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Old Fashioned Story

This photo demonstrates why classic recipes like Old Fashioned - mangled over time with muddled fruit, over garnishing and soda water - should be revived to their roots. (© bhofack2/123RF photo)

The Old Fashioned isn’t a single recipe, it’s more like a Master Theme.

The old fashioned is an interesting story, because its not so much a recipe as it is a method. But what’s with the soda water, cherries and damn muddled fruit?

It’s a Method, Not a Recipe

The original recipe, or old fashioned cocktail method, calls for a sugar cube, 2 dashes of bitters, ice and whisky (assumably rye, but they don’t state what type) shaken and strained into a fancy wine glass.

It’s simply a whisky cocktail made the ‘old fashioned’ way, as published in “How to Mix Drinks” by Jerry Thomas, back in 1862. The whisky can be replaced with any base spirit upon request, and the cocktail prepared using the “old fashioned” method.

The Arrival of Vermouth

What made people nostalgic for an “old fashioned” cocktail, was reliable commercial steamship travel, and the new European influence on American tastes. From 1855 to 1870, the latest craze for mixed drinks was a medicinal liquor called vermouth, which the Italians and French had been drinking as an aperitif.

Vermouth’s popularity was further accelerated due to the American Civil War, which went from 1861 to 1865. The North put most of their alcohol production towards the war effort. The South prohibited distilling during the war. Supplies of good whiskey were hard to find.

So bartenders of the day started mixing red and white vermouths, creating all sorts of new fangled cocktails like Martinis, Manhattans, and hundreds of long forgotten variations. After a while, people got tired of vermouth in everything, and became nostalgic for simple old fashioned 1850 era cocktail, hence the name Old Fashioned cocktail.

The Arrival of Soda Water

Soda water crept into the mix after about 1892, thanks to the Crown Cork Bottle Seal. It allowed bottled sodas came onto the market. Before then, soda was more for the affluent, but a reliable bottle cap meant that soda water could be shipped anywhere. It quickly became the new fad. It wasn’t long after this that people began asking for a rye old fashioned, but topped with the new bottled soda.

The Arrival of Muddled Fruit

Muddled fruit and cherries crept into the recipe around the time of prohibition. They were introduced to sweeten the young American bootleg whisky flooding the market, because without years of barrel aging to mellow, smooth and mature, whiskey is very harsh stuff.

Then in 1933 prohibition ended. The trouble is, after 13 years of being dry, few of the rookie bartenders were old enough to remember what an Old Fashioned tasted like, or how it was made. There were recipes around, but most bartenders relied on verbal information, handed down from patrons and retired bartenders.

The Conclusion

Even now, an all time best-selling recipe book – I’ll save them the embarrassment – says to garnish an Old Fashioned with lemon, lime, cherry and pineapple. Another best selling book says to muddle a whole flipping fruit salad into the drink.

The bottom line is this, if your guests want cherries and soda water in their Old Fashioned cocktail, go ahead and make them happy. But leave them out, if someone wants an authentic version.

Better yet, ask your guest, when they order an Old Fashioned, if they’d like it topped with soda water. If they say yes, toss in a cherry as well, but for the sake of humanity, and respect for history, leave out the other garnishes, and the damn muddled fruit!

Get the Old Fashioned Cocktail Recipe here.


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