Get Nerdy With The Old Fashioned
A simple drink that perfectly epitomises the original definition of the ‘Cocktail’. A combination of alcohol, water, sugar, and bitters. However, when it comes to great cocktails, simplicity of recipe is no dictator of complexity of flavour, and the Old Fashioned is a cocktail with delightful complexity.
With a minimal number of ingredients, your choice of each ingredient will have a profound impact on the cocktail’s final character. Mixing with a small number of ingredients also calls for great care when make your cocktail. Any one ingredient out of balance renders the whole drink unpalatable.
In this article we’re going to focus on both a classic and modern twist on the Old Fashioned, to help you get the most out of your Old Fashioned making. Both when it comes to the traditional method of stirring with ice, but in particular, we’re going to focus on the elegant simplicity and particular advantages of batching and bottling your Old Fashioned.
Let’s Start By Looking At The Ingredients You Need And The Roles They Play
01. Base Spirit
Traditionally made with the American Whisky Bourbon. However, like many other classic Whisk(e)y cocktails the formula will work with almost any Whisk(e)y, from America or anywhere else for that matter.
Want to take a break from Whisk(e)y? You can apply the techniques and ratios of the Old Fashioned to a broad number of different spirits. Cognac, Rum, even Mezcal make glorious Old Fashioned variations. Get creative! It’s a brave new world, you can make almost anything into an Old Fashioned variation these days.
If it tastes good to you, then it is good, don’t mind anyone else.
Your choice of sugar will also make an impact on the final drink. We like the slightly deeper notes of a soft brown sugar, instead of white, for a classic Old Fashioned. This is a great place to start if you’re new to this cocktail and want to perfect your classic, before you start playing with other sweetening ingredients.
Beyond sugar, you can experiment and replace the sugar with honey, agave, maple syrup or even orange marmalade. The second recipe we will look at here replaces the sugar with honey for a delicious variation. There are many differences between the different types of sugar, and dispel some of the myths.
The complexity of something like the classic Angostura Bitters is key to adding depth of flavour and a hint of bitterness to your drink.
Adding bitters will also extended the ‘length’ of the drink on the palate. The bitter flavour profile is detected at the back of the palate, therefore it helps draw the flavours of drink all the way to the back of your palate. Extending the length of time the drink develops in your mouth and nose, also known as the drink’s ‘finish’. [Yes, you smell through the roof of your mouth as well as up your nose!]
Especially when combined with the essential oils from an orange twist, a dash of Orange Bitters helps to elevate and lighten this recipe. Adding fresh top notes to a drink that is otherwise richer and heavier.
However, as you start to play with this recipe, you can take the drink in very different directions by replacing these Orange Bitters with all sorts of complimentary Bitters, like chocolate for example.
In almost every cocktail, dilution is as important as any other ingredient. It’s vital for unlocking flavours carried by the alcohol and making the drink smooth and inviting.
This process for an Old Fashioned can be drawn out and slow because, unlike a Martini or Manhattan which include lower ABV ingredients such as vermouth, the Old Fashioned is just Whisk(e)y and sugar. At first, ice melts quickly while the Whisk(e)y is relatively warm. Once the ingredients have been stirred for a somewhat short amount of time and become very cold, the melting of the ice slows dramatically, and you’re left to just keep on stirring!
We therefore recommend adding a splash of water to the mix with the sugar and Whisk(e)y to help the process on its way.
How do you know when you have the perfect amount of water added? As always, taste, taste, taste and TRUST YOUR PALATE to guide you.
Back in the day
One of the first classics to lead the renaissance of vintage cocktails in the late 90s and 00s, was The Old Fashioned Cocktail. For a delightfully simple recipe, the process most of us followed for making it was far from simple.
You added sugar to an empty lowball glass with a dash of Bitters and a splash of Whisk(e)y. Then, using the muddler on the bottom of a bar spoon, you began the laborious 8 minutes of stirring. Yes…at least EIGHT MINUTES. 1 ice cube added at a time, allowing it to slowly melt, all the while keeping the spoon whirling around the glass and dissolving the sugar.
For the first 5 or 6 minutes you only added another ice cube when the one before it had almost completely melted. Then in the last couple of minutes, you would start to add ice at a faster rate, and so the glass would start to fill with ice and get very cold.
With ice starting to fill the glass, the process of tasting would begin. Using a straw as a pipet, you would taste, checking for the perfect moment when the drink was ready and stirring could finally stop.
When that magical moment was reached, any remaining space in the glass would be filled with more ice to make sure the drink was as cold as possible, before a large twist of orange was added to finish the drink off.
It’s exhausting just writing the process we used to go through, so you can imagine the delight you’d feel when an order for 5 of them came in right at the end of service.
To be fair, the process works, the drink becomes icy cold and perfectly diluted. The guests loved the whole ritual and attention to detail. As a bartender, you had to become adept at making other drinks at the same time as making an Old Fashioned. If not, you were in all sorts of trouble.
