I love a good Old Fashioned, because it is simple, easy to make, and endlessly adaptable. But for this piece, I want to focus on what most people think of when you say Old Fashioned - a whiskey based drink with a bit of sugar and bitters. The recipe is really that simple.
Because it is so simple, the most important things to consider are the quality of your ingredients and the balance of your drink. There is no magic formula for balance because it is subjective - what tastes good to one is not necessarily enjoyable to all. More sugar, less sugar, lots of bitters or just a couple drops, that’s all up to you.
Start with your ingredients, the better quality your alcohol is, the better your drink is going to taste. Since there’s only a few ingredients, don’t worry about covering up the nuance of an aged scotch or top shelf bourbon. This is just another way to enjoy it. Instead focus on finding a bitters that really highlights what you like about the whiskey you choose. Is it a rich, smooth chocolatey whiskey? Try a chocolate bitters, a spiced bitters, or compliment the chocolate with a lighter orange bitters. Are you using a spicy rye with a peppery finish? Choose a bitters that either plays up that spice like aromatic or smoothes it out like a barrel aged bitters.
When you’re making Old Fashioneds at home, just build them in the glass. No need to dirty a mixing glass unless you’re mixing up 2-3 or you really want to. Start with your sugar and bitters just in case you get a little heavy handed, then you haven’t ruined any alcohol. Start with about a teaspoon or two bar spoons of sugar or simple syrup. You can also muddle a sugar cube soaked in bitters. Add 4-6 generous dashes of bitters. I am partial to our Aromatic Bitters, but Barrel Aged, Orange, or Dead Guy Chicory are all great choices. Give the sugar and bitters a good stir to dissolve/mix the sugar, then add 1.5 - 2 oz of your favorite whiskey. Drop in a large ice cube if you have it or 2-3 standard cubes, stir again to chill and dilute your drink. A little dilution is the key, it opens your whiskey and the bitters so you can taste all the nuance.
A note on ice, the smaller the ice cubes the quicker they melt and the more they will dilute your drink. This is neither good nor bad, just a fact, but one worth thinking about if you’re considering whether you really need a try to make those large ice cubes. Round ones melt even slower.
Finish up your drink with a twist of orange peel squeezed over the glass to get a bit of oils mixed in. That little hint of citrus makes a world of difference. If you’re wondering about muddled cherries and oranges, read this short piece on the history of the old fashioned for the low down.
Now taste your drink for balance. Do the whiskey, sugar and bitters seem pretty even? If not ask yourself what’s out of whack. If it’s a bit too sweet try another dash or two of bitters. Taste again. If it’s too strong (alcohol seems overpowering) stir it a bit more to get the ice melting and make sure everything is mixed. If it seems to bitter add a touch more sugar. Don’t assume the drink is ruined if you don’t love the first sip. Adjust a bit, try again, and trust your first instinct.
There you have it. Making a great Old Fashioned is a piece of cake, just choose your ingredients wisely and don’t be afraid to adjust to your liking.