Although barely surviving prohibition, another classic that has seen a resurgence in popularity is the Old Fashioned. One of the first ‘cocktails’ and a staple recipe that every bartender should have in his repertoire.
It’s impossible to talk about the history of the Old Fashioned without mentioning its original incarnation which was the whisky cocktail. Jerry Thomas, arguably the first ‘celebrity’ bartender, released the first cocktail book in 1862 which contained this recipe:
- 2 do. Bogarts bitters
- 3 or 4 dashes of Gum Syrup
- 1 Wine glass of whiskey, and a piece of lemon peel.
- Fill one-third of fine ice; shake and strain in a fancy red wine glass.
Now, before you start thinking it’s ok to pour wine glasses of whiskey! A wine glass measurement back then would have represented around 2 oz. Notice how similar this is to the Old Fashioned? You could order all manner of cocktails at this time and they would all follow the same formula of spirit, sugar, bitters, zest and ice. Gin, especially from Holland was very desirable at this time.
As we move to the back end of the 19th century, various liquors and spirits make their way to American shores. Naturally, the saloon owners and those tending bar began to experiment with old recipes, adding a dash of curacao or a splash of absinthe to create what would be dubbed, ‘improved’ or ‘fancy’ cocktails. Unfortunately, this did not resonate well with all patrons and many preferred the old fashioned style, unadorned with any extra flavours.
As America moved through Prohibition, many things were lost. Bartenders moved their trade to unaffected countries such as Cuba or France; recipes were left behind and knowledge of the old ways were lost. Quality hooch was few and far between and so many mixed drinks were designed to cover up the poor nature of the alcohol. One of the many beverages to suffer was the Old Fashioned. Previously, a celebration of all things spirit, it was now combined with muddled fruit to distract away from imitation whiskey. The glass switched to a heavy bottomed tumbler to facilitate the crushing of the orange and/or cherries which had become synonymous with the cocktail.
Although still popular in the 1940s and 50s, the drink was not what it once was and this was further cemented when whiskey dropped in popularity due to the arrival of the new attractive foreign rival, vodka. It wasn’t until the 2000s when the cocktail resurgence started to build momentum once again that bartenders began to dig a little deeper into the history books and unearth early recipes.
Classic incarnations of spirits such as rye were back in rotation so that we get closer to the original. Presently, the Old Fashioned has become a staple of mainstream cocktail drinking and remains a monument to the way cocktail culture has developed.
At Smokestack, we keep it simple just like Jerry Thomas did. When you order, there will always be a conversation about what your favourite spirit to mix with will be. If you ask our opinion, then it will likely be a full flavoured bourbon or spicy rye. Either way, it’s a drink to be savoured for its full flavour.
- Bourbon or Rye
- Angostura bitters
- Rich sugar syrup
- Orange peel
Stir all ingredients in a mixing glass
Pour over an old fashioned glass filled with ice.
Garnish with orange zest.
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