Elijah Craig Bourbon’s annual Old-Fashioned Week returned for its second year supporting the Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation, October 15-24.
The Old-Fashioned, like much of the classic cocktail canon, can’t help but inspire debate, arguments and the telling (and retelling) of anecdotes. While it can be hard to separate truth from fiction with any drink, one so, well, old is bound to be entangled in a web of sometimes hard-to-believe trivia. Here, a chance to test your Old-Fashioned IQ—answers for questions are at the bottom.
Who Created It?
Oddly, this simple cocktail is the rare classic cocktail that doesn’t seem to spark much debate over who invented it—who actually deserves the credit. That doesn’t mean the answer is straightforward. The mostly unknown Theodore Proulx was the first to publish a recipe for the Old-Fashioned under that name in his 1888 book, The Bartender’s Manual; Louisville’s private Pendennis Club also continues to stake a (mostly debunked) claim to its origin story. But it would seem that few people really care. Perhaps that’s because the assumption holds that the creation of such a simple cocktail—the ur-whiskey cocktail, if you will—was mostly inevitable. As does the fact that what happened to it after its arrival was more interesting.
Fill in the blank: To legendary newspaperman H.L. Mencken, the Old-Fashioned, among cocktails, was the “_______ of them all.”
a) grandfather b) king c) greatest d) father
How Did Bourbon Get Involved?
Bourbon as we now know it appeared around the late 18th century: a corn-based spirit first put into new charred oak barrels (possibly by accident), courtesy of Kentucky distiller Elijah Craig. By the middle of the 19th century, that whiskey was being commercially bottled, enabling bartenders and drink-makers at home across the globe to play with it in their earliest attempts at cocktails, like the Old-Fashioned.
Uncut, non-chill-filtered bourbon that comes straight from its cask, like Elijah Craig, is often known as what?
a) 151 b) bottled-in-bond c) overproof d) barrel-proof
How Did the Old-Fashioned Stay in Fashion?
During America’s so-called “noble experiment,” bourbon was labeled and legally sold as “medicinal whiskey”; though this move stemmed the tide, times remained tough for the bourbon industry even post-Prohibition. In 1964, Kentucky’s Bourbon Institute successfully lobbied Congress to make bourbon a “distinctive product of the United States,” hoping that the added cachet would boost sales. Still, as clear spirits like vodka and gin came into high demand, sales of bourbon slouched beginning in the late 1960s, as the storied spirit was saddled with the reputation of being an “old man’s drink.” (This was vividly depicted in the series Mad Men, where Don Draper’s go-to Old-Fashioned practically became a character on its own, summing up the tension between the quintessential “ad man” and the onslaught of a youthful counterculture.)
According to biographer David McCullough, this 20th-century American president may have won over voters in part due to his love of the Old-Fashioned, as compared to his Martini-swilling opponent, Thomas Dewey.
a) Theodore Roosevelt b) Harry S. Truman c) Dwight D. Eisenhower d) Lyndon B. Johnson
Did Pop Culture Play a Part?
With the dawn of the cocktail renaissance, however, bourbon and the Old-Fashioned were back on the rise, being ordered in droves in bars across the country as drinkers rediscovered the pleasures of classic drinks. As in the case of Mad Men, ordering one became a signal of taste, fueled both by bartenders and its appearances in pop culture. When Ryan Gosling was tasked with making the cocktail for 2011’s Crazy, Stupid, Love, he went so far as to get tips from Eric Alperin, co-owner of The Varnish in Los Angeles, which the A-list actor frequented.
“He got it right away,” said Alperin, of Gosling’s Old-Fashioned-making prowess. “He just wanted to make it second nature, to get it into his body like he’s done it a million times over.”
“Waiter, make it another Old-Fashioned, please,” sang Hattie Maloney in the 1940 musical Panama Hattie, with music and lyrics by this “king” of the American songbook.
a) Irving Berlin b) Oscar Hammerstein c) Cole Porter d) Hoagy Carmichael
How Did the Old-Fashioned Become “New” Again?
As we entered the modern cocktail revolution in the 21st century, many bartenders (perhaps after making the original a million times themselves) began striving to make the Old-Fashioned “new” again. Out of this wave came PDT’s iconoclastic Benton’s Old-Fashioned, built with bacon fat–washed bourbon, and a hit from the moment the Manhattan speakeasy opened in 2007. A few years later, Chicago’s The Aviary lampooned the entire concept of how a cocktail needs to be served with In the Rocks, for which an Old-Fashioned was injected into a hollow ball of ice.
Most recently, the pandemic has pulled the Old-Fashioned away from the bar and back to the home—perhaps fitting circumstances for the boom of ready-to-drink cocktails, among which Old-Fashioneds number several. One such iteration—a $150 bottled cocktail fittingly called The Gold Fashioned—is made with luxury ingredients such as saffron, Tahitian vanilla bean, and gentian root harvested from the French Alps.
Whether it will become the next ubiquitous incarnation of this storied cocktail, or merely the answer to a trivia question, remains to be seen.
Once emptied, some Elijah Craig barrels are now used for this Chicago craft brewery’s popular Bourbon County Brand Stout series.
a) Revolution Brewing b) Off Color c) 10 Barrel d) Goose Island
b) Harry S. Truman
c) Cole Porter
d) Goose Island