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The Old Fashioned Recipe: The Original Cocktail

Discover the history and meaning behind the original cocktail

The cocktail that started it all, this humble medley is composed of four ingredients – whisky, bitters, sugar and water. Traditionally, these four complimenting flavours are mixed straight in the glass (appropriately named an Old Fashioned glass) and served on the rocks. This simple yet sublime drink has been charming drinkers since the 1800s, recognised for its elegantly modest composition and refined flavours. The Old Fashion’s simple recipe plays into its celebrity, but there are a myriad of twists that can add dimensions to this classic union of flavours. 

What’s An Old Fashioned Made Of? The Subtle Symphony Of Flavour 

With such simple components, each ingredient is key to elevating this drink to create a subtle, yet almost symphony-like pageant of flavour. We break down each ingredient (there are only four, after all), exploring their part in the orchestra of taste. 

 

Whisky 

The Old Fashioned, simple and uncomplicated, has stood the test of time as it seeks to showcase the flavour notes of whisky at its heart. While the Old Fashioned is more than the sum of its parts, with each ingredient working to achieve a transformative balance of taste, the whisky is the essence of this drink; the star of the performance. 

While a variety of whiskies can be used, scotch is increasingly becoming a favourite in creating an Old Fashioned. The rich, honey-spiced oak flavours in The Macallan Sherry Oak 12 Years Old pair perfectly with the bitter-sweet components of an Old Fashioned. This pairing is a new way of enjoying a classic Macallan whisky. 

 

Bitters

Bitters are made by infusing a neutral spirit with a number of aromatics or botanicals – spices, tree bark, roots, seeds or fruits. Dating back to ancient Egypt, bitters were developed in the Middle Ages for medicinal purposes, then found their way into the concept of cocktails in the 19th century. 

Like adding spices to a dish, bitters balance flavour and add depth to an Old Fashioned. Angostura can enhance the whisky’s woody qualities, and mellow out the sugar’s sweetness. Others can add an element of exotic flavour, balance the dark and richer notes of the whisky or enhance any additional ingredients (try combining an orange peel with a cardamom bitter for an unexpected yet extraordinary pairing). 

 

Sugar

Sugar is used in an Old Fashioned to balance the bitter and mellow the flavour of the whisky. The type of sugar you choose is important, because you need to mix it with bitters and water to dissolve. 

The Old Fashioned once generally called for raw sugar. Today, raw or demerara sugar is best, but other types can be used. Cubed, crystalized and brown sugar require more mixing and a healthy dash of water, and brown sugar brings with it a fantastic flavour. For easier mixing, create your own simple syrup by combining two parts raw, or demerara, sugar to one part water. You can also try ready-made syrups, including maple, agave, brown or demerara. 

 

Water

If you’re using granulated sugar, a dash of water is essential (about a bar spoon full). If you're using syrup, whether bought or homemade, this will provide its own dilution. Many believe that water brings out the flavour in whisky, so top up their Old Fashioned with a splash of water (or soda water), while others believe the ice cubes offer enough dilution. You’re unlikely to weaken the drink with just a sprinkling of water, so select this as an optional extra. 

 

Ice Cubes

The Old Fashioned is traditionally served on the rocks and serving cold is a must. The ice offers slow, diluting qualities and integrates all of your ingredients together. You’ll find as the temperature of your cocktail drops, the elegant marriage of sweetness and bitter flavour comes to life. Large, dense cubes are best as they have less surface area and melt slowly, meaning less dilution of the cocktail. The traditional size is a single, large ice cube that fills your glass, but varying sizes will suffice. 

Some prefer drinking their Old Fashioned neat. Omitting ice will create a slightly stronger taste, and will not tamper with the flavours of the drink. 

Other Popular Ingredients 

Over the past 200 years, other popular ingredients have found their way into the bottom of an Old Fashion’s glass. 

The most common is a twist of orange peel (or sometimes a lemon). Simply cut a citrus peel, squeeze the back of the peel to mist the glass or run it across the rim to coat it with oil, then drop it into the glass. This adds an aromatic quality that will last throughout your drink. Ensure not to break the peel apart, but you can press it gently to release the oils that will mix beautifully with the sweetness and bitterness of the other ingredients. Instead of dropping the peel into the glass, you can also lightly wedge it to the rim as an aromatic garnish. 

Another popular element to add is a maraschino cherry. This seemingly decorative garnish adds a touch of additional sweetness and subtle flavour. A Luxardo cherry is ideal, which is a sour maraschino cherry grown in Italy. The result is a sweet, dark and nutty cherry that adds a new dimension to the Old Fashioned. 

Some have experimented with adding liquor to the Old Fashioned, the most popular of which is Curaçao. Curaçao is a citrus liqueur with a nuanced orange flavor that can be splashed into cocktails or sipped on its own. Curaçao can be used in the place of orange or citrus peel, and was first added in the 1860’s when people began experimenting with the classic recipe.

Old fashioned

The Old Fashioned

A New Take: The Maple Old Fashioned Recipe 

We’ve created  our Old Fashioned recipe using The Macallan Sherry Oak 12 Years Old. This new take on the classic drink is perfect for making at home as it pairs the sweetness and depth of Canadian maple syrup with the Sherry Oak 12 Years Old’s notes of wood-spice and dried-fruit, matured exclusively in our exceptional sherry seasoned oak casks, adding to its richness and complexity. 

 

Glass

  • Short glass 
     

Ingredients 

How To Make The Maple Old Fashioned 

Simplicity is key. We suggest using pure and organic Canadian maple syrup, as well as an organic orange. With such few ingredients, take care to mix the drink thoroughly but gently to get the right blend of flavour and substance.

1. Add 1 shot of The Macallan Sherry 12 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky, the Angostura bitters, the pure Canadian maple syrup and 2 ice cubes. Stir rapidly for 15 seconds 

2. Add remaining shot of The Macallan Sherry 12 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky and the orange zest peel, misting the glass and dropping it to the bottom

3. Add remaining ice cubes and stir gently for 15 seconds

A History Of The Old Fashioned: What’s In A Name?

On May 13, 1806, the first definition of the word cocktail was recorded in an issue of Balance and Columbian Repository in New York: “Cocktail, then, is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters.” The Old Fashioned is simple yet bursting with flavour, relatable yet refined. It is, in every sense, the original cocktail, with a recipe that’s virtually unchanged after 200 years.

So, where does the name of such a distinguished cocktail come from? As new liqueurs arrived and bartenders began to incorporate and experiment with ingredients, the original mixture of spirits, sugar, water and bitters came to be referred to as ‘An Old Fashioned Cocktail’ to distinguish itself against newer concoctions.

Then as a ‘cocktail’ came to describe any mixed drink made with spirits, the Old Fashioned gradually dropped ‘cocktail’ from its name and became synonymous, as it still is today, with whisky.