mashed fruit at its bottom. Thankfully, the cocktail renaissance continued, and bartenders began re-discovering historic recipes and leaving the fruit behind to let the spirit shine.
The purists prefer their Old Fashioned without fruit. If you like fruit in your drink (like I do), GO FOR IT! Critics and imbibers do agree that you must use quality ingredients, and no one says it better than Simonson himself, “There is absolutely no reason to use those neon-red things.”
Now let’s get down to business. First things first, let’s talk whiskey. One whiskey (in my humble opinion) stands head and shoulders above others: Bowman Brothers Small Batch Bourbon. This small batch bourbon has been distilled three times using the finest corn, rye and malted barley. Bowman’s unique copper still produces a flavor like no other bourbon. Its complex flavor has hints of vanilla and oak, while the finish is smooth and mellow like a quiet night on the front porch.
The recipe: makes one cocktail
1 sugar cube (There are recipes that call for simple syrup (please don’t), or granulated sugar (in a pinch). Engage in the ritual of crafting your cocktail: Crush the cube.)
2-3 dashes Angostura bitters
1 bar spoon of water
2 oz Bowman Brothers Small Batch Bourbon
2 large ice cubes (This keeps the drink tasting better for a longer time, allowing you to sip leisurely.)
Garnish: Orange/lemon peel
Put the sugar cube into an Old Fashioned glass, top with your preferred amount of bitters, then add your bar spoon of water. Muddle and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Add bourbon and ice cubes. Stir. Squeeze orange peel over the drink, run it around the rim of the glass, and then drop it into the drink serve.
Heather Burton, ABC Fine Wine & Spirits wine and spirits supervisor
Follow me on Twitter @abcwineheatherb