In a world where apple martinis and pomegranate vodka reign supreme, it's a comfort that we can still find refuge in the simplicity of a rocks glass, a bottle of bourbon and a few basic ingredients.
In his seminal tome The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks (which is, incidentally, the snobbiest, most opinionated, passionate and, yes, greatest book ever written about drink mixing or any other subject. Honestly, this book deserves its own post, and it is recommended reading for drunks and teetotalers alike) David Embury outlines six basic cocktails upon which the foundation of all drink mixing is laid. They include: Martini, Manhattan, Old Fashioned, Daquiri, Sidecar and Jack Rose. I don't know much about the Jack Rose, or any drink made with applejack, but the first three he nailed right on the head. Today we examine the Old Fashioned.
Now, the proper way to make an Old Fashioned is a debate as old as time and with all the social significance of Roe v. Wade. Here is Embury's recipe:
12 parts American whiskey
1 part simple syrup
1-3 dashes Angostura bitters
In an old fashioned glass, add bitters to simple syrup and stir. Add about 1 ounce of whiskey and stir again. Add two cubes of cracked, but not crushed, ice and top off with the rest of the whiskey. Twist lemon peel over the top and serve garnished with the lemon peel and a maraschino cherry.
Our grandfather, William, was an ardent disciple of Embury. His refrigerator was always well supplied with simple syrup, which, as far as I can remember, was the only thing he ever used the stove for. However, in the art of Old Fashioned making, grandpa departed ever so slightly from his idol. To his cocktail he added a splash of freshly squeezed orange juice. By the time I reached cocktail swilling age, my old man was the one pouring libations. His recipe features one variation on his father's, with confectioner's sugar substituting for simple sugar. Having downed many hundreds of these exquisite preperandials, I can tell you that I would stand this Old Fashioned up to anyone's, and I deem it a worthy cocktail to outline in detail for the benefit of McBoners everywhere.
Bill Bowler's Old Fashioned
Fill an Old Fashioned glass one third of the way with a good quality bourbon or Tennessee sour mash. We prefer Maker's Mark or Jack Daniel's, but in these trying economic times, you can't beat Jim Beam for quality and value.
Squeeze in the juice of a fresh orange, but not too much! Embury would tell you that a cocktail too heavy with juice will dull the appetite, which is of course counterproductive. About a teaspoon will suffice. *IMPORTANT* Under no circumstance should you ever use anything but FRESH orange juice. Don't defile your bourbon with frozen concentrated OJ. Better to pour the whiskey right down the toilet than add Minute Maid to your drink.
NOTE: the practice of 'muddling' an orange slice and a maraschino cherry with a pestal in the glass is a perfectly acceptable alternative for squeezing in fresh juice.
Add a few dashes of Angostura Bitters. Originally concocted in Venezuela to combat yellow fever, Angustora Bitters are now a popular aromatic bitter that is used to enhance many cocktails. Again, don't overdo it. A few drops is plenty.
Now add half a teaspoon of your sugar syrup, or a teaspoonful of confectioners sugar. Again, less is more here. You don't want your drink to be too sweet. A cocktail is supposed to sharpen your appetite before dinner.
Fill glass with ice and stir. Some bartenders will top their concoction off with a splash of soda water. This practice is an abomination and should be avoided at all costs.
Finally, garnish with a maraschino cherry.
You now have a perfect cocktail in your hand. With all due respect to the great Embury, we believe that the addition of fresh orange juice propels a merely excellent cocktail to the ranks of greatness, on par with the Manhattan or even the Martini. Here we have bourbon balanced impeccably with citrus and sugar and veritably bursting with aromatics--an ice-cold glass of heavenly bliss.
Take a sip. Drink it down. Pour another. Gaiety abounds.