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in the old style

The second half of the Oregon Bartenders Guild seminar was led by Matt Mount, the distiller at House Spirits. He led the discussion on what is perhaps the first cocktail, what we now call the Old Fashioned.

As we drank the first Old Fashioned, built on Sazerac 6yr Rye (2oz), simple syrup (¼oz), Angostura bitters (2 dashes), and a piece of orange peel, served on the rocks, Matt gave us an overview of the history and abuse of this drink.

There is a wealth of misinformation circulating on just how to mix an Old Fashioned. And the Old Fashioned has definitely faired much worse than the Sidecar (the Margarita and Daiquiri both have been besieged by ice slush).
But to figure out what the drink actually is, one has to research what it was when it wasn’t called “old fashioned”. Robert Hess, in an article on his website DrinkBoy, does exactly that. He uncovers the first use in print of the word “cock-tail”, the May 6, 1806 issue of The Balance, a periodical out of Hudson, New York. A reader wrote to inquire of the editor what exactly was meant by the term, and the editor answered the next week that “cock-tail is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters”. Jerry Thomas, in his 1862 Bon Vivant’s Companion -OR- How to Mix Drinks lists a Whiskey Cocktail of whiskey, simple syrup, and bitters. By the end of the Nineteenth Century, according to several books in Robert Hess’ collection, that Whiskey Cocktail was being referred to as an Old Fashioned Whiskey Cocktail.1

As a second round, Matt mixed an Old Fashioned using Aviation Gin as the base spirit. Of course this required a bit of change in the bitters, dashes of both Peychauds and Regan’s Orange were used, with a slice of lemon peel (same measures of spirit and syrup).

The whole afternoon was a great experience, educational in taste and information, and held at a fine bar that I must return to.

1. Robert Hess’ two articles on the Old Fashioned are great reading, The Old Fashioned and Renewing an Old Fashion. I recommend his website to anyone who cares about cocktails.
2. I wonder if the trend of visiting destruction on the orange slice and candied cherry with the muddler (which I’m sure we’ve all seen or done, and appears in print in 1995 in the Regans’ Book of Bourbon), which does make a sweeter and fruitier drink, is in imitation of the muddling given to the mint and lime shell in the Mojito.