It’s also, with an unfortunate degree of consistency, one of the most poorly executed drinks you can order at a bar.
When I order an Old Fashioned, I expect to receive a smooth-tasting drink with a hint of sweetness and citrus, served chilled over a large cube of ice with an orange peel. What I am often served, however, is a pile of ice and smashed fruit pulp that has been poured over my unassuming bourbon. While it’s true you can make gains and still drink, I want to get the most possible enjoyment out of my drinks.
If you are tired of being served glasses of mediocrity by your local bartender, or if you just want to practice your at-home cocktail crafting skills, here are four simple steps to a damned fine Old Fashioned.
Three drops of angostura bitters, two ounces of bourbon, and one bar spoon of demerara syrup 1. There are many variations beyond that, and you can replace the syrup with one sugar cube, but for our purposes here, let’s stick to the basics.
My former bar manager always made this comparison when discussing bartenders’ tendency to muddle the living shit out of ingredients: you’re not making pesto, you’re just releasing a little oil. With that in mind, the days of pounding together a texturally unpleasant mush of orange rind and maraschino cherry should be long gone.
Using an excessive amount of fruit rind in any drink will impart a tremendous amount of bitterness into the cocktail. This is not ideal when attempting to achieve a balance of flavors. To avoid this, take a fresh orange and use a vegetable peeler to remove a thumb-sized peel of skin, taking care to leave as much of the rind behind as you can. You are going to do this twice for your drink – once for the mixing, and once for the final garnish.
Proper dilution is what truly separates a shot from a cocktail. Pouring some bourbon in a shaker tin with a little sugar and shaking it a few times is only acceptable when working at a college bar. Otherwise, you have just served a sugary, overly alcoholic waste of time.
I demonstrate a basic stirring technique in this video:
When serving an Old Fashioned, a large rocks glass is the ideal choice of vessel. Take your perfectly stirred cocktail and strain it from your mixing glass into the rocks glass, leaving the original orange peel behind. Large ice cubes are best – more surface area means that the ice will be less prone to melting, so you will have more time to enjoy your drink before the balance is affected by dilution. My favorite at-home option are re-usable granite cubes as they stay cold enough for my liking without causing a physical change to the drink.
Using your second orange twist, give the peel a gentle squeeze on top of your drink before dropping it in the glass. You are now ready to sit in your favorite chair, open up a good book, and enjoy the beautiful drink that you have created. Or have it with your steak dinner.