There is a moment early in the third season of Mad Men where Jon Hamm’s Don Draper goes through the painstaking process of making an Old Fashioned while speaking to an older gentleman who turns out to be hotel magnate Conrad Hilton. The scene is set at an opulent wedding but the two men are hiding from the crowd in a quiet parlour, two old fashioned men uncomfortable with their wealth, and the people that came along with it, sharing a drink that Don had hand made. It’s one of the best scenes in the series, the simplicity of an actor making a drink with such care somehow gave the drink a certain mystique for me.
The Old Fashioned consists of Bourbon, Rye Whisky or Brandy which is poured into a rocks glass which contains a sugar cube which is soaked in Angostura Bitters* and a few dashes of water then muddled. Ice is also added before the spirits. The drink is then garnished with a cocktail cherry and a slice of orange. It’s a simple drink really, ice, whisky, sugar cube, bitters and water and you have a cocktail that tastes great and will put you on your backside if you disrespect it.
The history of the Old Fashioned seems to be as muddled as the sugar cube at the bottom of the rocks glass. Claims that the name came was more of a generic term for a phylum of crude pre turn of the century concoctions which consisted of bitters, sugar cubes, water and spirits. There are claims to it’s origin from Wisconsin to Kentucky to New York and to be frank they all could have discovered it at the same time in a spark of parallel innovation for all I give a fuck.** The point being that just like any innovation there will be those who take credit and to be frank I just like drinking this cocktail too much to deep dive into it’s mythos.***
What really makes the Old Fashioned a great cocktail is that it can be made for any occasion. It’s refreshing enough that you can drink it when it’s hot out and strong enough that it could warm you up on even the coldest winter night. It’s sweet enough that anyone who likes a sweet cocktail will like it but also bitter/complex enough for a more sophisticated palate. It’s a manly drink that is somehow also garnished with two different types of fruit and you’re girlfriend will drink 10 if you let her.
So here is to the Old Fashioned, a cocktail with a muddled history but a clear appeal.
*Angostura Bitters are there own Drinks/Foods you should know but they are an alcoholic tonic made from central american/west indian herbs and spices.
**It’s like a boozy Newton/Leibniz calculus controversy.