Old Fashioned Cocktail

By Robert Hess

The Old Fashioned represents what is perhaps the oldest form of cocktail known. Unfortunately it has fallen out of favor these days, and I rarely see people ordering it. I suppose this could be partially due to the fact that most bartenders don't know how to properly make it anymore. The atrocities I often see inflicted on this drink include leaving out the bitters, and topping it off with water or soda. Please, stop the madness and let's start making this drink properly again!

Recipe

Ingredients

1 tsp simple syrup

dash Angostura Bitters

2 oz bourbon whiskey

Instructions

Add first two ingredients to glass.

Half fill with ice and stir.

Add bourbon.

Express oils of one large piece orange peel into glass.

Add peel to glass.

Top with ice and stir.

Garnish with a cherry.

Comments
Robert Hess 24 Sep 2007
9:50 am

Make sure you watch this episode all the way to the end, there is a little added bit that I think is a fun way to “enhance” the old fashioned.

S. Matzke 24 Sep 2007
2:39 pm

I have been introduced to this show when there were only a couple of videos online, and I must say that I am happy to see that its level of professionalism did not drop a bit. In a matter of fact it even gets better with each and every episode. What I especially value about this show Mr. Hess (and the production team, of course) is that you also tell about the background stories, as well as some of your personal experiences. Keep the good work up!

Small Screen Colin 24 Sep 2007
6:08 pm

Thank you so much for your comment S. Matzke. As a small company we know that quality counts. We also know that true fans of the show come back every week because of the story Robert tells. I hope you continue to enjoy the show for years to come.

Sincerely,

Colin Kimball
President, Content Development
Small Screen Network

Kevin 24 Sep 2007
6:32 pm

I think so far this is my favorite episode solely because of the enthusiasm Robert has at the beginning. After reading much of drinkboy.com I realized I had to drop everything I was doing to watch the Old Fashioned episode as soon as I saw it was up!

Brant 24 Sep 2007
11:35 pm

Very good show Robert.  I like your idea on the tequila old fashioned I’ll have to try that with some grapefruit bitters and maybe a little Agave syrup or Agavero.
                                              Brant

KEV (perfumekev) 25 Sep 2007
8:05 am

Great episode Robert!  and the team of Small Screen Network.  this show just keeps getting better as time goes by I watch every episode.  I think this show is great to watch no matter what your experience level is.  This show should make it to Television!

Jac 25 Sep 2007
6:03 pm

Great episode… I was actually waiting for this one, because reading your writeup on the Old Fashioned, Mr. Hess, is actually what got me into cocktails.

I actually specified no soda on the first one I ordered, just in case… So thanks! :-)

Thomas Ufer 25 Sep 2007
6:18 pm

This recipe looks great as far as using an orange in an Old Fashioned. I’ve tried a couple other recipes and I was not impressed. Thanks for the tip !

Chuck 25 Sep 2007
6:31 pm

Thanks for doing the Old Fashioned, Robert.  Took ya long enough!  :)

I wanted to remind everyone that Robert has a wonderful, detailed essay on the history and development of the Old Fashioned cocktail on his DrinkBoy website, entitled “Renewing an Old Fashion”, which features dozens of recipe variations throughout the years.  It’s an excellent piece of cocktail scholarship, and should be of particular interest to all our fellow Old Fashioned lovers.

Robert Hess 25 Sep 2007
7:29 pm

Glad that everybody has enjoyed this episode so much! Since we filmed this episode, I did go back and work on the “Tequila” Old Fashioned. Lemon Bitters along with the Agave syrup works really well for that. Haven’t tired it yet with Grapefruit bitters… guess I know one of the drinks I’ll be mixing up tonight! :->

Nicholas 25 Sep 2007
7:35 pm

Great episode.  After chasing the old-fashioned from bar to bar myself, I have never had a completely satisfactory experience with the old fashioned, although my love of the manhattan has made me feel like I was yet to find the ideal recipe.  Bravo.  Now I can make this drink with confidence while I’m behind the stick.

I have been a dedicated viewer ever since I found this site.  I appreciate the care put in to every aspect of this series.  Much gratitude.

Owen Webb 28 Sep 2007
6:13 pm

Great episode.  Love the show.

Why not use orange bitters in the old fashioned?  Or would it become to orangy?

Matt 30 Sep 2007
4:49 pm

I use Regan’s Orange Bitters sometimes, works great.

Robert Hess 1 Oct 2007
5:17 pm

Brant,

I gave your “Grapefruit Bitters” idea a try, and even did a writeup about it over on “The Spirit World” (http://thespiritworld.net/2007/10/01/tequila-old-fashioned/)

-Robert

Robert Hess 1 Oct 2007
5:20 pm

Matt, Owen,

Yes, Orange bitters can work great in this drink, Regan’s, Fee’s, the Bitter Truth, Hermes, or the hopefully soon to be available Angostura Orange Bitters all work nicely, with each providing it’s own slightly different character. You have to use more than a dash or two in order to get the full effect. I know that Gary Regan himself loves to use quite a few heavy dashes in his… perhaps he’s just trying to get folks to go through more of his bitters that way :->

Mike 2 Oct 2007
6:14 pm

Just out of curiosity, what sugar-to-water ratio do you use for your simple syrup?

Thanks for the great videos!  I’ve been a fan since the first episodes!

Matt 2 Oct 2007
9:04 pm

Robert,
While we’re talking about simple syrup, I was wondering how much vodka you put in your simple syrup in order to store it at room temperature?  I’ve been using 1 ounce of vodka for every 8 ounces of simple syrup.  Is this enough, or not enough?
Matt

Owen Webb 4 Oct 2007
5:39 pm

Thanks for the “special ending”.  I made the flamed old fashioned for some friends and they loved it. 

I also (before seeing your update) made several Old Fashioneds that night, and in one I tried the orange bitters in the cocktail but I used just a dash or two like I would with the Angostura.  The drink tasted significantly more “whiskeyey” (not a word, but hard to describe the difference).  People prefered the Angostura version unanimously.  However, next time I will try more orange bitters and see if that cuts (or maybe the correct word is balances) the whiskey better.

