The name alone is enough to conjure images of a bygone era of drinking, but today’s Old-Fashioneds are anything but that.
Having survived decades of adulteration by way of overly saccharine and otherwise unsanctioned additions—think, a muddled fruit salad with added whiskey—the Old-Fashioned was returned to its original, three-ingredient form by historical minded bartenders in the early years of the cocktail renaissance. Since then, the tried and tested recipe, which consists simply of whiskey, sweetener and bitters, has spawned countless variations, some of which have gone on to become modern classics in their own right.
Yet even contemporary renditions hew closely to that original structure, with many bartenders simply splitting, or swapping out, the base spirit. In the American Trilogy, for example, Dutch Kills’ Richard Boccato uses a combination of rye whiskey plus Applejack alongside the expected additions of sugar and bitters. Likewise, Sother Teague also calls on Applejack as a component in his Black Apple Old Fashioned, where it plays a supporting role against a base of Jägermeister, for a riff that reads like spiced-apple pie in a glass, but holds true to the sweet, bitter and spirituous profile of the classic drink.
Many bartenders however take it all a step further, breaking from the tradition of dark spirits and yielding a drastically different drink in the process. Such is the case with Phil Ward’s Oaxaca Old Fashioned, which swaps out whiskey for tequila and is bolstered by a small measure of smoky mezcal and a barspoon of agave nectar. (This unexpected twist has gone on to claim a spot in the pantheon of modern classics.) Bartender Chris Flannery-McCoy similarly does away with whiskey altogether in The Bachelor, relying instead on an equal-parts combination of amaro and aged rum. Add to that a small measure of absinthe and the drink becomes a veritable cross between the Old-Fashioned and the Sazerac.
Finally, there is the more maximalist rendition that comes from Terry Williams of Houston’s Better Luck Tomorrow. His Cold Fashioned compounds a bourbon base with both rum and brandy for an especially high-octane spin, served over spear ice in a highball glass. Pre-batched, pre-diluted and frozen prior to serving, this highly unconventional, especially modern take is one that truly makes the Old-Fashioned feel new again.
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