Ted Danson stood on the shoulders of giants, too. Before Sam, there was only one celebrity bartender, and his name was Jerry Thomas. If you want to understand the structural roots of the Old Fashioned, you start with this guy:
I have had chapters in my life where I was a bon vivant, but they were never celebrated, so another feather in your cap, Mr. Thomas. Jerry Thomas could self-promote, to be sure. Today, Jerry Thomas would have already had a few reality shows and would now be selling highball glasses on QVC. But in 1862 the only choice was to write a book, and so Mr. Thomas did just that.
If whiskey is a seminal fluid (DO NOT Google that, I did and am sorry for it) then Jerry Thomas’ Bartenders Guide was a seminal work. If you want to know the Old Fashioned, even if the book wasn’t seminal, you want the cover of whatever you are going to reference to look like this. Mr. Thomas did not think whiskey a seminal fluid, however, because he did not include it in his recipe for the Old Fashioned. To wit: “Crush a small lump of sugar in a whiskey glass containing a little water, add a lump of ice, two dashes of Angostura bitters, a small piece of lemon peel, one jigger Holland gin. Mix with small bar spoon. Serve.”
Here is the Pendennis Club, in Lousville, KY. Around 1906. Kentucky has a county named Bourbon, that is a good start for drink cred. Then, Kentucky boasts this: Frederick Vinson, who later became the 13th Chief Justice of the United States, was born in a Louisa County jailhouse. Judges born in jails and Bourbon, you have my attention. The Pendennis Club is said to be the actual birthplace of the Old Fashioned by a guy named James Pepper.
In 1936 a man named Old Timer wrote a piece for the New York Times where he gave this recipe for the Old Fashioned: “Consider, for instance, the Old-Fashioned cocktail. Time was when the affable and sympathetic bartender moisted a lump of sugar with Angostura bitter, dropped in a lump of ice, neither too large or too small, stuck in a miniature bar spoon and passed the glass to the client with a bottle of good bourbon from which said client was privileged to pour his own drink.”
In 2016, Drinks International named the Old Fashioned the most popular drink in the US. Even in the Midwest, where it is infamously made with sugar water they call “bug juice.”
All of which is cute, but if you are reading this after work, or reading it during work but thinking about after work, before autumn truly sets on us, here is the best recipe, from the good people at Liquor.com:
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 3 dashes Angostura bitters
- 1 teaspoon water
- 2 ounces bourbon
- Garnish: orange peel
Add the sugar and bitters to a rocks glass, then add the water, and stir until the sugar is nearly dissolved.
Fill the glass with large ice cubes, add the bourbon, and gently stir to combine.
Express the oil of an orange peel over the glass, then drop in.