Opinionated alchemist 5 Oct 2007
10:07 am

I love (!!!) Old Fashioneds and except of muddling any fruit or filling it up with soda, you hardly can do something really wrong…
However I think that the sugar cube adds the real magic!
I take an orange and rub a sugar cube on it (all sides). Then I soak the cube with Angostura Bitters (in this case no Orange Bitters - as you have the freshest orange oil you can imagine!).
Then I add a bit (may be 1 or 1.5 cl) of water (actually I normally use soda, but only because it is handy - at the end there is definitely no more sparkling). Now I muddle the sugar with the back of the bar spoon and stir till it is completely dissolved in the water. I add 2 cubes of ice and 2cl Rye (!) stir and add another 2 cubes of ice and again some Rye and stir and add another couple of cubes of ice and some Rye and stir again!
At the end you can use a lemon or orange twist or half lemon and orange wheels with a brandied cherry (for the moment I like the idea with the twist).

I like more the flamed orange twist over a Cosmopolitan then with an Old Fashioned…

And: the better the whiskey the better the cocktail!

Cheers!

Dominik MJ

Robert Hess 5 Oct 2007
11:22 am

Dominick,

Using a sugar cube to rub against the orange rind indeed adds some additional distinctive flavor here, serving much the same purpose as my cutting the orange peel over the glass, and then squeezing the peel into it. It would be interesting to see which extracted more oils.

I specifically use simple syrup in my OF recipes just to get the “water” as far away from the recipe as possible, thus hopefully stopping bartenders from accidently doing the “top off” trick.

I’m not totally sold on the ice-whiskey (stir) ice-whiskey (stir) ice-whiskey (stir) approach. This was popularized in London, where they often proudly reflect on how long it takes them to make an Old Fashioned this way. All the times I’ve had them like this, they are way over watered. The only reason for not adding all the ice at once, is to prevent the ice from popping out of the glass as you stir. I don’t think adding it increments really provides any specific benefit. But I’m definately willing to be wrong on this. Here is where experimentation becomes important in the process.

-Robert

Opinionated alchemist 5 Oct 2007
8:27 pm

I didn’t thought about the pedagogical dimension. Simple syrup is indeed much better than filling up the drink with soda…

However I am for the ice-stiring-ice method. If you have a closer look on the old fashioned every part of the cocktail has a specific function:
Whiskey is the base (for the aroma - for the whole drink)
Sugar is the aroma enhancer.
Bitters (including orange oils) improving the structure and depth.
Melted Water is taking the alcohol burn (or bite) and adds a certain drinkability…

Definitely there shouldn’t be too much water - however to do a Old Fashioned with 3 ice-whiskey-stirring steps doesn’t make it over-diluted! However you yield a lower temperature (and less further dilution, if the drink is ready).

But I am with you: it depends how you are doing the drink (like all drinks) - overdoing a drink is as fatal as taking too many shortcuts…

Robert Hess 8 Oct 2007
4:38 pm

I suppose in the end, it really doesn’t matter which approach you use, ice-whiskey-stir, ice-whiskey-stir, ice-whiskey stir, or just ice-whiskey-stir…. as long as the end result is a drink of “this” temperature with “this” amount of whiskey and “this’ amount of added water. Thermal dynamics as they are, it’s more about the “time” taken to make the drink, than the stir once, or stir multiple times approach (for the most part).

concise 28 Nov 2007
9:11 am

Great presentation and content. I am inspired to venture into my well stocked liquor cabinet.

Here are a few suggestions about your presentation:

1. Cut the part about finding an old lemon peel in the squeezer and then rinsing the squeezer from your floor sink (bucket) ?

2. In the introducton traiiler, how about briefly demonstrating how to measure an ounce using different types of shot glasses ?

3. Change the ‘drink boy’ logo on your shirt to ‘The Cocktail Spirit’ or ‘Mixology with Robert Hess’.

4. Label the left column on your Web page as follows:

Ingrediants
a.
b.
c. 
etc…

Recipe or Blending or Mixing .... ?

a.
b.
c.

Thanks again. I am going to try the Cosmo tonight !

The Fabulous Nash Person 28 Nov 2007
4:54 pm

A very good presentation on what is and how to make an Old Fashioned with whisky. As for whiskies, my tenure at Olaf’s on Telegraph Ave. in Berkely, CA required that we use 100 proof Old Grandad. It was the owner’s preference. We also mixed starting with simple syrup unless the guest watching insisted we mull one or two sugar cubes (along with a piece of ice and the dash of bitters). Again, and not just for the sake of presentation, we flamed wide strips of orange peel with elan and pride knowing the result would entertain as well as add a unique note of caramelized orange. And the marachinos were dark, naturally flavorful cherries. Can’t remember the brand. Granted, they were a showy garnish, but we NEVER used those flame-red colored things with the artificial flavoring. You’ve done your research well and it’s a pleasure to watch you mix.

Robert Hess 28 Nov 2007
5:51 pm

Nash,
Now why couldn’t YOU have been behind the bar some of those times I ordered an Old Fashioned. You definately sound like you’re hitting on all of the right cylindars there. I need to head down to Berkley and get a good Old Fashioned for a change!
-Robert

Mike D 29 Nov 2007
11:19 am

Robert,

I came across your website years ago and found your Old Fashioned recipe, entirely at random.  I wondered to myself “What is this bitters stuff he speaks of?” I purchased a bottle of it the next time I went food shopping, went right home, and began tinkering with the Old Fashioned.  In the three or so years since I believe I have mastered the drink. The problem is, no one else has. I’ve ordered it in bars from Boston to Atlantic City and not once has it even approached even acceptable.  Several bartenders didn’t even know what bitters were. One handed it to me in a pint glass topped off with club soda.  Yet another made me an excellent Manhattan. When I want one at my local watering hole I usually have to go behind the bar and make it myself.  My attempts to get a proper Old Fashioned have often left me dejected, sitting alone in the corner of the bar, sucking down Pabst Blue Ribbons, contemplating my failures.  Is there a cocktail you recommend? Something that will satisfy an Old Fashioned drinker but will not stymie the feces-chucking apes that call themselves bartenders.

Mike D,.

