The Old Fashioned preview

Don Draper be damned, I first got interested in the Old Fashioned watching Brigadoon. After Van Johnson’s character returns from the magical land of Brigadoon, he’s sitting in a bar meeting his friends and trying to return to his mundane life. At this bar, everyone—and I mean, everyone—was drinking Old Fashioneds.

An Old Fashioned sits on fine-grained wood bar

Old Fashioned picture courtesy of Wikipedia contributor Edcross, released into the public domain

It piqued my retro-sensibilities, so I went right out and purchased some Angostura bitters and made my first Old Fashioned. I was not impressed.

I’ve made it a couple of times since then, but it’s never made it to the spectacular cocktail that everyone—and I mean, everyone—was drinking. Here is a traditional recipe:

The Old Fashioned

  • 1 sugar cube
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 1 jigger whiskey
  • 1 lemon twist
  • 1 orange slice
  • 1 maraschino cherry
  • spritz of seltzer
  • 1–2 ice cubes in an old-fashioned glass
Muddle together the sugar cube and the bitters. Add ice and whiskey, stir. On toothpick, spear lemon twist, orange slice, and cherry. Add to drink. Top with spritz of seltzer.

I’ve got to be honest. This sounds like a killer drink, and each time I made it, I figured I did something wrong, since it wasn’t that great. I’ve used the bitters in other drinks, so I know it wasn’t that. And I have some very nice whiskey that is wonderful straight. But the resulting Old Fashioneds came out flat until the ice cubes melted.

And here may be a key. In researching the drink, I came across older recipes that contain Curaçao instead of orange slices, dissolved sugar in branch water, and no cherry. The cherry, probably a crowd-favorite, is actually the most contentious ingredient in the Old Fashioned. But it looks like it was put in to replace some lost orange-flavor.

A very old version has just sugar, water, bitters, and a lemon peel–on a hunk of cracked-ice—ice and water from a stream, sweet stream water. So we’re missing a lot of the original simplicity. I’m going to take the next couple of days to experiment with some of these recipes, and I’ll make a determination on what tastes better, even if it would be impossible to explain at my local that I want branch water and a single cracked ice cube in my Old Fashioned.