I never used to be much of a fan of the cocktail, equating them all with “screwdrivers” in my head – booze and some kind of mixer that had ideas above its station. However, over time I started to realise that there was a bit more to it than that, all thanks to one drink – The Old Fashioned. It was the first cocktail that I actually thought through and decided made sense, and while I’d like to be able to claim that I got it from an aged tome on cocktail making that had been passed through the hands of my family it was actually out of the back of one of Jamie Oliver’s cookbooks. It was either written or inspired by Dick Bradsell, who I have heard mentioned many times alongside great cocktail making, so that at least makes me feel slightly better.
Here’s a video of my chubby hands making one:
This is just the most simple version of the drink that I’ve heard of – bitters, sugar syrup, booze, stir with ice. The ice dilutes the booze and the sugar and angostura provide a spicy sweetness to fill in the gap that the watering down process makes. I’ve tried it with various different spirits over the years, but generally stick with whiskey and golden rum – my standard version of this is with Mount Gay rum, although I’m using Buffalo Trace whiskey here (as I had some in the house). After years of having this as the only cocktail that I would drink, and only at home, I ended up in Sosho Match for a friend’s birthday and started chatting with the barman about them – 2 hours later my mate was trashed on Hong Kong Phooey Reloadeds and I was a convert to the way of the cocktail – I had a Manhattan and a Martini in front of me and I wanted to know more.
I’m still quite conservative with my cocktail drinking, sticking to predominantly booze based drinks (such as the aforementioned Manhattans and Martinis, which are really just variations on a theme), but am keen to learn more. My occasional accidental interaction with the staff at cocktail bars (I’m looking at you Match Bar West End – who knew that telling me about Sazeracs could lead to me getting a night bus home on a Sunday..?) continues to aid in this pursuit.
Unfortunately, despite being such a simple drink, and probably in part due to it being so, there are occasional bar tenders who feel the need to spice it up a bit. The addition of an orange peel garnish flamed over the glass is one thing, smashing up some fruit in the glass before mixing is another, but when my drink turns up with a distinctly pinky tone and a shifty looking waiter then finding out that the ‘House Old Fashioned’ includes ‘sweet pomegranate’ make me hang my head. We call that ruining whiskey with grenadine in my house…
Anyways: simple base drink, easy to add things to (orange and cherry seem to the be popular choices, along with tweaking the type of bitters) and good for most sweet-ish booze you have hanging around. My favourite and the start of my cocktail conversion.
Buffalo Trace Straight Kentucky Bourbon
Bottled at 45%. Chill filtered…
Wide availability (I got mine from lovely Mr Waitrose)
I rather like Buffalo Trace. Mainly because it has a buffalo on the bottle, and because they make the finest whiskey in the world (George T Stagg) but also because I quite like the straight bourbon. It takes ice well, which is how I drink my bourbon, unlike JD (which has a rather hollow taste once the boozey hit has been taken away) and Jim Beam (the boozey hit hides the pain of the actual whiskey flavour), and it’s also about the same price as those two supermarket standards. It’s a bit rough for making Manhattans, in my opinion, and probably a bit too rough for making Old Fashioneds, but it’s a good sipping whiskey and I normally have a bottle in my cupboard.