Robert Hess 29 Nov 2007
11:45 am

Mike,
The problem you relate on finding bartenders who can make a serviceable Old Fashioned, is one that I share with you. The vast majority of OFs I have are swill, changing that situation has been one of my personal goals for several years now. Slowly I see it making a difference, but it often seems too slowly.

Finding the “right” bars that can make the “right” cocktails often makes me feel like I’m researching the script for the next Mission Impossible movie.

The closest I have to a good classic cocktail that can be relatively safe to order, is the “Manhattan”.

-Robert

Thomas 1 Jan 2008
9:27 pm

This is a fine installment, indeed! 

I feel fortunate that my first exposure to the Old Fashioned was with an excellent bartender (in Durham, NC) who made me a great one very early in my imbibing career.  He muddled the orange and cherry, but otherwise built the drink from the glass up.  To me, the Old Fashioned experience take place over time—the gradual mellowing of the whiskey as the ice melts and the sweeter flavors mix in. 

My more frequent bar experience is the one you describe Robert.  Worst of all, bartenders shake the drink!  It comes out tasting like cough syrup. 

Sign me up for the Old Fashioned Liberation Army!  I will no longer accept a poorly made cocktail.

Bill Owens 3 Jan 2008
5:16 pm

Robert,

Im hosting a whiskey conference in Louisville in April.
I was thinking a asking a “bar” person to come an talk to the group.

Give me a call.

bill owens 510-886-7418

Thomas 4 Jan 2008
8:21 pm

One other question, Robert:  you mentioned your preference for an orange peel twist rather than muddled orange so that you don’t get pulp clogging up the cocktail straw.  Do you really sip this through a straw?  It hasn’t occurred to me to actually use a cocktail straw before.  Please elaborate.  Thanks!

Jas 5 Feb 2008
10:59 am

Firstly I’d like to congratulate Robert & the team on the show. Its the first one I’ve seen and I’m quite frankly amazed at the professionalism and overall presentation. Just a query though regarding the flamed orange zest. Does using matches impart a sulphur like metallic flavour/aroma to the drink? I would’ve thought a standard gas lighter (not Zippo) would be less offensive?
Cheers

Small Screen Colin 5 Feb 2008
11:08 am

Jas,

Thank you for the compliment and your support. We hope you enjoy the current episodes as well as the future episodes we recently shot that will be coming out in March.

As for the match/lighter question, I will let the scientists in the community answer that one: ->

Thank you for watching!

Colin Kimball
President, Content Development
Producer
Small Screen Network

Robert Hess 5 Feb 2008
2:27 pm

Jas, the key to using a wooden match, and something I should have pointed out, is to not flame the orange peel too quickly after lighting the match, this allows the sulfer and chemicals to burn off first so you just have the burning wood. The problem with a ligher, is that since it is burning gas, that imparts a bit of flavor as well. I suppose the “best’ way to do this would be to light a simple stick on a candle, and use that. (or a piece of spagetti)

Nadia 17 Mar 2008
11:26 am

Great show,Robert.I like the way orange is used in an old fashioned way..thanks for sharing.

Roy Wagner 20 Mar 2008
9:22 am

Thanks for the great video on “The Old Fashioned”.  This along with the Manhattan have also been my classic drinks to “test” the quality of the bartender.  Do you request a specific whiskey or just see what they use?

I had an interesting experience recently when I ordered a Manhattan from the table at a restaurant.  The waitress came back and said that the bartender couldn’t make the drink because they didn’t have any bitters.  That impressed me with the integrity of the bartender, but the fact that the bar did not have any bitters really disappointed me in the stocking of the bar by the restaurant.

Robert Hess 20 Mar 2008
9:53 am

Whiskey in an Old Fashioned… if the bartender asks me which whiskey I want, I’ll usually pick one, most common for me is Maker’s Mark, but there are of course many other fine ones to choose from as well.

I was at a fancy steak restaurant in Vegas recently and the only bitters they had behind the bar was Peychaud’s (and since I’ve been there three years in a row now, I know that this is all they ever carry). Which they proceeded to use in a Manhattan as well as an Old Fashioned, when I tried to point out their error here, they couldn’t quite understand. So I switched to drinks that actually work well with Peychaud’s :->

blair frodelius 7 Apr 2008
6:32 am

Robert,

What kind of bitters did Jerry Thomas use in this drink?  I’m guessing that he made his own.  I’m guessing that during prohibition, bitters did not sell well in the US and that after repeal (Happy 75th Repeal Day, by the way!) most bartender’s just neglected to use them at all. 

As for the muddling of orange and maraschino, I’m sure that is just laziness, since the proper way to do it takes some time.

Blair Frodelius

Robert Hess 7 Apr 2008
6:53 am

Jerry’s version of the “Old Fashioned” was simply a “Whiskey Cocktail”, as published in his 1862 edition of “How To Mix Drinks”. Where it lists the bitters as “Bogart’s”... which is believed to be the publishers misspelling of “Boker’s”. This bitters unfortunately hasn’t been made for over a hundred years as far as I know. I’ve had a chance to taste some, and it is different than Angostura, with a heavy, but not overpowering, “Cardammom” flavor. The folks over at The-Bitter-Truth.com are attempting to work up a version of this, which they are calling “Jerry Thomas Bitters”.

Here is the whiskey cocktail recipe as recorded by Mr. Thomas:

109. Whiskey Cocktail
(Use small bar glass.)
3 or 4 dashes of gum syrup.
2 do. Bitters (Bogart’s)
1 wine-glass of whiskey, and a piece of lemon peel.
Fill one-third full of fine ice; shake and strain in a fancy red wine-glass.

You can find more details about the overall history/evolution of the Old Fashioned here:

http://www.drinkboy.com/Essays/RenewingAnOldFashion.html

-Robert

Joel Sheehan 29 Jun 2008
2:20 am

This, is an exceptional cocktail. I can see why you have a particular penchant for this cocktail Robert.

I don’t know why I haven’t tried an Old Fashioned before, but earlier today, after discovering sugar cubes in my local mall a few days ago I downloaded this particular episode and decided to give one a go. Something about sugar cubes must have thrown me off until now, and funnily enough, I didn’t even use on in the drink I’m sipping now.

