Few cocktails have have captured the minds of the thirsty public or generated as much interest in the past two centuries as that old Bourbon standby, the Old Fashioned.
The History of the Old Fashioned: Sazeracs to Martinis
Sure, the Martini had its heyday in those dark days when whiskey was merely an afterthought of the spirits-sipping population. Then there’s the Manhattan -- one of our unanimous favorite cocktails here at ASW Distillery -- named after perhaps the most famous city on earth.
And, of course, the alleged fountainhead of all cocktails, the Sazerac, hails from mid-1800s New Orleans, when a certain Sewell Taylor sold his bar to become an importer of the Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils brand of cognac that entrepreneur Aaron Bird (who bought Taylor’s bar) mixed into his “Sazerac Cocktail”. The cocktail just happened to include local bitters from Antoine Amedie Peychaud, the inventor of Peychaud’s. After an epidemic devastated French vineyards and drove up cognac prices, the Sazerac began to dress up the corn-and-rye-based swill floating down the Mississippi River instead. Like the Manhattan, the Sazerac is a favorite of ours at the distillery. In fact, we make a mean one as part of our cocktail program, which you can enjoy any Thursday, Friday, or Saturday during our tasting hours.
But since the Bourbon Old Fashioned’s formalization in Louisville, Kentucky, and subsequent popularization at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York, the Old Fashioned has been a go-to staple of everyone from creator of fictional lands, George Lucas, to fictional creator of ads, Don Draper in Mad Men, who consumed enough of them to send chills down Winston Churchill’s spine.
The word “cocktail” arose in the early 1800s, when an editor of New York’s The Balance and Columbian Repository defined the drink as a mixture of spirits, bitters, water, and sugar. But as the 1800s progressed from gas lamps to electric street lights, barkeeps had begun concocting cocktails with a wider array of modifiers -- everything from orange curaçao to absinthe (as in the case of the Sazerac). In the 1860s, tipplers began to long for the “good old days” of the cocktail, perhaps as a response to the psychological impact of the Civil War.
I'll Have It the 'Old Fashioned' Way
Soon, the “old fashioned” way of making cocktails came back into fashion, featuring just spirits, bitters, water, and sugar. A barkeep from Chicago mentioned that the most popular base spirit in the Old Fashioned of the 1870s was whiskey (albeit rye at the time, rather than bourbon). But the name “Old Fashioned” as a proper noun hadn’t yet entered the common vernacular. For that, we can credit Louisville, Kentucky’s gentleman’s club, the Pendennis Club, founded in 1881. A bartender in the city devised the delicious concoction to consist of lots of bourbon, a little water and sugar, and a hint of bitters and orange. James E. Pepper, a well-known whiskey distiller of the day, transported this newly named “Old Fashioned” cocktail to New York City’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, and the rest is history.
In 2015, Louisville even named the Old Fashioned as its City Cocktail, creating a two-week celebration of the drink in its annual “Old Fashioned Fortnight”. How many other boozy drinks can claim to be the cocktail representing an entire city?
But an Old Fashioned is more than just the spirited sum of sugar, water, bourbon, bitters, and a stale bar garnish like a desiccated orange peel or canned cherry. There is an art to the Old Fashioned that requires balance and imagination. To that end, we here at ASW Distillery have experimented with numerous variations on the Old Fashioned theme over the years, three of which we finally got to unveil to guests in 2017.
New GA Laws: Vetting Our Old Fashioned Recipes
How’s that? Well, when Georgia updated its distillery laws that took effect on September 1, 2017, the law finally permitted us as a distiller of spirits to serve cocktails directly to the public. We were suddenly transformed from distillery with a nice tasting room into a sort of cocktail bar (albeit with tighter hours) serving up delicious & inexpensive cocktails right across the street from SweetWater Brewery.
For our first cocktail menu, we included classics like a Southern Mule (made with bourbon and local bitters heroes, 1821 Bitters Ginger Beer), a Sazerac, and, of course, one of our Old Fashioned recipes.
The night of Sept. 1, when we unveiled the new cocktails, one patron paid us the weighty compliment: “That’s the 2nd best Old Fashioned I’ve ever had.” Thing was, he couldn't remember the first. So we assumed either it was a fine specimen of boozy goodness, or the patron was concerned with grade inflation.
In either event, the compliment tickled us better than Elmo, and ever since that fateful, ego-stroking evening, we’ve come to calling our Old Fashioneds the “2nd Best Old Fashioneds”.
So without further ado, we present to you, the Three 2nd Best Old Fashioned Recipes we’ve concocted over the years of making & savoring whiskey.
The Three 2nd Best Old Fashioned Recipes
The 2nd Best Old Fashioned Recipe No. 1
For this one, the splash of fresh orange juice is key, brightening up the cocktail for a perfect spring, summer, and (in the hot South) fall sipper. It pairs well with your lips, when you’re looking for something delicious.
- 2 oz Fiddler Unison Bourbon
- ⅓ oz Simple syrup
- 5 drops 1821 Prohibition Aromatic Bitters
- 5 drops 1821 Tart Cherry Saffron Bitters
- Splash Fresh orange juice
- Orange peel (for garnish)
Combine ingredients over ice, stir & strain into rocks/lowball glass over 2-3 ice cubes. Express* orange peel, rub around the rim, and drop into the glass.
*To “express” just means to squeeze it above the cocktail with the peel facing down, towards the cocktail.
The 2nd Best Old Fashioned Recipe No. 2
As pioneers in Southern pot-still spirits, this is the most traditional of the recipes we’ll put our stamp of approval on. It pairs well with cigars & fond memories of yesteryear.
- 2 oz Fiddler Unison Bourbon
- 2 tsp warm water
- 1 tsp raw sugar
- 3 dashes Angostura bitters
- Orange wedge (for garnish)
Stir sugar, bitters & water in a glass until the sugar is dissolved. Add 5-7 ice cubes and pour Fiddler over. Stir 20-30 seconds to chill cocktail & dilute whiskey, then strain into rocks/lowball glass. Garnish with orange wedge.
The 2nd Best Old Fashioned Recipe No. 3
This is the funkiest of the bunch, the proverbial wild child that pays homage to Georgia’s excellent, but often underappreciated, climate for some varieties of figs (specifically, “Brown Turkey” figs). It comes from our friends in Decatur, Georgia’s No. 246, just a hop, skip & a jump from our distillery.
- 2 oz Fiddler Unison Bourbon
- 2 tsp Fig cordial*
- 1 tsp Balsamic vinegar
- Regan’s Orange Bitters
- Lemon peel (for garnish)
So there you have it. Three variations of the 2nd Best Old Fashioned cocktail, as told by our distillery, which now just so happens to be a lively cocktail outpost as well. We hope you find these enjoyable, and likewise hope you'll join us for one at our tasting room some time in the not-too-distant future.
-Chad & The ASW team