Liquor: It's For Your Health: The Whiskey Old Fashioned

I have great news! In addition to the work I do here on my own site, I was recently taken on as a regular writer for The Magnifier, a men's lifestyle site, for their food & drink section. Huzzah! I'm really enjoying it, and wanted to share with you my most recent piece.

Are you still feeling that whiskey vibe from St. Patrick's Day for your Sunday Funday today? Why don't you give an Old Fashioned a try!


“We’re flawed because we want so much more. We’re ruined because we get these things and wish for what we had.” -Don Draper, Mad Men

Don Draper: the suave and mildly unbalanced man we all love to hate on Mad Men, always on the verge of some existential crisis or another. Usually that involves having  an Old Fashioned in hand to keep the worst of it at bay. But while there’s certainly no need to be teetering on the edge of sanity to enjoy a drink, you could take a cue from Mr. Draper and take a swig of his signature drink: the whiskey Old Fashioned.

This drink dates way further back than Don in the 1960’s. In fact to a whole other set of 60’s: 1862, to be exact. Jerry Thomas' Bartenders Guide: How To Mix Drinks was published that year, which features a recipe for something called an Old Fashioned Holland Gin Cocktail that involved crushing a lump of sugar in the bottom of a glass along with two dashes of Angostura bitters and a bit of water, a lemon peel, a piece of ice, and one jigger of Holland gin. A small bar spoon was given to the patron to lazily stir and further dissolve the sugar as one drank.

Now if the only Old Fashioned you’re used to is one loaded with oranges or mandarins, is made sickly sweet by a pre-packaged mix or Sprite, and topped with a toxically red maraschino cherry, then Jerry Thomas’ concoction won’t look much like an Old Fashioned to you.  But in fact, the first published iteration of the whiskey Old Fashioned is exactly that same recipe as Thomas’, except with whiskey instead of gin (obviously). A fella by the name of George Kappeler gets the credit for this in his own bartering book Modern American Drinks, circa 1895.

Direct theft of Thomas’ idea? It might seem like it, but in the world of cocktails there are no patents and little joy in secrecy. Plus, drinks evolve all the time based on what you have available—necessity is the mother of invention and all that. Which happens to be the only reason I can find to explain the existence of a White Russian.

The simplicity of this four ingredient cocktail—booze, bitters, water, and sugar—is a ripe jumping off point for creative additions and riffs. But it’s to the ‘old fashioned’ fuddy-duddies that we owe the name: precisely because when they ordered, they wanted to make sure they were getting the old fashioned four-ingredient classic and none of those modern flourishes from those young whippersnappers.

If you’re not yet familiar with Angostura bitters, you’re about to level up. While there are approximately 14 billion different kinds of bitters out on the market now, Angostura remains the original and the classic. Originally developed by a German doctor in Venezuela as a digestive aid around 1824, the recipe of herbs and botanicals is a closely guarded secret. Yes that’s right, I’d like to stress that the original purpose was medicinal; to soothe an upset stomach, and Americans quickly caught on to the benefits—but Angostura bitters are a bit of an acquired taste, and so they tempered it with a bit of alcohol, sugar, and water to help the medicine go down. Sound familiar?  And that tenuous connection, ladies and gentlemen, is how I explain away my nightly dosage of Old Fashioneds. It’s for my health.

There are many ways to enjoy an Old Fashioned. If that classic martini is a little too elegant for you, try ordering a traditional Old Fashioned the next time you’re sidled up at your favorite bar. (Keep in mind that because of the widespread prevalence of orange or cherry additions you may have to specify the exact four ingredients.) In my opinion, it’s just as classy and sexy as a martini with the added benefit of being more portable—all the better for socializing as a ‘Man About Town’. While there are endless varieties of Old Fashioneds that differ from one bar to the next, do try the classic a couple of times before you decide you don’t like it. If it turns out you’re not much of a purist, by all means, go run naked straight into the Old Fashioned Playground.

Wait. No. Don’t do that. Just keep your clothes on (for now), and go nuts trying different varieties until you hit on one that you like. I personally prefer an orange peel instead of lemon in mine, or a bit of maple syrup instead of sugar as the sweetener. If you are a purist after all, that’s great! An Old Fashioned is after all one of the best cocktails that allows a good whiskey to shine. Just don’t be a pretentious twat about it. Literally no one likes that guy at the bar who points out that you’re drinking the “wrong” version of the drink. Use this knowledge I impart to you for good, young padawan, not for snotty ‘oneupsmanship’.

So while we may owe the recent resurgence of the Old Fashioned in popularity to Don Draper and Mad Men, the next time you order one know that you’re taking part in a much older American tradition—and after all, it’s for your health.

Reprinted in its entirety with permission from the publisher. Original article can be found here.

Posted on March 20, 2016 .