1/2 oz of 1:1 simple syrup, a few dashes of Angostura Aromatic Bitters, 4 ice cubes, a stir, 2 oz of Bourbon, 4 more ice cubes, another stir, a maraschino cherry on top. Heaven. This is an unbelievable cocktail. The most amazing part, the fact that my girlfriend who normally cringes at the thought of anything with more than 2 (Australian) standard drinks of alcohol in a drink with little more else actually approved of the Old Fashioned! And I didn’t even use any orange for garnish!

I just know this cocktail is destined to be a favorite of mine.

Joel.

carl haberberger 27 Aug 2008
6:43 pm

Enjoying your Old Fashion mix sans the orange (none on hand, shamefull?) Still pretty refreshing especially in this heat!

Matt Sayler 2 Feb 2009
4:48 pm

I came across this in my surfing and made my first old fashioned today, as directed.  What a great drink!

Kris Reitz 4 Feb 2009
4:25 am

Mr. Hess,

I came across your videos looking for how to make a better drink.  What a find!  Thank you for all of your hard work in creating these videos.  I was able to construct your “Old Fashioned” and was amazed at the results.  I look forward to watching more of your videos in the following days and hope to see many more.

Thank you,

mrtim 22 Aug 2009
7:09 am

Robert,

It was your original Drink Boy article on the Old Fashioned that got me to start experimenting with cocktails in the first place, so it was a lot of fun to see this video.  Thanks so much!

Several years later my current favorite recipe uses Sazarac rye and Regan’s orange bitters.  But the experimentation continues!

Trevor 19 Oct 2009
4:52 pm

This looks good.  I totally agree about the club soda, and not muddling in the cherry.  Yours is very similar to Chris McMillan’s.  He uses a sugar cube, saturates it with bitters, splashes in a little water and muddles into solution.  Then he takes an orange zest, about the size of quarter, maybe a little larger, and muddles that into the sugar/bitters solution.  Fill glass with ice and add two oz bourbon. Give a little stir and garnish with half an orange wheel and a cherry.  Simply divine!

Robert Hess 20 Oct 2009
4:30 am

Yes, Chris makes a terrific Old Fashioned. He started doing the “muddled peel” because of one of my rants about the whole muddled pulp business, and that got me to realize that I could simply use the orange peel in the drink, and started doing an orange twist, or squeezing the oils over the drink instead. So I inspired Chris, and then Chris in turn inspired me.

Nik 4 Nov 2009
6:10 pm

Ill second that.  I just made Chris’ muddled orange peel old fashioned, and it is excellent.  The smell of the bitters and the orange together is enough to make me want to make the drink over and over.

Trevor 4 Nov 2009
7:24 pm

Robert, that’s awesome that you inspired Chris! 

Nik, yes, be careful…  I was making these at a party the other night and that’s exactly what happened! 

When I make these, I like to let my guest get a sniff every step of the way.  First, the bitters muddled into solution, next the orange zest added, and finally combined with the bourbon.  An aroma no one can resist!

Justin Baum 31 Dec 2009
5:55 pm

Ringing in the new year with my newly perfected Old Fashioned thanks to you Robert. I would have never guessed that skipping the orange/cherry muddle was the answer. Cheers, and happy new year!

Will Pett 1 Feb 2010
3:20 pm

Robert,

I have come to rely on your show as the go to source for reliable cocktail recipe videos on the net.  I am especially fond of this episode because my experience with the Old Fashioned was virtually identical to yours.  I didn’t know anything about cocktails, when I discovered a mysterious bottle in the back of my cupboard that my brother had left behind: Angostura bitters.  On the bottle, of course, is the recipe for an Old-Fashioned.  Being a lover of bourbon, I decided to try it.  I didn’t have any soda or cherries, so I made one very similar to the one you prescribe here, and I loved it!  It instantly became my favorite thing to drink.  But after ordering them at bars, I realized there was something very different and special about a properly-made Old-Fashioned.

Thanks for a great series!
Will

p.s. How do I use kumquats besides as a garnish?  I have seen recipes calling for muddled kumquats, but they suffer from the same maraschino cherry carcase dilemma.  They are just extra material in the bottom of the glass.

Robert Hess 2 Feb 2010
3:18 am

Will, I (and others here) are on a quest to try to re-establish the Old Fashioned Whiskey Cocktai in all of it’s formal glory. The more people that we can get to understand this drink, and it’s optimum preparation, the better!

As for kumquats, I’ve frankly never used them in cocktails, but they would make a lovely, and delectable garnish in the right drink. I’d go for something light and refreshing, and perhaps served tall, with ice, and soda (or sparkling wine). Since their flavor is somewhat subtle, if I were to use them as a muddled ingredient, I’d try using spirits which are themselves more subtle. I seem to recall their being a variation of the Caipirinha which some folks make in which they muddle kumquats in.

Trevor 2 Feb 2010
10:27 am

Robert, I’ve read that you often use the Old Fashioned as a sort of a litmus test for the worthiness of a new bartender.  So, what if it comes back full of club soda?  What if they don’t know how to make it at all, as is often the case?  Do you automatically dismiss that bartender and take your business elsewhere?

Robert Hess 3 Feb 2010
4:38 am

Trevor, the Old Fashioned is just one of my touchstones. I don’t use it as a pass/fail, but more as just a one way to measure things up. I almost always get a badly made Old Fashioned, so I never dismiss a bartender or an establishment out of hand if they serve me a glass of swamp water. I simply try to understand from “how” they improperly made it what their actual approach and understanding of cocktails are.
Recently I was served an Old Fashioned at a very high end steak joint, where they proudly listed it as one of their house specialties. Even carefully pointing out that they were just using “branch water” (which is sometimes seen as the “water” component in some of the older recipes), but “sparkling branch water”... It could work, if used only in a very small amount, so I was curious how they would proceed. The bartender, made a perfect Old Fashioned (using Woodford Reserve)... then proceeded to add around three ounces of “sparkling branch water” while he proudly pointed out that this is what he was doing. Needless to say it was a bad drink. And cost $15 to boot.
What I learned here, was that this was a place that was “trying” to serve a grand classic, using methodology that they had done “some” research to discover the right way to do it, but really knew nothing about the drink at all, and so ended up with a mess… this hopefully means that they will gradually be heading in the right direction, and perhaps with some properly presented advise to the right person, their program will head that way quicker.
It is also important to note that the OF isn’t my only touchstone, There are a set of three such drinks I order which I’ve learned work pretty well to help me get a good feeling for a bar and the bartender.

blair frodelius 3 Feb 2010
6:31 am

Robert,

Do you ever attempt to teach the bartenders the mixological history of an Old Fashioned?  I would think if the house weren’t too busy, most would be interested at least and would try making them more historically accurate.

