Frontier Psychiatrist

Frontier Mixology, Vol. 10: I’m Old Fashioned (Best of FP 2010)

Posted on: December 24, 2010

The word “cocktail” has come to mean practically any mixed drink, from semi-homemade abominations of flavored vodkas mixed with juice to anything ending in “-tini.”  As a term, however, “cocktail” originally had a more specific meaning and an emphatically American origin in the rough politics of our country’s hard-drinking early years.

The cocktail traces back to the May 6, 1806 edition of The Balance and Columbia Repository, in which one itemized cost of a failed election bid was listed as “25 do[zen] cock-tails.”

In response, a coyly puzzled reader asked “what is meant by this species of refreshment” and wondered if the name was “expressive of the effect which the drink has on a particular part of the body?”  Leaving possible anatomical effects aside, “cock-tail, then is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters — it is vulgarly called [a] bittered sling, and is supposed to be an excellent electioneering potion.”  But what is this orignally-specified cocktail?  The curious reader may recognize in the definition the framework for the drink now known as an Old Fashioned, the favorite of Don Draper.

Setting aside poorly-made modern versions that throw in a fruit salad of cherries and orange slices and top it all off with soda water, a properly-made Old Fashioned hews to the original definition of a cocktail with the slightest addition of orange.  Calling it an Old Fashioned, however, originated at the Pendennis Club in Louisville, Kentucky, and then moved from there to wider acclaim at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City.  It is not hard to see that, with the profusion of cocktails, punches, crustas, daisies, flips, slings, etc. during the course of the Nineteenth century, the original formulation of a cocktail simply became known as…  an Old Fashioned.

Old Fashioned Cocktail

2 oz. rye whiskey or bourbon

2-4 dashes of aromatic bitters (e.g. Angostura)

sugar cube

1 teaspoon of water

2 thick slice of orange peel (use a vegetable peeler, being careful not to take off any of the pith, or at least as little as possible)

In an old fashioned glass (yep, it’s what they’re for), muddle the sugar cube, water, bitters and one of the orange peels.  Remove and discard the spent orange peel, add the spirits; stir well to combine, and add a large ice cube or two; garnish with the second orange peel and, if available, a suitable brandied or preserved cherry.

There are hundreds of variations on this seemingly simple recipe.  Using a ¼ to an ½ oz. of simple syrup in place of the sugar cube and water is perfectly acceptable, for example, or lemon instead or orange.  Please, leave out the club soda or you’ll end up with a whiskey spritzer — very Un-American indeed.We can’t vouch for the cocktail’s efficacy as an “electioneering potion,” but Don Draper got it right: the Old Fashioned is a great drink.  Even without its democracy-altering effects, the Old Fashioned is a particularly American creation, one which should be celebrated this holiday weekend by enjoying a few while watching Team America: World Police over and over again.

Drink up,


5 Responses to "Frontier Mixology, Vol. 10: I’m Old Fashioned (Best of FP 2010)"

“expressive of the effect which the drink has on a particular part of the body?” … hilarious!!!

i found you. now go mainstream and give me a blog on the bloody mary (spicy edition).

[…] practically, Bourbon works great as a substitute for rye whiskey in many of our favorite cocktails.  Good Bourbon can be had much more cheaply than Scotch or brandy, but prices do range from under […]

[…] the late 18th century, the term “cocktail” had yet to be coined, and the classic cocktails we tend to focus on here at FP were yet still four score and seven in […]

[…] if you’ve never mixed a drink before, you’d probably be best advised to start with an Old Fashioned instead.  Once you feel comfortable with that swizzle stick in your hands, however, turn to The […]

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