The Old Fashioned is as iconic as it is delicious. Deceptively simple, an Old Fashioned is made up of only whiskey, sugar and bitters – about as stripped down as a cocktail can be. But as with many areas of life, simple does not necessarily mean easy. With only 3 ingredients to work with, making a great Old Fashioned depends on really understanding each ingredient’s purpose and using it correctly. Since we take our Old Fashioneds pretty seriously here at The Palace Supper Club, we thought we’d share the tips we keep in mind every time we mix one up as well as our go-to recipes.
1. USE GREAT WHISKEY
It goes without saying, but since an Old Fashioned is about 80% whiskey, you just can’t skimp on this ingredient. In fact, next to sipping it straight, an Old Fashioned is one of the best ways to experience a whiskey – a small amount of sugar and water help take the edge of the raw spirit and bring out it’s more subtle and delicious flavors. That’s why it’s important to use a good quality spirit that actually has flavor to appreciate.
There is definitely some debate and confusion around which type of whiskey is “correct” when it comes to making an Old Fashioned. When it comes to something as subjective as taste – we think this is a little silly – if you are using a high quality whiskey, it doesn’t really matter what kind as long as you enjoy it. At The Palace Supper Club we make Old Fashioneds with both bourbon and rye. In fact, many of the best bartender in the country have even begun to use both in a single drink. Typically the $20-$30 price range is where you can find some solid options for your whiskey.
2. USE RICH SIMPLE SYRUP
The sugar cube is one tradition that can definitely be skipped. While many recipes call for it, it offers no advantage over using a rich simple syrup and has several disadvantages. Most obviously, you have to find and buy sugar cubes, and a muddler. Not always easy depending where you live, and ordering online can’t be done in a pinch. Even once you have obtained sugar cubes, you then have to attempt to dissolve the sugar in bitters and water. In our experience all the work has little payout- you just end up with sugar floating in your drink.
Why not use regular simple syrup? You totally can – however, since rich syrup has a higher ratio of sugar to water, it allows you to add the required sweetness without diluting the drink as much as regular simple syrup would.
A rich simple syrup is easy to make – just combine 2 parts sugar and 1 part water in a pan. For home use, 1 cup sugar and a ½ cup water makes plenty of syrup. Set the heat to low and stir the mixture until the sugar is dissolved, being sure to not let the syrup boil. Once the sugar is dissolved, turn the heat off and let the sugar cool completely before using.
3. NOT TOO MUCH BITTERS
Made by concentrating the flavors of spices and bitter tree bark in alcohol, bitters are a classic cocktail ingredient. A little goes a long way. Add 2-3 drops and your Old Fashioned will have much more depth and complexity. Add a few more drops and the bitters will begin to overpower and cover up all but the most aggressive flavors in your whiskey. There are many great craft bitters to experiment with, but always make sure to have a bottle of the classic Angostura on hand.
4. DON’T FORGET THE ORANGE PEEL
Orange peel is filled with beautifully smelling orange oils that make a great addition to a simple Old Fashioned. As the very last step after the cocktail has been made, use a vegetable peeler to get a 2 inch piece of peel from an orange. Hold the peel above the finished drink with the outside (orange) surface facing the drink and pull back the sides of the peel so that the oils are released into the drink. Then wipe the rim of the glass with the peel and place it in the drink – skin side up so that the you can smell the remaining oil with each sip. The effect is subtle, but well worth it.