Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Perfect Old Fashioned Cocktail

Type the words in the title of this post, just as they are, into Google Search and you'll be presented with pages of links to various magazines and blogs containing not only recipes but several paragraphs expounding on the myriad mistakes bartenders make when mixing this venerable cocktail. When I read such articles and posts I can't help but wonder about the intentions of the authors. The way I see it, if you have rigid standards about what makes an Old Fashioned (or any other cocktail for that matter) good, you state your preferences when ordering. If you're sitting at the counter, you probably have a pretty good idea of your whiskey options, so there's a good chance you'll be able to name a specific brand you'd like used when ordering. I'm a bit adventurous, so I'm happy to just order one and see what I get. If it turns out to be something I wouldn't want to order again, I'm sure to fine-tune my order next time I visit that particular establishment.

When reading articles and posts like the ones mentioned above, I keep coming back to the question, why order an Old Fashioned at all? Rather than write an ode, I'll state my reason simply: when I'm in the mood for something that delights the tongue, goes down smoothly and packs a punch while being refreshing, I enjoy no other drink more than this one. There are hundreds of variations, but I prefer mine simple; I want to taste the whiskey, of course, but the way the basic ingredients marry in the glass is truly what makes an Old Fashioned either a thing of beauty or just an average drink to knock back on the way to a good buzz.

I made the title of this post deliberately misleading, so I should make it clear that this post is not about how to make the perfect Old Fashioned Cocktail; the idea that there is objectively one ideal Old Fashioned and any recipes that deviate from the one that gives you this ideal drink give you only pale representations of it, is utter nonsense. That isn't to say that you absolutely shouldn't be scorned and/or mocked for whatever kind of bastard concoction you serve up and call and Old Fashioned; variation within limited parameters is acceptable, but if you mix something for presentation and not even a connoisseur can recognize the Old Fashionedness in it, expect no positive responses when you announce that it is indeed that wonderful whiskey cocktail we all know and love.

As for me, I keep 'em simple...

The Basic Ingredients
  • 2 oz of Whiskey with a meaningful amount of rye
  • 1 sugar cube
  • 2 healthy dashes of Angostura Bitters
  • 1 small piece of lemon peel (always at the bar, sometimes at home)
The Method
  1. Drop the sugar cube into a rocks glass and add just enough water to wet it and get it dissolving (if there's more than a slight puddle around the cube, that's probably too much)
  2. Splash in the bitters and, in the glass, ground the ingredients into solution, with a pestle if available 
  3. Hold the glass at the bottom, tilt it and rotate to coat the sides with the solution
  4. Add one large rock of ice (between a third and half the volume of the glass) or two rocks that would take up the same volume; it should go without saying, but unless you want your cocktail to become watered down quickly, avoid using a bunch of small pieces of ice
  5. Pour in the whiskey and stir just enough to slightly chill everything
  6. Twist the lemon peel to release some oils, add it to the drink, and serve
The Whiskey

At the risk of sounding cheesy, let me say that the journey to Old Fashioned Nirvana is one that should be savored and the thought of trying an Old Fashioned with a whiskey you haven't used before should bring about a real sense of excitement. That said, everyone who undertakes this journey has a set of go-to whiskeys for their cocktails.

Canadian Club
I don't know of a better cheap whiskey option for an Old Fashioned. This is my basic option. Smooth with a little bit of rye spiciness, and bottled at 40% abv, this is a good one to use if you're going to be drinking several in an evening.

Old Overholt
Wherever you go, this is a standard for basic whiskey cocktails using rye. For the price, you could also go with Jim Beam Rye, but Old Overholt is more richly flavored and just makes a better cocktail in my opinion.

Old Grand Dad Bonded
This is a delicious, affordable bourbon with a high rye mash bill (27% rye). It tastes great neat and needs almost no time to open up in the glass. When mixed in an Old Fashioned, it retains its full-bodied character while blending nicely with the bitters and sugar. It's bottled at 100 proof, and I prefer using a whiskey with this strength in my Old Fashioneds. Wild Turkey Rye is a good option in the same price range and has a good amount of rye (65% rye). Bulleit Rye is better at 95% rye.

Other Whiskeys
I haven't found any whiskeys cheaper than Canadian Club that go well in an Old Fashioned, and given its affordability, there's really no reason to try and save a few more dollars as far as I'm concerned. That being said, I'm willing to try anything.  As for higher-end
whiskeys, try out as many as your budget will allow. Personally, if I'm going to spend a good chunk of money on a whiskey, I prefer to enjoy it in its purest form, neat. But, if a friend wants to buy me an Old Fashioned mixed with Michter's 10-Year-Old Straight Rye, I'll be happy to try it.

Of course, these are just my preferences. How an Old Fashioned should taste is entirely up to the drinker. If you prefer fruits muddled into yours, or like it topped with a splash of soda, it's no one else's business. Well, unless you make it so, of course.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Springbank Green 13 Year Old: 2015 Edition

This is the second release in Springbank's Green series, which are whiskies that contain organic barley. For more details, check out the Springbank official product announcement page. This one is fully Sherry-cask matured; the first release of Green was a 12 year old matured in Bourbon casks.

• 46% ABV
• Sherry cask matured
• Limited to 9000 bottles worldwide
• MRP: £60, $87 US (Though, I picked up my bottle for $81 US in Tokyo)


Honey, wax candles, plums and raisins, leather, buttery apple pie and cranberries, tires on hot asphalt, peat (takes a little while to come out), slightly nutty after awhile

Sweet and tart on the tip and underside of the tongue, bitter on the sides and back, slightly astringent, classic Springbank complexity, leather and honey, full-bodied and enveloping, peppery and oaky, a wisp of smoke

Medium-long, warming, mouthwatering, a bit more bittersweet and oaky over time, slightly minty late

Conclusion: This one's quite similar to the Springbank 21 (2013 bottling) I have, but it comes at a third of the price. A very satisfying Springbank and a nice addition to their range. I look forward to seeing what they do with the 2016 edition.