When Good Recipes Go Bad – The Old Fashioned Cocktail

In Hannah Glasse’s 1747 cookbook “The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy” the following recipe appears - A Savory Veal Pie: TAKE a breast of veal, cut it into pieces, season it with pepper and salt, lay it all into your crust, boil six or eight eggs hard, take only the yolks, put them into the pie here and there, fill your dish almost full of water, put on the lid, and bake it well.

The recipe appears fairly simple and straight-forward, but it is also devoid of enough information to allow somebody who has never made it before really understand how to do it right. How large of a breast of veal is it? What sort of “crust” is supposed to be used? Are the egg yolks supposed to be left whole, or broken up? By “lid” do they mean a physical lid or a lid made of crust? What temperature to bake it at, and for how long?

Many cocktail recipes are even less descriptive then Hannah’s recipe above. If we take the Old Fashioned for example, one of the earliest published recipes (not counting earlier recipes simply referred to as “Whiskey Cocktail”) for it is from “Modern American Drinks” (1895) by George J. Kappeler - The Old-Fashioned Whiskey Cocktail: Dissolve a small lump of sugar with a little water in a whiskey-glass; add two dashes Angostura bitters, a small piece ice, a piece lemon-peel, one jigger whiskey. Mix with small bar-spoon and serve, leaving spoon in glass.

Drink recipes by their very nature are of course are far simpler than cooking recipes, but we are still faced with many unknowns here. For example, how large is a “small lump of sugar”? How much water is “a little”? What type of whiskey is expected to be used?

When a recipe leaves out important details, it requires the reader to fill in the gaps to the best of their ability, often without having any idea what so ever what the actual thing they are trying to make should taste like when done properly. This means that whatever they end up with, they will consider as “the way it should taste.” And then they teach this to another bartender, who teaches it to another bartender, who… you get the picture.

Perhaps more than any other cocktail, the Old Fashioned is the one to suffer the most from bad interpretations of a good, but poorly written recipe, as well as just plain bad recipes (typically based on a bad interpretation of a good, but poorly written recipe).

Here is where a solid understanding of a recipe, and more importantly the foundation that it is built upon, can aid the reader in better understanding how to make it properly. That, plus more details is part of what it takes to make a good recipe.

Of course you also can run into the problem of recipes that are just plain bad from the start regardless of how they are made.


2 oz Rye Whiskey

1 tsp. simple syrup

Dash or two of The Bitter Truth Aromatic Bitters


Build in an old fashioned glass.

Add whiskey, simple syrup, bitters and ice.

Stir to combine, chill and dilute.

Garnish with a lemon twist.


8stringfan 4 Dec 2014
12:18 pm

Lest any viewers take the admonishment against using an orange peel with rye in an Old Fashioned as dogma, let it also be stated that some of us passionate fans of a proper Old Fashioned would never use anything OTHER than an orange peel with our rye, simple syrup, and bitters concoction ;)  Given the choice of a lemon twist or no garnish with this drink, I’d go with the latter, but oh, how a twist of orange transforms it into something altogether heavenly!

Robert Hess 4 Dec 2014
1:29 pm

Actually, the printed recipe here is wrong (ironic, no?). The garnish step should read “Garnish with a lemon twist” and not “Garnish with an orange zest”.

While I would never turn back a rye old fashioned garnished with orange, I think lemon works better. While at the same time, I feel that for a bourbon old fashioned an orange works better.

And technically a “zest” is small shavings you would get if you used a grater, while a “twist” can be anything from the thin strip you get from by using a channel knife, to a slice you get (as I am using here) by using a knife.

blair frodelius 4 Dec 2014
2:56 pm


I was just dealing with this issue last night.  Juice of one lemon?  Anywhere from 1 ounce to almost 2 ounces depending on the season.

I agree that orange and bourbon work very well together.  Lemon and rye, maybe.  I tend to use lemon and lime as a garnish in lighter (clear) spirits.  I’ll have to give your suggestion a try.

By the way, I’ve studied medieval cooking for a number of years and many of the recipes are exceptionally vague.  But, I do know this; a pie (or coffin) was made of pastry, and the lid was also.  The ingredients were baked, but the outer shell was often discarded as it was hard as a rock. 


Blair Frodelius

Robert Hess 5 Dec 2014
9:42 am

Ok. So I was just watching this video again and realized that I go so busy pontificating about the proper and improper ways of making the Old Fashioned that I totally forgot to stir the drink! My bad.

Jud 28 Nov 2015
1:28 pm

For some reason, the videos are no longer showing when I click on them; for example, for the old fashioned.  Would you run me through the procedure?  Was a technical change made in the last year?

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