Brews & Spirits

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The rise of the Old Fashioned

The rise of the Old Fashioned

In certain ways I’m old fashioned; and proud to be so. I respect tradition, history and culture, even though I am not ruled by them. They do, however, show a path that we can choose to build on or walk away from.

Let's look at the well-trodden way of the Old Fashioned cocktail. It began as the Whiskey Cocktail in early 19th century America, then the Old Fashioned Whiskey Cocktail, to being simply the Old Fashioned.

Just whiskey, likely rye to begin with, and moving to Bourbon, sugar – either a sugar cube or sugar syrup – bitters, cold water and/or ice. Stirred in the glass with ice, or in a mixing glass; served straight up or on ice. In spite of a brief period when muddled fruit made an entry to the recipe, it has remained largely untouched from its original avatar.

But evolve it did. From being put on the back benches in the mid-20th century, it has risen strongly again with little twists that add to its character, showing remarkable persistence and strength in its foundation.

I love the fact that one can play with it to create interesting versions that people across all ages can relate to. It’s a little like me: I love learning about all the new techniques bartenders are using; and reinventing old ones.

Like fat washing and clarification; vacuum infusing and creating science labs in their bars. All so seriously! I like that I can admire their tenacity and laugh at their intensity and choose to still create magic, even without the drama. I admit that some of it is exciting!!

My earliest memory of the Old Fashioned is a blip at the bottom if the Old Fashioned glass top remind one to put in the sugar cube, douse it in Angostura bitters, mush it with a little water, pour in the whiskey, fill the glass with ice and stir to cool and mellow.

Now I think of maple syrup and honey, apricots and prunes, molasses and jaggery. Burnt spices, flowers and fresh herbs – not just blindly aromatic bitters – and sometimes an entirely new spirit base too!

My newest fantasy is reinventing a favourite Asian roast marinade. Okay, so that sounds daft. But I’ve been playing with it in my mind and I think it may just turn out brilliant. The thought of sweet, spicy and unami coming together in a cold glass is downright mouth-watering. You’ll hear about it if I’m right!!

The Old Fashioned has ignited in me the courage of conviction, the spirit of evolution, of being true to one’s beliefs and the adventure of being different. Including the pandemic we have been faced with these last 18 months.

Even in the face of disruption and disquiet, we can rise again. Changed maybe, but resilient and in sync with today. I love the Old Fashioned that I twist in myriad ways yet always allowing it to shine.

We shall return stronger from this chaos, thankful that we have survived and moved past it. Keep the faith.