The Good Old Days - Old Fashioned Week November 2021

The Good Old Days - Old Fashioned Week November 2021

The Good Old Days - Old Fashioned Week November 2021

Craft & Spiced Rum Box | UK Monthly Spiced Rum Club | Sign Up Today

The Old Fashioned is one of THE staple cocktails on any menu. And it’s also one of the oldest too, the clue is in the name!

They are super simple to make, so good news guys, you can celebrate Old Fashioned Week at home. However I would suggest, that although the cocktail is simple to make, it still requires a little skill. Time
and patience are the key to a good Old Fashioned. And as we all know, any decent drink is well worth that.

So, let’s begin our exploration with the history of this truly awesome drink. Yes, it was originally made with whisky...however, it is a cocktail that riffs off the spirit, rather than the spirit being a mere ingredient. It is incredibly versatile and nowadays you can use any spirit you want, including rum! Huzzah!

So where does it get its name? Well, when Old Fashioneds were first made, they weren’t called Old Fashioneds. One of the earliest records of the drink can be found in an issue of The Balance and Columbian Repository from May 1806. This was also one of the first uses of the word ‘cocktail’, referring to a strong drink made of spirit, sugar, water and bitters. Rye or bourbon whisky was used, and back then it was simply called a ‘Whisky Cocktail’ and considered a ‘matutinal’ cocktail, something drunk in the morning as an ‘eye-opener’.

Fast forward fifty or so years to the mid-1800s, and inevitably cocktails were beginning to grow more complex. It was commonplace to use other ingredients, such as liqueurs, in the mix. Although these were the early foundations of the wonderful world of cocktails we know today, some people didn’t want a complicated drink. I mean, I see their logic, why over complicate a good thing? So, they would ask for a cocktail that was made ‘the old fashioned way’ and the name stuck.

The prohibition era led to further adaptation that served a more functional purpose: fruit was muddled into the drink. The consensus was that this would disguise the bad quality of the spirits being used during the period, and it was a common practice in the US at the time. However, as you can imagine, fans of the Old Fashioned preferred them without fruit, as they believed additions like this sully the character of the spirit. Likewise, the addition of fruit never really took off here in the UK either.

During the recent boom in craft spirits and cocktails, people have taken an interest in researching cocktail history and older serves. As a result, the Old Fashioned has been reborn in its glorious original style and namesake. The creativity in cocktails is more abundant than ever, but the original serves are respected, with creativity working with the integrity of the recipe, especially in the instance of this drink. So, we now see different variants of spirit. There are recipes with anything from brandy to gin, rum, absinthe, and—in recent years—mezcal. However, there may be variations in what bitters are used, and garnish. This does make sense when you think of what this drink embodies. These slight changes may dress the spirit differently, but it’s still the star of the show.

So, how simple is it to make an Old Fashioned? Relatively so, though the secret here is to make it with love. When you’re making a cocktail that has few ingredients, the difference in taste comes from the quality of those ingredients and how honed the method is. Yes, what’s in the glass is a simple four things: your spirit, sugar, bitters and water from ice dilution plus your garnish. With no other ingredients to mask the flavour of the spirit, precision is key to making the most of it.

Let’s make one with rum. The preferred way to make an Old Fashioned is to place one sugar cube (I prefer brown, you can use white, some people use sugar syrup) in an Old Fashioned (rocks) glass. Drip on two or so dashes of bitters so it starts to soften, and muddle. Add a good measure (around 50ml) of rum (or whatever spirit you want to make it with) and stir gently until the sugar starts to dissolve. Then, add ice. One large cube is perfect due to a slower melt and dilution, otherwise use 3-4 cubes of standard ice.

This is where real love comes into it. You gently stir so the ice begins to melt, diluting the rum. How long you do this for is the real art. With each stir a little more water dilutes the spirit, lengthening the flavour. The trick is to find the point where it’s just right, and that is purely a matter of taste. There’s no right or wrong as such, it’s all about preference. Once you’ve reached that perfect point add your garnish, lime or whatever you fancy, and you are ready to start sipping.

Whilst a bar presents their Old Fashioned and their concept of the perfect dilution point, at home you can make these simply and, with a little practice, work out what point is right for you. This method of slow mixing ‘stirring down’ is relatively new. It used to be the case that it would be given a quick stir and served, the drink diluting as the ice melted, and this is still a perfectly acceptable way to make them. However, for me, that extra attention makes all the difference, and your drink is perfect from the first sip. And, before long, you’ll know how quickly to drink one before you lose that sweet spot. Bitters may seem like an accessory, but in this instance, they really are an essential component to the drink. Whilst nowadays there are a fantastic wealth of bitters out there that give you the option to add extra flavour to your drink, there really only used to be one commonplace, Angostura. Established in 1824, Angostura bitters were first created by Dr Johann Siegert as a medicinal product to help with stomach problems. Later on in 1870, his sons travelled to Trinidad and pioneered the product as an important ingredient in cocktails and food. Any bar worth its bitters will have a bottle of this somewhere. You can spot Angostura ones due to the oversized label, a nod to a miscommunication resulting in labels that were too big, or perhaps bottles that were too small!

So, there we have it! Bitters on sugar, muddle sugar, add rum, add ice and stir, stir, stir, gently weaving that spoon until you get the dilution just right. The perfect dilution will allow the spirit to bloom beautifully and behold! Ta-dah! Your rum is showcased in it’s all glory!

Happy Old Fashioned Week to you! And you! And you! Hope you get to enjoy a few, and if you’re interested in finding out more about this wonderful drink, keep your eye on social media as no doubt companies will be sharing all sorts of good things to celebrate the week.

Back to blog

Bernadette Pamplin

Bernadette loves rum. She set up a gin focused blog Under The Ginfluence eight years ago. Since then, her passion has naturally spread from gin, to rum and other spirits too. You can find work from her on Gin Magazine, Distiller Magazine, and Spirits Beacon, as well as content for  The Gin Guide.

She’s also the editor of Rum’s the Word, writing articles on rums featured in the box, as well as other rum related topics. Bernadette has built up six years experience in judging for events like Gin of the Year, World Gin Awards, Spirits Business Awards, Gin Guide Awards, IWSC and the American Distilling Institute Judging of Craft Spirits and works behind the scenes, assisting with organising and participating in panels for the Craft Distilling Expo.