Sometimes the best way to rate a bar, or a bartender is to order an "Old Fashioned". Depending on how well and how much care they take with such a classic drink will sometimes determine whether I'll return to that bar again. My dad rates establishments on the quality of their "salt & pepper squid", which works well for him, However I rate a place on the quality of there "Old Fashioned's". It's one of my favourites. A cocktail that is not that hard to serve, but so easy to muck up.
It's basically sugar, with Angostura bitters, bourbon and finished off with an orange peel or zest. Before we sink our teeth into this cocktail, as always, It's important to know the origins of this classic. The story of the old fashioned begins in the 1880s at a gentleman's club in Louisville, Kentucky called the "Pendennis Club". There a bartender served this drink to Colonel James E. Pepper, who took the idea of this drink and brought it to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York city, where the classic cocktail still remains on their menu today. There are many slight variations to this drink, so I'll go through a version which i think works best.
We start with a short glass or a rocks glass. You can also use a brandy balloon, i suppose use any glass that you feel comfortable drinking out of. But let's go for the rocks glass, in that, place a sugar cube, and coat with a few dashes of Angostura bitters. The production and history of Angostura is a long complex story, so we'll save that for another time. But for now, crush and mix together the sugar with the bitters. Once mixed together well, add 60ml of bourbon. My advice is to use a good quality bourbon. Wild Turkey, Makers mark or my personal favourite Basil Hayden's, which is the lightest style bourbon out of the Jim Beam small batch bourbons. I find it works well with the orange zest. Continue to stir with a bar spoon. The aim here is to dissolve all of the sugar. Add ice to the glass and continue to stir. A good old fashioned can sometimes take up to 10 minutes to make depending on the how long it takes for the sugar to dissolve. Once the sugar looks dissolved, you might need to add more ice, then add the zest of an orange, or an orange wedge, depending on how fruity your like your drinks, and that's it! If straight bourbon is too much, top up with some soda water. Like i said, It is an easy drink to make, but there are so many things a bartender can do wrong to muck this up such as, too much bitters, sugar not being fully dissolved (which is the most common, because many bartenders are in too much of a hurry to put in the time with this cocktail) or using a low quality bourbon.
The great thing about the "Old Fashioned" is It's so versatile. If you don't like bourbon, ask for a rum old fashioned, which is made exactly the same way, except with dark rum, not bourbon. Mt Gay Extra Old, or Ron Zacapa works great in a rum old fashioned. Same with scotch, ask your bartender for a scotch old fashioned if you like your scotch.
I'll be honest, this cocktail is not for everyone. It's not a cocktail you'd buy a girl on a first date. It's what i call a "bloke's cocktail", strong and full bodied. However, if you do want to broaden your palette and appreciate good dark spirits, this might be for you. Sip on this slowly, and see what flavours and characteristics you can pick out from your "Old Fashioned".
In a short glass:
Add a sugar cube, with dashes of Angostura bitters
Crush and mix together
Add 60ml of bourbon, plus ice and stir well to dissolve sugar
Once sugar is dissolved, add orange zest (or orange wedge)
(Soda water optional)