Times have thankfully moved on, there are now different ways to get to the required end result that are just as delicious, and take a fraction of the time.
Stirring, traditional with modern understanding
Firstly, stirring. Yes, stirring is still the best way to make an Old Fashioned ‘live’ and if you’re serious about making great drinks, it’s a technique you definitely need to know. However, instead of mixing it in the glass you’re going to serve the drink in, we recommend stirring in a mixing glass like you would the Martini or Manhattan.
To a mixing jug, add a heaped teaspoon of sugar or whatever sweetening agent you’re using. Then add two or three dashes of bitters and a couple of ounces or 60ml of your preferred Whisk(e)y, along with half an ounce or 15ml of water.
As mentioned, adding a little water to the mix will help you get to the perfect dilution point in a timelier manner. Now use a spoon or stirrer to dissolve the sugar into the liquid. Fill the mixing glass with ice and get stirring until it’s perfectly chilled and diluted. Then serve with large chunks, or a simple block of ice, and an orange twist in a lowball / old fashioned glass.
The Joy of Batching
If you have the luxury of planning ahead, batching is arguably an even better way to make your Old Fashioned, rather than stirring and serving them individually .
Why is batching such a great method we hear you ask?
Batched cocktails are, at their best, the liquid version of slow cooked food. The drink gets better with time resting in the bottle. The ingredients in the recipe interact with each other and the drink becomes smoother and more rounded.
By working carefully and taking great care and attention when you create your batch, every single serve is then consistently perfect. No variation, no mistakes, just perfect every time.
When you make your batch, be prepared, have plenty of time and take care with measuring. Also, as you would with any drink, use your palate to confirm you are happy with your batch before you bottle it up.
When you fancy a tipple, all you have to do is crack open your bottle of batched Old Fashioned, pour into a glass with ice, add bitters and preferred garnish, then sit back and enjoy.
Speed and ease of service becomes even more useful when you’re entertaining. You can offer high end cocktails to your guests with no hassle, mess, or hard work. Your guests can even help themselves and leave you to maybe even enjoy your own party!
Batch That Old Fashioned
If prior to getting nerdy with making a batched old fashioned, you’d like to better understand batching as a whole. We highly recommend you read our guide to batching.
To make make our batched Old Fashioned, measure out all ingredients into a jug, jar, bucket, or whatever you have available to use, that can hold the size of batch you’re making.
We recommend you leave bitters out of your batch and add them directly to the glass when serving. This allows for customisation by the individual drinker, giving you more flexibility. Most importantly it also removes the danger of ruining a whole batch by adding too much, because no other ingredient balances bitter. If you add too much, there’s nothing you can do about it. You will also find that as the batch mellows and rounds in the bottle, the bitters can get more prominent. You have been warned!
If, for whatever reason, you have to add bitters to your batch, do not scale up respective to how many serves you’re making. Add very gradually to your batch, tasting along the way, and please err on the side of caution.
When adding water, remember this is the water that would be added during stirring with ice in the traditional method. The amount of water for this batch has been calculated using a Whisk(e)y at 90 proof / 45% ABV. If you use a stronger Whisk(e)y, your will need to add a little more water to the batch, and vice versa. Just keep in mind that water is as important as any other ingredient, so keep the focus.
Stir you batch together well to ensure that all the sugar is dissolved then add mixture to glass bottle(s) or jar(s) and store in fridge. If you have more batch than what you can fit into a fridge, store somewhere cool and dark.
Of course, it’s ready to serve immediately, but as mentioned it will improve with time to rest in the bottle, so try to make it at least a few days ahead of schedule. As there are no fresh ingredients in this recipe, this bottle of Old Fashioned will last indefinitely. Ahead of serving, if not already in a fridge, get the batch into a fridge or an ice bucket for a few hours ahead of schedule. An ice bucket is perfect solution for parties.
Batching up the Hyde’s Honey Old Fashioned
This is a delicious and fairly subtle twist on the classic Old Fashioned recipe. However, with such a simple recipe, subtle changes have a huge impact.
Honey brings a unique flavour and takes the place of the sugar used in the classic recipe. It’s an ingredient itself with huge variations, so you can further customise your recipe through your choice of style and brand. Different honeys deliver very different profiles, which will have a significant impact on your final drink. Using a honey that’s local to you is a nice way to make the recipe individual to you.
The mixture of Whisk(e)y (originally made with Maker’s Mark) and honey is accented by a hint of chocolate and fresh citrus aromatics. Delivering your new favourite Old Fashioned recipe.
If you want to batch the Hyde’s Honey Old Fashioned, mix the ingredients in the following ratio:
4 ½ parts Whisky
(originally made with Maker’s Mark whisky)
3 parts Water
½ part Honey
For a 1-liter (approx. 33 1/3 oz) bottle, this equates to:
Whisky 562.5 ml (18 ¾ oz)
Water 375 ml (12 ½ oz)
Honey 62.5 ml (2 oz)
As always, don’t forget to show us what you made by tagging us!
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