The Old Fashioned. What some bartenders would consider the definition of a cocktail. At least, based on the definition that was given in 1806: a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters. Those are the only things you will find in the Old Fashioned. The recipe I used was from the book The Old Fashioned by Robert Simonson. There were other mentions of a cocktail similar to the Old Fashioned in the past. The Whiskey Cocktail in Jerry Thomas' book is a similar cocktail, which uses gum syrup as a sweetener. The recipe I used is the one that Simonson refers to as the first reference to the cocktail by that name. It was in the Bartender's Manual, written Theodore Proux in 1888. He has two variations in the book; one that calls for absinthe, and one that does not. I chose to use the one that does not have it.
If you ever want to see a group of bartenders have a heated discussion about a classic cocktail, this is a good place to start. There are variations upon variations of this cocktail, even if you are sticking to whiskey. Is bourbon the authentic, choice, or rye? Do you muddle fruit into it? Not muddle fruit into it? Is that fruit just and orange? And orange rind? Does a cherry fit in at all? All of these are variations I have seen at various places I have drank and worked, and all of them are just fine. Where I start to want to have a deeper discussion is if you switch the base spirit to tequila, is it an Old Fashioned? I say no, but many people would say yes. What is the right answer? I leave that up to you.
The Old Fashioned (via Robert Simonson)
1 tsp. of sugar
.5 tsp of water
.5 tsp simple syrup
3 dashes of Angostura Bitters
2 oz./60 mL whiskey (I used Basil Hayden for its lightness)
Garnish: Lemon peel
Glass: Old Fashioned
Ice: Large block or sphere
Mix the sugar and water into a glass. Add the bitters and the simple syrup and stir more. Twist the lemon peel over the the elements in the glass, then drop the peel into the drink. Pour in the whiskey and gently drop in the ice. Stir until the cocktail is chilled and then serve.
There was a little bit of sugar residue in the bottom of the glass. If you stir it in as the ice melts, it incorporates into the drink. I found this version to be on the sweet side. A more rye forward whiskey will balance that out. Of course, if you like it sweet, stay on the wheatier side of the whiskey spectrum. Now just relax and sip away on the patio.