Old Fashioned – Recipe from David Embury’s ‘The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks’

Embury writes a lot on this one, its one of his 6 after all.

If properly made, this is a truly magnificent cocktail. The principal reason that it does not enjoy an even greater popularity than it now claims is that what is usually served as an Old-Fashioned is actually a short Highball rather than a cocktail. Water, either plain or charged, has no more place in an Old-Fashioned than it has in a Manhattan or a Martini. The water is usually added ostensibly for the purpose of dissolving the sugar. You can make perfect Old Fashioned’s only by using sugar syrup. However, if you do not have sugar syrup available you can make a fairly passable cocktail by using loaf sugar as follows: 

Put one medium-sized lump of sugar in the Old-Fashioned glass and add enough lukewarm water to cover it completely. Watch carefully until the sugar starts to dissolve and then pour off the water. Add 3 dashes of Angostura, crush the sugar with a muddier, and blend sugar and bitters thoroughly. Add a small quantity of whisky and stir with a small spoon until the sugar is completely dissolved and blended with the liquor. Then, and then only, complete the cocktail. It takes about twenty minutes to make a satisfactory Old-Fashioned starting with dry sugar; it takes about two minutes starting with sugar syrup. Also, the sugar syrup makes a smoother, better drink.

The Old fashioned is the original cocktail.

For about 200 years we lived in a world where the first ever reference to a ‘Cocktail’ conveniently coupled with its recipe appeared in an 1806 edition of the ‘Balance and Columbian Repository’ which reads as follows:

Cock-tail is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters—it is vulgarly called bittered sling, and is supposed to be an excellent electioneering potion, in as much as it renders the heart stout and bold, at the same time that it fuddles the head. It is said, also to be of great use to a democratic candidate: because a person, having swallowed a glass of it, is ready to swallow anything else.

It wasn’t until recently that we found an earlier reference to ‘Cocktail’ as a drink, and that was in a London paper. I suspect that if this reference had been found first then a cocktail would be a British not American invention.

An Old Fashioned has been a bartender favourite drink for as long as I can remember, I suspect its because bartenders tend to like drinking straight spirits, and this drink is an incredible vehicle to try new ones, and to be honest it can be made with any spirit, even gin, in which form its really just a Pink Gin with Old Tom as the base, and by pink gin I mean gin and bitters, not that recent arrival from the big brands trying to cash in on colour. For a long time if someone came into the bar I was working in and asked for an old fashioned, the first thing out of my mouth would be ‘which bar do you work in?’, and I don’t remember being wrong, once.

This is also a drink which over time has been the source of frequent and very boring arguments, mostly from my memory based on which sugar to use. The highlight of this for me was one day making a very good bartender an Old Fashioned a la David Embury with sugar syrup, her telling me I was lazy and should’ve used a sugar cube, and me not getting a job in a very good bar because of it. I’ve not strayed from Embury on this drink for a long time, and don’t ever plan to.

Everyone should try this drink.