The New Old Fashioned Lab22 Cardiff

The New Old Fashioned

When people talk about the heavy-weights of the cocktail world the same few drinks keep popping up; The Martini, Tom Collins, The Sazerac are to name just a few. For me, the King of the whiskey cocktails has to be the Old Fashioned!

This drink of Whiskey, sugar and bitters has lasted the test of time, it’s been in and out of fashion and suffered some undignified additions throughout it’s life. Its simplicity is its strength and epitomises what a cocktail should be. I decided to research into this historic drink to learn what the fuss is about.
The origins of this libation can be traced back to 1862 and a drink called ‘The Whiskey Cocktail’ featured in Jerry Thomas’ Bartender’s guide (also known as ‘How to Mix Drinks’ or ‘The Bon-Vivant’s Companion’) which was the first ever published recipe book for mixed drinks. The recipe calls for whiskey, Brokers bitters and Gum Arabic (a sweet syrup made using acacia tree resin) and lemon peel. Although this seems close to the current day Old Fashioned there are a few differences, the main being that there is no ice in this drink and a lemon is used instead of orange, also gum Arabic is no longer generally used due to sugar being so easily available and cheap nowadays. The drink was shaken rather than stirred and served in a bar-glass (similar to a short wine glass). This drink was so popular that it was sold in large quantities to the troops during the American Civil War.

The addition of ice (which was becoming more and more available) showed how drinking culture was changing in western societies in the later part of the 19th century. Cocktails previously were often drunk at certain times in the day i.e. in the morning to wake you up (as is the case here), before and after food to aid digestion, or as a night cap to send you to sleep. This was changing as saloons and hotel bars across America became integral to people’s social lives, people would sip on drinks out of enjoyment rather than ritual. This would bring about the first golden age of the cocktail.

American bartenders were in awe of the new and exciting liqueurs and spirits coming to them from Europe, they (much as they do still today) experimented, changed, ‘improved’ recipes like the Whiskey Cocktail. The addition of Maraschino liqueur, Chartreuse or Absinthe would make an improved Whiskey Cocktail. After years of improvisations people would rebel against these changed new style drinks. To make sure they got the original and beautifully simple drink they were used to getting, patrons would order a Whiskey Cocktail in the ‘Old Fashioned way’ giving it its current-day name that we’re all familiar with.

It was also at this time that it was common place for the Bartender to simply crush a sugar cube laden with bitters and hand you a whiskey bottle for you to pour yourself, this is why we still have the tradition of sometimes making an old fashioned in the glass it’s served in. and these sugar cubes were even sold pre-soaked for home use. From this time to the beginning of the infamous prohibition years which started in 1920, an odd change took place to the beloved drink, a spoon was often added to the drink and served in the glass with it. This was probably to fish out the whiskey- soaked sugar lying at the bottom of the glass or the fruit which was starting to appear in the drink. Oranges, lemons, pineapple, cherries and even limes were sometimes added. This served the purpose of hiding lower quality spirits (especially during prohibition) and was a popular trend of the day. The spoon was such an integral part to the cocktail that gentlemen of the day would often have a purpose-made spoon pocket sewn into their breast and was thought to be very bad manners to place it directly of the table or bar.

Prohibition came about nationwide in January 1920 and came through huge appeal and protests, largely in the Southern states. It had a huge push from women at the time (tying in with the Suffragette movement) as this was still very much a time of inequality and 1920 happens to be the same year that women were given the vote in America. Immigration, the class-system, and xenophobia also has a large part to play in the introduction of prohibition, with a lot of Americans connecting the large working-class European population (especially in the big cities) with drinking. Alcohol would go on to only be sold for the use of medicine, this was vastly taken advantage of by medical practitioners. Moonshines were being secretly made everywhere and alcohol smuggling was prolific, this meant the traditional bourbon was more often than not swapped out for Canadian rye or corn whiskies coming in from the border.

Prohibition ended partly as the country couldn’t afford to miss out on the tax funded by alcohol, but also crime levels had never been higher. Gangsters like Al Capone were made rich through smuggling and speakeasies, people were even sailing to international waters in order to drink alcohol without pressure of the law (this started the Cruise Industry as we know it today).

The Old fashioned and most cocktails of the day went into decline radically in the 1940s after a man name Rudolph Kunett released his “Smirnoff White Whiskey. No Taste. No Smell.” This was actually due to a labelling error but Americans grew accustom to Vodka which was previously relatively unknown and they liked how it could be mixed with any other drink due to its clean taste. Drinks such as the Martini, Tom Collins and Bloody Marys now used Vodka instead of Gin and the Old Fashioned and many other drinks of it’s type went into decline, giving way to the ‘Dark ages’ of the cocktail world. A time of heavily juiced and syrupy cocktails with rude or tongue-in-cheek names (I’m sure you know the ones I’m talking about).

Fortunately, this age didn’t last forever and due to a resurgence of enthusiasm and notably the influence of Dale De-Groff in the late 80s and 90s the cocktail scene was back on track. Bartenders and drink historians brought back forgotten classics such the Old Fashioned, the Last Word and Clover Clubs. People began experimenting with different sweetening agents and different bitters, the drink was no longer just a drink but a whole style of cocktail in its own right. Nowadays you could use any flavoured syrup instead of sugar or gum-arabic and any bitters and spirit. A good example of this is the ‘Oaxaca Old Fashioned’, this not only doesn’t use whiskey as a base spirit but it is a split base of Reposado Tequila and Mezcal.

Oaxaca Old Fashioned

{ Created by Phil Ward 
Death & Co. NYC }

{ Ingredients }

› 30ml reposado tequila
› 20ml mezcal
› 5ml agave nectar
› 2 dashes Angostura bitters

{ Tools }

› Barspoon & Strainer
› Old Fashioned
› Orange Twist Garnish

Lab22 Old Fashioned

{ Created by Lab22. Cardiff }

{ Ingredients }

› 50ml American house blend
› 10ml half white sugar and half Demerera Sugar syrup
› 3 dash Lab Old Fashioned Bitters
› Orange peel discard
› Served over a large clear Ice Cube

We make a house blend of whiskeys using the Wild Turkey range or Bourbon (both 81 and 101 proof) and Rye whiskey which we tested in different proportions until we came up with our house favourite blend. We also agreed to use a half white and half Demerara sugar syrup, this came about as the flavour of demerara can be quite heavy and overpowering so is best mixed with more refined white sugar. The house bitters we use are a blend of Angostura, Angostura Orange, Fee Brother’s Walnut, Fee brother’s Aztec chocolate bitters and a tobacco tincture, these combine to give a deep flavour to complement the whiskey. Personally, I prefer my Old fashioned with an orange discard and orange bitters in its place, this keep the flavour consistent regardless of type of orange or how long the peel is in the drink. This is stirred and poured over a large clear ice-cube (we use a form of directional freezing and cut to order in order to keep them super clear).

So however you enjoy your Old Fashioned, whether it’s using Whiskey or another spirit I ask you to give a little thought to the social influences and the many ups and downs that has shaped this most famous of drinks.

Bottoms Up!