I almost always specify how I want something made when I’m out.  Brand name, ratios, stirred or shaken, etc…  This may make me seem picayune, but then again, I don’t want to blow $15 on a lousy drink.  :)

Blair
http://GoodSpiritsNews.spaces.live.com

Robert Hess 3 Feb 2010
6:42 am

Blair,
I rarely “get into it” on my first visit to a bar. I usually just order my drinks try to get an overall feeling for the vibe, customers, and the types of drinks they serve. If I like the place, or think they have promise, I’ll come back for several more trips, and eventually build up a conversation with the bartenders.

mrtim 3 Feb 2010
6:52 am

I suppose someone needs to ask . . . what are your other test drinks?

I often start with a sidecar, because it is a good test AND if they do it “wrong” (IMO) it usually isn’t too terrible anyway.  Then an OF.  Finally maybe a Mai Tai, but its rare to find a Mai Tai as good as what I make using your recipe.

Robert Hess 3 Feb 2010
7:09 am

My typical touchstone drinks when visiting a bar for the first time are:

Old Fashioned

“Personal Specialty” - I’ll just casually ask the bartender if they have a particular cocktail they do really good, or that they particularly recommend. This is to sort of to see how proud they are of what they do and what they are capable of. You can learn a lot about a bartender by their reaction to this.

Then for my last drink, I’ll ask for a slightly obscure drink which they may not know, but I’ve already seen they have all of the ingredients for. I specifically am NOT doing “stump the bartender here”, but instead carefully ask them: “by any chance do you know how to make a ...”, in such a way that I’m already putting it out there that it’s perfectly fine if they don’t. When they don’t, I will explain to them the recipe. This helps me see both how they approach a “new” cocktail, as well as how they react to the customer “teaching” them a new cocktail.

You can see more details about these three touchstones in the articles I wrote about them several years ago:

http://www.drinkboy.com/Articles/Article.aspx?itemid=10

http://www.drinkboy.com/Articles/Article.aspx?itemid=11

http://www.drinkboy.com/Articles/Article.aspx?itemid=12

-Robert

Trevor 3 Feb 2010
1:19 pm

It seems to me, one of the major factors in ruining an Old Fashioned is topping it off with all that soda water.  I will say that back in “bartending school”, that’s how I was taught to make them, along with muddling in all the garbage.  That’s the method I used when I first started out.  I remember an older guy ordered one from me once and he was just impressed that I used bitters.  Never any complaints though.

It wasn’t until I caught Chris McMillian’s YouTube videos and later your articles and videos, that it finally dawned on me..  THIS is how you make a cocktail!  No more bar mix, no more sweet and sour, no more watering down with club soda as filler.

So back to the the club soda in an OF.  Would you ever just tell the bartender “NO SODA WATER” before they start making your drink?  Because if you take out the soda, even if they muddle in the cherry and orange slice, it would still pass an acceptable drink.

Will Pett 3 Feb 2010
1:20 pm

I would also mention that I have found it very important to get high quality oranges for this drink.  I used to get regular navel oranges at the big box supermarket, but then found they had a slightly bitter, chemical taste to them.  After buying organic oranges at the health food store, I learned that the peels of these oranges had a much richer and more natural tasting essence.  I wonder if the regular oranges have some sort of chemical/preservative/pesticide applied to them that gives them this bitter flavor?  In any case, now I always get organic citrus fruits for all of my drinks.

blair frodelius 3 Feb 2010
1:35 pm

Will,

I’ve gone the organic route as well.  What I’ve found interesting is that the “shelf life” of organic fruits is about half that of non-organic.  As well, the peels seem to be softer, making it easier to make a twist. 

Blair Frodelius
http://goodspiritsnews.spaces.live.com

Robert Hess 4 Feb 2010
4:29 am

Trevor,
Sometimes I do give that final little instruction of “skip the soda/water”, but usually I tend to want to see exactly how the bartender will finish the drink. Frankly, during my first visit I take the position that it really isn’t about me making sure I get the best drink possible, but just trying to get a firm understanding of what the bar is doing. I typically get the best Old Fashioneds at bars where the bartender doesn’t know what they are, and I then have the opportunity to tell them how.
-Robert

Trevor 4 Feb 2010
1:06 pm

Ha!  That’s been my experience as well!

Indiapale 17 Feb 2010
1:44 pm

Robert,

Do you use simple syrup with a 1:1 ratio, or a 2:1 ratio for this drink?

Lewis

Robert Hess 17 Feb 2010
3:03 pm

My preference is for what is known as a “rich” simple syrup, which is a 2:1 ratio. I like it because it measures more like sugar (although not quite).

Adam Coronado 23 May 2010
7:55 pm

Robert,

The first one of these that I made to your recipe came out great. Since then, they’ve been coming out medicine-y. What might I be doing wrong? Is it the Peychaud’s (just realized that it was different from Angostura)? What about my simple syrup ratio (1:1)? Thanks ahead, for any help and the great series. I may never make a whiskey and ginger again. Lol.

The Brute

Robert Hess 24 May 2010
5:58 am

Adam, My first guess would be that you may be using too much bitters (and the wrong one) for this. Peychaud’s has a very different flavor than Angostura, and so the drink will turn out with a different character (almost, but not quite, a “Sazerac”). I’d recommend making the OF without any bitters at all, taste it, then add a bare dash of bitters (Angostura), stir it a little, taste it again, and see what difference that makes. Keep adding very (very) light dashes of bitters until you feel you’ve added too much. That will then give you a good idea of how much bitters to add, plus it will show you how bitters affects the drink overall.

blair frodelius 24 May 2010
2:38 pm

Adam,

A great way to work with bitters is to transfer them to a dropper bottle and add a drop or two at a time.  A dash can be anywhere from 6-10 drops.  But, with an eyedropper you can be very accurate with measurements.

