So, here are the basics, we’ll embellish later. I use a good bourbon, but if you’re partial to rye whiskey, feel free to use it. I prefer a 10-ounce Old Fashioned glass — or slightly smaller. While most of the traditional versions of this cocktail call for regular bitters, my version uses orange bitters. This was a tip given to me by a server who presented me with a stellar Old Fashioned on a recent trip to Laguna Beach.
And you’ll notice that weird wand-like instrument. That’s a muddler. You can pick one up at most liquor stores, kitchen retailers or Bed Bath & Beyond. I like the stainless steel version with a hard silicone prickly base, but you also can find them in wood. You’ll need one to crush the fruit and sugar cube.
Drop a sugar cube into your Old Fashion glass, then add about three shakes of the orange bitters. I let it sit for 30 seconds or so, allowing the sugar to soak up the bitters.
OK, now we’re going somewhat off-course with this next step, but stay with me. You’re going to add a maraschino cherry to the bitters-soaked sugar cube.
I like the Palm Restaurant brand because they’re not very sweet, and nothing like the cloying cherries you pick up for ice cream sundaes. I found these at Home Goods.
And you’re probably thinking that this is no big deal since most Old Fashioned cocktails have a cherry. You’re right, but this one’s going to get muddled until it’s been transformed into tiny bits. Didn’t see that coming, did you?
All right, let the muddling begin. You want to pound the cherry and sugar together and continue until the cherry is pretty much chopped up. Now, if you’re wearing a nice white shirt, you’ll want to change because muddling can be a bit of a messy proposition. There’s going to be a little splattering if you pound too vigorously. But, I have a tip for you.
Cover the glass with your hand like this, and muddle with your free hand and you should stay free of tiny red splatters.
After 30 seconds or so, you should have a nice mixture of dissolved sugar and minced cherry.
Now you’re ready to muddle a little more.
Grab an orange and cut a slice about 1/4-inch thick.
Then cut that slice in half. You’ll use 1/2 slice per drink.
Now drop that orange slice into the glass of muddled cherry mixture.
Instead of acting like the mad muddler as you did with the cherry, this time you’re only going to press on the orange slice three or four times to release a little juice and oil from the peel. You probably had no idea that a bourbon cocktail could be so colorful, did you? Nor did I.
This is what the orange slice should look like, post muddle. Slightly roughed up, but certainly not pounded to a pulp.
And, now, it’s time to get serious and add the bourbon. I use anywhere from 1-and-1/2 ounces to 2 ounces per drink. You decide what you and your guests can handle.
Now, a word about the ice. If you use crushed ice, you’ll have a wonderfully cold drink, but one that will quickly get watered down because a lot of the small pieces of ice will melt before you’re half done with your cocktail. A diluted drink is a crashing bore. So, the larger the ice chunks, the better.
In with the ice, then give it a good stir.
I like to use a set of bamboo chopsticks to stir.
While I’ll take my Old Fashioned several different ways, for a refreshing change, I like a splash of soda. This is strictly optional. But I find that it lightens up the drink a little.
You’re almost ready to indulge in an Old Fashioned cocktail with a subtle sweet note and plenty of robust bourbon flavor.
What can I say? I like the cherry, so I always add a whole one even though there’s a muddled cherry in the glass. Again, this step is optional.
And here’s your finished product.
My Old Fashioned Recipe
To an 8 or 10-ounce Old Fashioned glass add:
1 sugar cube
3 dashes orange bitters (shake them onto the sugar)
Let set for about 30 seconds
1 maraschino cherry
Muddle the ingredients until the cherry is chopped into tiny bits
Add 1/2 slice of orange and muddle slightly
Pour in 1 to 2 ounces bourbon or rye whiskey
Add a handful of large ice cubes and stir well
Add another cherry for garnish
Top with a splash of soda (Optional)
Back to those embellishments for a moment. You could substitute half (or less or more) of the Maker’s Mark with bacon-chipotle infused bourbon that I demonstrated how to make here. The heat from the chilies and the smoky essence from the bacon transform the Old Fashioned into a spicy porkilicious cocktail.
For another unusual flavor twist, I took an idea from the Watermarc in Laguna Beach, where the barman adds a little clove syrup to the Old Fashioned, resulting in an unexpected note that made the bourbon sing.
I didn’t have clove syrup, but I did have whole cloves and plenty of those maraschino cherries.
Add some cherries to a heat-proof dish or bowl, and pour enough juice to cover.
Add about 20 whole cloves to the cherries.
Push the cloves down so that they’re under the juice. Then pop them into the microwave for about 30 seconds, until the juice is pretty warm but not boiling. The warm liquid allows you to quickly infuse the cherries with the cloves’ pungent essence. After about 30 minutes, the cherries will have a definite clove flavor. Use this cherry instead of a plain maraschino cherry when you’re muddling the sugar cube and bitters combination. This is probably my new favorite permutation of the Old Fashioned cocktail. Store the cherries tightly covered in the fridge.
Now, go make an Old Fashioned, toast to Don Draper and his upcoming headaches in the turbulent 1960s ad world, then let me know how those cocktails turned out.
So, cheers, salute, cin cin, skål, Iechyd da!