We return to our occasional series on classic whiskey cocktails with one of the most classic whiskey drinks: the Old Fashioned. The Old Fashioned is similar, in mechanics and composition to the Sazerac, though it substitutes orange and spice flavor for the Sazerac's anise. For a fairly simple drink, there seem to be as many recipes as people who make Old Fashioneds with cocktail fans passionately defending the inclusion or exclusion of various ingredients. The basic recipe, as shown in this video by the great Chris McMillian or on DrinkBoy is:
Muddle a cube of sugar, water and Angostora bitters,
Add and muddle a slice of orange rind,
Add ice and two shots of American whiskey,
Garnish with an orange slice and a maraschino cherry.
Now, some people will insist that there shouldn't be any fruit used at all. Others will say you should add lemon rind and still others sacrilegiously insist on soda water. And then there's the question of whiskey; should it be Bourbon or rye? Given all of these factors, I decided to play around, so I tried a few different Old Fashioneds. I used the recipe above, with muddled orange and no soda water.
1. The Rockhill Farms Old Fashioned
Winter in Southern California is citrus season and beautiful, sweet and juicy Valencia oranges were at their peak when I started my mixing, so I really wanted to use a version with some orange. Rockhill Farms is a fairly sweet Bourbon that I thought would go well with the bitters and orange, and it did. The resulting drink was very tasty though a bit too sweet. I could reduce the sugar next time or try a Bourbon that was lower on the sweetness scale (see below).
2. The George Dickel Tennessee Old Fashioned
My favorite Tennessee Whiskey, George Dickel No. 12, makes a great Manhattan, so I figured I would give it a try in an Old Fashioned. Sure enough, it really did the trick, making a very nice Old Fashioned. A drier whiskey, Dickel gave a nice punch to the Old Fashioned.
3. The Russel's Reserve Rye Old Fashioned
As with most classic American whiskey cocktails, the original whiskey of choice was rye while more recent versions tend to use Bourbon. As a fan of rye, I thought I would try a rye Old Fashioned. I used Wild Turkey's Russel's Reserve Rye, a good mid-level rye for cocktails. The Russel's Reserve Rye did very well in the Old Fashioned, the rye spice standing up well to the bitters and orange.
4. The (rī)¹ Old Fashioned
Since Jim Beam's (rī)¹, which I pretty much panned, is supposed to be for cocktails, and I now have a mostly full (but very sleek looking) bottle of the stuff, I figured I would give it a try in an Old Fashioned. It came out okay, and certainly better than drinking the stuff straight. (rī)¹ is a sweet rye without much rye character so it adapted well to the sweetness of the drink, but didn't give me any rye contrasts.
Based on these experiments, I would go with the Russel's Reserve if making a rye Old Fashioned and the Dickel if making a Bourbon/Tennessee Old Fashioned. If you have a sweet tooth, you might like the Rock Hill Farms version as well.