Cheers!

Blair
http://goodspiritsnews.spaces.live.com

Paul Skavland 14 Jul 2010
7:49 pm

OH MY GOD.  I always thought this drink was foul.  I made it exactly as you described, using Bulleit burbon, and it was ... transcendant.  I can’t believe something so simple can taste so amazing.  This may well replace the Manhattan as my favorite.  Many thanks.

Robert Hess 15 Jul 2010
3:51 am

My work here is done. :->

blair frodelius 15 Jul 2010
4:03 am

Thus spake the good Saint Robert!

Ginty 28 Jun 2011
10:07 am

Hahaha!  I love the realization that the end experiment MAY require a third hand.

Alan 31 Jul 2011
4:20 pm

There is something Robert said in his book about the Old Fashioned and that was that it is possible that at some point int he late 1800s someone went into a bar and asked for a “whiskey cocktail, the old fashioned way”. We read that one of the first definitions of a cocktail was “spirit, bitters, sugar and water”.

From these two points I would suggest substituting bourbon or rye not for a different spirit but for a different style of whiskey.  By different style I mean Irish :)

I have often tried using Irish whiskey in bourbon cocktails to much success I think. A Redbreast old fashioned is very nice indeed - one of only two pure pot still Irish whiskeys - with a robust complex flavour. Bushmills Black Bush is one of the sweeter Irish whiskeys which I think goes very well in Manhattans.

Jan 20 Aug 2011
2:02 am

I don’t think that adding soda makes it undrinkable, it’s just whiskey and soda with old fashioned flavor. But of course, no more water than absolutely needed should enter the cocktail, otherwise it’s not an old fashioned anymore (and not as delicious).

Personally, I don’t mind any orange pulp in the cocktail as I don’t serve Old Fashioneds with a straw that could get clogged, so I muddle a thin orange wedge, simple syrup and about three dashes of angostura. Then ice, whiskey and a stir, maraschino cherry (the ugly looking one, pickled in maraschino luxardo) along with a teaspoon of maraschino liqueur from the jar, and a wide lemon twist. I don’t like it when you rub it around the edge of the glass as Gary Regan suggests I believe, the lemon smell is too pronounced then. The result is more on the ‘fruit salad’ side than the original, but perfect for today’s taste I guess.

Alan 21 Aug 2011
10:53 am

I tried an old fashioned with Peychauds and Irish whiskey - Powers. It was very nice.

Jud 1 Nov 2011
3:17 pm

OK Robert, time to do a little edit work.  The Drink Boy OF recipe calls for 1 tsp of simple syrup.  The Small Screen recipe calls for 1/2 oz simple syrup.  If using simple syrup mixed 2 sugar : 1 water as you state is a comment on this page, this means you are either using 2/3 tsp of sugar or 1-1/2 tsp sugar.  Neither amount is the 1 tsp sugar found in a sugar cube.  How about telling viewers via the written recipes what proportion the simple syrup is, and straightening out the difference between the amounts of ss in the recipes on the two sites? 

As to your SSN presentations - nice work!  I’ve been looking for a “regular” cocktail alternative to the margarita’s and authentic mai tai’s I enjoy.  The OF is looking like a real contender.  Will be mixing one up here shortly before dinner.  I’ve taken to muddling the zest with the bitters and just enough of the ss to pick up the oils extracted from the zest.  I’m using 1:1 simple syrup and just not stirring quite as much as one might if slightly less liquid were used in a 2:1 ss.  Am using Jim Beam but may try with bourbon some time soon. 

I was a little skeptical about the amount of flavor imparted by a bit of muddled zest, but, wow, the first time I made the drink I tasted the muddled zest, ss and bitters mixture before finishing the drink and the taste just stayed on my tongue all evening.  Very pleasant, very amazing.

Jud 1 Nov 2011
10:01 pm

Realized I got my math wrong after sending the above comment.  1/2 oz of 2 sugar : 1 water simple syrup would contain 2 tsp sugar, not 1-1/2 as I said.  Since this is double the standard amount of sugar in a cube, when you say 2:1 simple syrup, you must mean 2 parts water to 1 part sugar.  A 1/2 oz of that would contain 1 tsp of sugar.

Is there a bartending convention when someone describes a simple syrup formulation as x parts this to y parts of that, that the first ingredient is always the water (or sugar)?  By the way the Old Fashioned made tonight was great! Thanks again for the detailed information.

Robert Hess 2 Nov 2011
10:39 am

Jud, Yes, some editing is indeed in order! I hadn’t noticed the “1/2 ounce Simple Syrup” until you pointed it out. I’ve fixed that now to read “1 tsp”. The problem was in the video I described this as a “dollop”, and the folks building the web page, accidently transcribed this as “1/2 ounce”, which would be way too much.

I think it is important to look at recipes as a general guide, and to determine for yourself if you feel they are a tad to tart, sweet, strong, etc. and make adjustments as necessary to fine tune them. Of course too large of a change turns it into a different drink, so I think it is important to stay true to the intentions of the original recipe.

When I say 2 to 1 simple syrup, I am referring to 2 parts of sugar to one part of water. I can see how it can be confusing when I don’t clarify that. Most bars use a 1 to 1 syrup, and because of that I’m going to start using that more in my cocktails moving forward just to make things clearer.

blair frodelius 2 Nov 2011
12:15 pm

Measurements are sometimes confusing in old cocktail books.  So, here for future reference are some handy and unusual ones.

1 Liter = 33.8 oz
750ml = 25.4 oz
32 dashes = 1 oz
8 barspoons = 1 oz
1 dash = 1/4 bar spoon (or about 25 drops)
1 dollop = 2 smidgens (2 rounded tablespoons)
1 gaggle = 3 dollops
1 gill = 2/3 of a cup (or a little less)
1 jigger = 1-1/2 Fluid Ounces
1 pony = 1 Fluid Ounce
1 smidgen = 4 bit (or 1 rounded tablespoon)
1 speck = less than 1/8 of a teaspoon
Juice of 1 lemon = 2 to 3 tablespoons
Juice of 1 orange = about 1/2 cup
1 lb limes = 6 oz juice… (FYI, cold limes/lemons will yield 1/3 less juice)

Cheers!

