Blog 135

How to make an Old Fashioned Cocktail

Ben

Ben, is a director of Bar135 in Bristol.

The Old Fashioned

Introduction

What is it about an Old Fashioned?  Why is it so revered by bartenders and cocktails lovers around the world?  Is it because it is so simple yet so complex, or because it changes with every sip you take, or is it just its incredible ability to stay.  For years it has been there.  On every cocktail menu – worth calling itself a cocktail menu – and if not then in every bartender’s arsenal, it is always there and always met with the traditional nod of the head of the bartender in appreciation (or shake of the head if the bartender is unfortunately standing behind a bar packed with hordes of punters).

In my view it is a combination of a simple ingredients list coupled with the complexity in the production of the cocktail.  Production is definitely the wrong word though, production draws images of machinery and repetitiveness.  The Old Fashioned is quite the opposite; it entices bartenders to have a go at tackling the drink in their own way, the result ranging from subtle alterations to wild variations.

Traditionally and unfortunately, it is seen by the majority as a gentleman’s drink or a bartender’s drink, hand in hand with the speakeasy theme which is so prevalent in today’s drinking culture.  This is an unfortunate consequence of a misunderstood market.  Cocktails aren’t just about the sophisticated connoisseur sipping on his bourbon in a dark basement on a Chesterfield sofa with a moose’s head hanging above his own.  Cocktails, like food, are about an appreciation of a well thought through combination of flavours put together in a well-constructed way.  More than this though, cocktails – like food – are about experimentation, ending in good and bad results.  The joy of the Old Fashioned is that it is a truly brilliant cocktail made in its traditional way with its traditional ingredients – however the bartender construes these.  Moreover, it is an inspiring base with which to experiment.  Whether or not your twist is, in your opinion, better or worse than the original, it doesn’t matter.  Every variation you make is a cocktail in its own right and should be judged as such.  Which is why I am making it my mission to experiment with and try as many variations as I can get my hands on in a quest to not find the best, but to enjoy the experience.

Let the Old Fashioned inspire you, and what a wonderful base to be inspired by.

 

Bitters Part 1 - Orange

Orange bitters used in an Old Fashioned cocktail made by Bar135 in Bristol

So…  On my journey to discover more about the Old Fashioned and its multifaceted combination of very few ingredients I must start somewhere.  And so I start with two tentative steps into the world of Old Fashioned twists with a couple that I have enjoyed for some time.  They are extremely easy first steps and of which no one should be daunted – not that anyone should be daunted by any step no matter how advanced.  However I feel that to set off on an experience in which I will try many different concoctions, I should first truly appreciate where it has come from.  And with this in mind I feel that the major benefit of these variations are that they only alter one component of the drink which is a subtle change that allows me to appreciate the additional flavour alongside the balance of the original flavours of the drink.  That is, the alteration of the bitters, so called the ‘salt and pepper’ of cocktails, but I prefer ‘the stitches’.

So first I shall make an Old Fashioned with orange bitters as opposed to Angostura Bitters.  In our bar we have two bottles of orange bitters that I would highly recommend (Angostura and Fee’s Brothers).

I will make this with the exact same formula as the way I make my regular Old Fashioneds, but substituting the Angostura Bitters for orange bitters…

  • 60ml Woodford Reserve Bourbon
  • 1 Bar Spoon brown soft sugar
  • X2 dashes Orange Bitters
  • X1 Orange twist perfumed

 

  1. Add the sugar and bitters to a rocks glass and crush the sugar in the bitters
  2. Add 10 ml of Bourbon and stir until the sugar is pretty much completely dissolved
  3. Add two cubes of ice and 10 ml of Bourbon and stir well
  4. Repeat step 3 until all the bourbon is in the glass
  5. Squeeze the oils from the Orange Zest over the surface of the drink to perfume it, wipe the zest around the rim and place in glass

As you would expect, the bitters accentuate the orange in the drink which I really like as I think bourbon and orange is a fantastic match.  It is a banker really and most people would appreciate this just by looking at the ingredients and the fact that orange is used as a perfume and garnish.  But what is important to note is the affect that bitters has on this drink.  Bourbon and orange is a great match but it is the bitters that sew together the citrus and the warmth of the bourbon to facilitate this.

 

Bitters Part 2 - Chocolate

Using chocolate bitters in an old fashioned cocktail made by Bar135 in Bristol

So, I have now made an Old Fashioned with orange bitters instead of Angostura.  This is in fact a widespread substitute made by bartenders, and I have heard it argued many times before that this is in fact the original recipe for the drink, so now I’m going to take the focus on bitters a step further.  Again, I will not alter the recipe I used before which will give me clarity in my comparison, I will just switch the Angostura Bitters to chocolate bitters – I use Fee’s Brothers’ Aztec Chocolate Bitters.

  • 60ml Woodford Reserve Bourbon
  • 1 Bar Spoon brown soft sugar
  • X2 dashes Chocolate Bitters
  • X1 Orange twist perfumed

Now, I can’t sit here and say I have just discovered a flavour combination that will blow you all away due to its innovation and boldness.  Unfortunately Terry has beaten me to this accolade.  But nevertheless, Terry is very much right and this cocktail sends me back a few years to receiving at least one if not two – if my parents had run out of ideas – Chocolate Oranges in my Christmas stocking.  It just works.  I would highly recommend the Chocolate Bitters Old Fashioned and Fee’s Brothers have a fantastic product for this.

So I may not have set the world alight so far with these drinks but nonetheless they have proven that the alteration of such a small ingredient can have such a massive bearing on the drink.  And furthermore, I have developed an understanding of what the bitters does in the drink which will benefit me in the future I am sure.

I would recommend having a play around with different bitters.  You can buy ‘travel sets’ of bitters that have mini bottles of a variation of flavours, this is a great way to try different ones.  Another great attribute of this drink is that once you have the bitters it has so few ingredients and they are all so accessible.  So there really is no reason to not experiment.

 

Base Spirit – Gin

Using Gin as a base spirit to make an Old Fashioned Cocktail

One of our reps from a holding company of a number of very nice spirits indeed popped into the bar last night – I say popped, he ran.  With the air of a child unwrapping an N64 on the 25th December in 1996 he gushed into telling us about his new love – a Gin based Old Fashioned.  We were sceptical but went ahead with the idea (after all he provided us with some stock to try it!) and the results were fantastic.

We used a gin that I have fallen a bit in love with recently.  It is a Californian gin called No.209 which has strong citrus and orange notes.  Very unlike London gin it isn’t juniper heavy, but it is still strong on flavour.  It makes a superb gin and tonic if you use an orange wedge instead of a lime wedge and add a dash of orange bitters.  We used this experience as our basis for making the Old Fashioned so we substituted the Angostura Bitters with orange Bitters and added a squeeze of an orange wedge into the drink :

  • 60 ml No.209 Gin
  • 1 Bar Spoon brown soft sugar
  • X2 dashes Orange Bitters
  • X1 Squeeze of Orange Juice
  • X1 Orange twist perfumed

The rep wasn’t wrong, it really is superb.  This variation of an Old Fashioned is a completely different type of variation to the ones I’ve gone through before.  Altering the base spirit obviously has a massive effect on the drink and you would think that it makes it a completely different drink.  But what is amazing to note is that even though the base spirit is now something completely different it still tastes like an Old Fashioned.  Maybe not a bourbon Old Fashioned but I would still describe it as an Old Fashioned.  It is obvious when you taste it that this is due to the bitters.  Once again the importance is shown of the tiny addition of something mysterious and hard to explain.

 

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