Monday, January 16th, 2012...12:56 pm

New Fangled Old Fashioned

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Recipes are a divisive thing. Everyone’s got an opinion on which is the most authentic or the best. And if there’s a type of recipe that gets everyone’s panties in a twist, it’s how you make a cocktail. This is probably since you don’t need to know how to cook to be able to make a cocktail, and that opens the floor to just about anybody’s opinionatedness. And as much as I often appreciate digging into the history of a dish and researching the original way of making it, there’s often room for improvement and for tweaking something to suit one’s tastes, while still respecting what it’s meant to taste like.

The old fashioned – known for being (one of?) the first cocktail(s), before cocktails were even known as cocktails – was originally made with a small lump of sugar, saturated with a couple dashes of butters and a short splash of water, muddled to dissolve, then topped up with rye and ice, and garnished with a strip of lemon zest. (Yes, rye was the original spirit of choice – bourbon only gained traction post-prohibition when rye became less common and the sweeter spirit gained popularity.) No cherries, no smushed fruit, no extra soda, none of that simple syrup nonsense. The thing is, since you’re not making a mojito or another cocktail that has fresh herbs or leaves that you need to bruise against the granules of sugar, using simple syrup won’t detract from your cocktail-making or drinking experience. Also, when you muddle the sugar with bitters and water, you might end up with some undissolved sugar at the bottom of your glass which makes the last (and already most diluted) sip of your drink super sweet. If you don’t mind this, go ahead and start with half a cube of sugar, but if you do, don’t let anyone make you feel bad about going the simple syrup route.

I recently discovered a brand of rye whiskey, (ri)1 (pronounced rye one), which is made by Jim Beam. Now, I should probably come out and say right here that the packaging was what caught my eye. I mean, jeez, look at that bottle! It’s so pretty. So, so pretty. As far as rye goes, I have to admit that I don’t know much about the stuff. I don’t really know very much about many types of alcohol – whether it’s wine, beer, sake or whisky – I just tend to adopt the same approach of asking one simple question: “is it yummy?” If so, take note of the name and continue to order. If not, take note of the name and avoid like the plague. This rye is a fairly smooth and sweet rye – it’s not as dry as some other brands I’ve tasted, but it still has that familiar spicy and peppery nose to it.

Okay, and this is where things are going to get a little hairy. So here’s your warning – if you’re one of those purists, you should stop reading now. I’ve tried a number of old fashioneds, and there are a couple of things that I’ve decided that I look for in mine. Most importantly, it shouldn’t be diluted with any extra soda – the melting ice will do a perfectly decent job of gently watering my drink down. I also really don’t like when it’s too sweet, especially to the point of it not really tasting like whisky anymore. Not being a fan of bourbon, I also get quite unhappy if an old fashioned is made with bourbon seeing as it’s pretty much all you’ll be tasting. Some extras which are nice but not necessary including my preference for orange over lemon peel as garnish, and I’ll only accept a garnishing brandied (or maraschino) cherry if it’s homemade, in which case it can actually be quite nice to have it muddled into the drink.

So there you go, this is most definitely not an old fashioned old fashioned. But I think it’s quite delicious, and it also gives you something to do with all those brandied cherries that you may have just made. :)

New Fangled Old Fashioned

1 brandied cherry (see this post for recipe)
1/2 a thin slice fresh orange
2 drops Angostura bitters
60ml rye whiskey – I use (ri)1
5ml simple syrup

1 strip orange zest, to garnish
1 brandied cherry, to garnish

Combine the cherry, orange slice, and bitters in a mixing glass, and muddle gently with the back of a spoon. Add 4-6 ice cubes, rye and simple syrup, briskly stir to combine. Strain into a lowball glass over a couple of fresh ice cubes (to taste). When I remember to make them in advance, I like to use one huge ice cube, instead of a few small ones, since these big cubes melt and dilute your drink slower.

Fold the orange peel over on itself and twist it about a little to express the citrus oil, and rub the rim of the glass with the zest before dropping it in, and garnish with another brandied cherry.

Drink immediately.

Yield: Makes 1.

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