Cocktails, you say? Surely you of all people wouldn’t advocate mixing whisky, adulterating a delightful dram with sweet-this, sour-that and brightly-coloured-the-other?
Well, we’re not as dully conservative as all that. Obviously, be sensible with what you’re mixing – you might want to think twice, for example, about mixing that lovely Bladnoch with Coca-Cola (and heck, you’ll surely want to try something a bit more sophisticated than a Jack and Coke) – but sometimes a cocktail is just what the doctor ordered. And if you’re in the mood for a cocktail, you of course want a whisky-based cocktail.
The first we’ll talk about is the doyen of mixed drinks, the Old Fashioned, a drink so iconic that they named a glass after it. One of the six basic cocktails in Embury’s 1948 classic The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks,the austerely elegant Old Fashioned has accumulated plenty of added extras over the years. At its heart, though, are three core components:
You can dissolve an ice cube in bitters then add the spirit, or muddle the sugar with water, or even use a syrup. While rye whiskey is traditional, all kinds of North American whiskey are commonly used. But put these three ingredients together, and you’ve an Old Fashioned. Add a twist of orange for a little visual flair – and if you like, serve it over ice, though it’s not compulsory. You can’t go far wrong with a cocktail that’s almost wholly whiskey!
During the middle of the last century, it became almost a fruit cocktail of sorts. Orange, cherry, lemon and all sorts would get muddled together. Its messy, pulpy nadir came in the 1970s, as the New York Times recently noted:
“It had to be among the most disgusting drinks I encountered when I first tended bar,” the cocktail historian Anistatia Miller said. “Orange, lemon and maraschino cherry muddled with sugar and bitters, then topped with ice, whiskey and soda. That’s how I was taught to make them. And for the life of me, I couldn’t believe anyone would drink them.”
The Old Fashioned completely dropped off many cocktail menus towards the tail end of the twentieth century, but over the last few years it has enjoyed a real resurgence. It’s now ‘one of the most requested mixed drinks at some of New York’s newest and most self-consciously artisanal drinking dens’. There’s a website dedicated to explaining in a careful and considered manner how to make a proper Old Fashioned. If you find yourself in a cocktail bar, particularly if you’re looking to cultivate an aura of suave sophistication, order yourself one – and keep a careful eye on just what the bartender puts in it.