Blair
http://goodspiritsnews.com

Jud 2 Nov 2011
1:27 pm

Thanks for the clarification and edit job Robert.

I think it will be helpful to your readers if you were to make the simple syrup information available on the Drink Boy simple syrup web page.  Right now, if you use the link to get to it from the Old Fashioned recipe, and others that use simple syrup, you just get a list of the drinks.  How about adding some helpful guidance like “Unless otherwise noted, the simple syrup used in my drinks is made by dissolving 1 part sugar with 1 part water.”  Most website users won’t stumble on the little conversation we’ve just had, but I’m sure they’d want to know what formulation you are using in your recipes.

Thank you, Blair, for the measurement equivalents - they are going in to my cocktail mixing notes and will, I know,  be used often.

Robert,  I think the Drink Boy site would be enhanced by a “Measurements” page with a link in the menu toolbar.  Blair’s measurements could simply be pasted onto a measurements webpage.  It’d strengthen the reference value of the website “measurably”.  Just knowing exactly how much a dash is volumetrically is going to make it easy to tinker with the OF recipe to get it exactly how I like it.

Though I gotta say it is darn close already.  Thanks again for demystifying the OF.  What a great cocktail when made right!

blair frodelius 2 Nov 2011
4:30 pm

Jud,

I do want to say that when using bitters, each dasher bottle is different.  A dash of Angostura out of the bottle yields more drops than Regan’s Orange or The Bitter Truth’s Celery for instance.  When in doubt, try removing the dasher tops and use an eye dropper.  I usually start with 7 drops and see how that works.

Cheers!

Blair
http://goodspiritsnews.com

Robert Hess 3 Nov 2011
1:02 pm

Jud, you’re right. I should have more details about simple syrup on Drinkboy.com… I just fixed that. :->

Blair, for bitters, as I usually say “bitters is to cocktails, like salt is to soup”. And in most soup recipes you’ll see “salt to taste”... :->

Jud 4 Nov 2011
2:00 pm

Great info on the simple syrup, Robert.  Just one more comment and I’ll be out of your hair.  My take of the OF from a bit of internet research is that the “old” method incorporated the use of one sugar cube.  And a sugar cube contains 1 tsp sugar right?  So the 1 tsp of 1:1 simple syrup you use in your recipe would contain 1/2 tsp sugar, or half of a sugar cube.  And I think most OF recipes call for 2 dashes bitters.  So your recipe keeps to the conventional ratio of sugar to bitters, but you are reducing the amount of each by half it seems.  Is this departure from the “norm” meant to bring the whiskey to the forefront?  At this point this is just curiosity.  I’ve learned what I like in an OF, and you’ve freed up my thinking on adjusting recipes to suit one’s taste.  Always good though, to have a good recipe to start the adjustment process with.  Thanks for getting me to that point.

Robert Hess 4 Nov 2011
2:32 pm

Jud,

I think you are trying too hard to understand what an “Old Fashioned” is, and wanting to come up with a specific and definative recipe. The problem is, that there isn’t one.

The “old” method (as opposed to the new fangled method as seen in the Martini and Manhattan) is just in making a drink which essentially follows the original loose definition of a cocktail, which is “spirits of any kind, sugar, water, bitters”. Which is therefore all there is to a definition of an “old fashioned”. I treat this recipe the same as I treat the ingredients on a box of cereal, and assume the there is more of the first ingredient, then there is of the ingredient that follows. As long as there is a sweetness without being blatently sweet, and that the bitters isn’t standing up too proud, it almost doesn’t matter how much you use. And yes, you can use any spirit you choose to, unless of course you are making an “Old Fashioned Whiskey Cocktail”, in which course you naturally would use whiskey.

Robert Hess 4 Nov 2011
2:35 pm

Oh, and if you read my article “Renewing an Old Fashion” (http://drinkboy.com/Articles/Article.aspx?itemid=20) where I line up a plethora of different recipes that call themselves “Old Fashioned”, you’ll see how things are all over the place.

Jud 5 Nov 2011
1:21 pm

Wow, what an amazing article.  Yep, get the picture.  Thanks for all the info.  I’ve gotten into the habit of making my “before dinner” OF in the afternoon (no ice or cherry) and letting it chill ‘til when I want to drink it.  Drop in the cherry, add ice and swirl.  Heaven!  I’ve never been much of whiskey drinker but this cocktail has converted me.

Steven D. Lauria 22 Jan 2012
11:28 am

Hi Robert,
Do you thinks that Fee Bros. Old Fashioned Bitters would “stand up too proud” in this drink, as compared to Angostura Bitters?
Thanks.

Steven D. Lauria 22 Jan 2012
11:29 am

That’s…do you"think”...? Sorry about that!

Robert Hess 22 Jan 2012
12:04 pm

Steven, I think Fee’s Old Fashioned Bitters work reasonably well here, their barrel aged even better. Angostura is my go-to however. But if you find Angostura a tad too aggressive, then Fee’s is a fine way to adjust for that.

-Robert

Steven D. Lauria 22 Jan 2012
1:23 pm

Thank you, Robert! By the way, I love the taste that comes from flaming the oils from an orange peel at the end…IN ADDITION TO expressing the oils from an orange twist halfway through making the drink. The extra taste of citrus is very refreshing for me!

TheBalch 18 Feb 2012
6:36 pm

I have a question about the orange peel. Whenever I try to express the oils over the glass, the peel just tears in half. I try to use thick-skinned navel oranges, but maybe there’s a trick that I don’t know about? Do you have any suggestions?

Robert Hess 20 Feb 2012
8:42 am

TheBach,
Are you using a channel knife to cut a thin spiral? Some knives are better than others (as are some oranges) I might recommend using a potato peeler instead to get a wider peel that might be easier to work with.

-Robert

Jason Alvarez 24 Mar 2012
11:05 am

Hey Robert, this video doesn’t start from the beginning. You seem to have said or be in the middle of explaining something when it begins, as opposed to the usual introduction.

Brad 30 Apr 2012
12:34 pm

I have been making the Old Fashioned like this for some time now and I won’t have it any other way.  My worst experience with this drink was on a recent trip to Seattle.  I was at the Met for steaks and decided to “test the waters” and order an Old Fashioned (pun intended).  I had noticed the bartender about to muddle the orange so I asked if she wouldn’t mind just putting in a thick zest of orange peel instead of muddling.  I turn my back for a second and to my disappointment the drink arrived at my table watered down with soda and had grated pieces of orange peel floating on the top???!!  “Swamp water” was the only thing that would come to mind.  If you’ve been turned off from the old fashioned due to atrocities like this, make it again the way Robert demonstrates and you will have a new go to drink.

Keep the episodes coming Robert.  Hopefully doing these videos will inspire more bartenders to focus on making great drinks!

Jud 15 Jun 2012
2:37 pm

Regarding the orange zest: I’ve found for me the best way to extract the oil is by starting the drink by putting the zest (wide piece cut with vegetable peeler) in the glass, adding the bitters and just a few drops of simple syrup, then muddling vigorously.  The oil is released and combines with the liquid.  Then I finish with the rest of the syrup, the whiskey, the cherry and small ice cubes (“RV ice cube trays), and stir with the muddler which remained in the glass after muddling.  I think you get more oil released this way then twisting over the glass.

Robert Hess 15 Jun 2012
2:45 pm

Jud, experimentation is alwasy a great way to learn, and I’m glad you’ve taken the time to look into which method of getting at the orange oils works best for you.

I originally made my OFs the “modern” way of simply muddling the half-wheel into the glass. Then I got to thinking about how the orange “juice’ probably wasn’t what I was really wanting, but the orange oils, so I started trying to muddle just the skin edge of the wheel. This was both difficult, and not terribly effective. So then I tried cutting off the fruit from the wheel, and while this was easier to muddle, it didn’t result in a lot of flavor. I then tried cuting a half-dollar sized hunk of just the orange peel and muddling that. this worked pretty well, but then I thought about how I did my Martini’s by cutting the lemon twist over the glass, and so I tried that with the orange peel, and then also squeezed it into the glass as well. I felt that this resulted in a better amount of oils coming out of the peel then muddling provided. But I’m happy to be proved wrong.

Why don’t the rest of you here experiment a little bit at home this weekend and report back your findings!

Drinking in the name of science.

-Robert

TheBalch 6 Jul 2012
11:31 am

Dear Mr. Hess,

You probably need another comment on this video like you need a hole in the head, but this is driving me batty.

Will these proportions work with just about any base spirit? I would guess that maybe different bitters complement different spirits. Isn’t somebody making lavender bitters now? I wonder how that would taste with Hendrick’s…

I have a bottle of Sailor Jerry’s lying around that just doesn’t get used that often, so I tried that instead. It didn’t taste half bad! At least, it didn’t offend my Neanderthal-like palette, but who knows?

Cheers,
Clayton

Robert Hess 9 Jul 2012
11:08 am

Clayton, don’t be silly, we LOVE the comments here, hopefully everybody gains a little more insight from them.

“Proportions” for something like an Old Fashioned aren’t quite as important as in something like a Margarita or a Jasmine. For the Old Fashioned, it revolves more around the general concept which is also at the heart of the original cocktail: “Spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters”.

The water typically comes from the ice, and the sugar is a sweetener of some sort, which means it can also include liqueurs or flavored syrups. And for bitters, you can try anything you might want, although I suspect that depending on the other ingredients, some will work better than others.

In the end, it is all about what tastes best to you. You don’t want a drink that is too sweet, but at the same time, for a “cocktail” you aren’t wanting something that simply tastes like the base spirit all by itself. You are looking for a balance of flavors which celebrates the base spirit.

-Robert

steve7500 22 Sep 2012
12:48 pm

I never order an Old Fashion at a strange bar - Period. There are bars,mostly in larger markets,that do make a good OF Cocktail. One of the best OF Cocktails I’ve ever had was from the Downtown Cocktail Lounge in Las Vegas. He uses 1 cup water,1 cup simple syrup made with Dark raw Sugar ( use 1/2 oz),slice of Orange (half Wheel),a dark cherry,and muddles them. Does not use any sugar. A dash of Anagostura bitters,adds 2 Ozs of Knob Creek (my choice) or Makers 46,or Woodford Reserve. Adds Ice,stirs and thats it. Great. Maraschino Cherries,NEVER but he does does let the cherries soak in Maraschino juice. I did not find out what kind of cherries he used,sorry. I use and muddle a couple of fresh Michigan Cherries when available. This works for me but I am going to try your recipe tonight. Cheers and thanks for all the wonderful drinks.

ishan 8 Dec 2012
9:09 am

Hello, Mr Hess…
                        I’m from India and I’m 18.I watched probably every cocktail video from your show and i think you are the most sophisticated & modern cocktail expert there ever is! I love the way you explain so intriguingly everything from scratch and your knowledge about cocktails is extremely extensive!
Well I don’t have any questions really about your show but I do have one about myself.You see,I am going to drink for the first time on the day of my Batchnite,(ie,high school graduation day) and there is going to be tons of booze there.What I would like to know is what would be the best way to start off my drinking experience and how will I pursue it in the future?

steve7500 8 Dec 2012
9:24 am

Blair,
Many thanks for the obscure measurements. I will find them useful for sure.

Robert Hess 8 Dec 2012
4:49 pm

Ishan,

I am glad you have been enjoying my videos!\

Here is my advise on your “initiation” to cocktails (assuming of course that you will be old enough at the time of your Batchnite to do so).

Go gently.

Alcohol can be a bit of a rude awakening when you are first getting your “sea legs” so to speak. There are two critical things to pay attention to.

First, is that alcohol can sneak up on you. While you are having your second drink, your first drink probably hasn’t taken affect yet. This makes it very easy to over-indulge. My own personal rule of thumb is “three drinks”, and I’m a bit of a big guy.

Second, is that booze is a bit of an acquired taste. The “boozier” the drink, the more it might be a bit of an assult to the palate. In other words, don’t start out with a gin martini!

My Recommendations Are:

1. Limit yourself to three drinks.

2. Start off with more “approachable” drinks. Sidecar, Daiquiri, Margarita, are all good choices.

-Robert

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