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What's the Right Way to Make an Old Fashioned?

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Happy World Whiskey Day! With bourbon outselling vodka in 2014 for the first time in almost a decade, the U.S. and its booming whiskey industry has lots to celebrate. Since we’ve already covered how whiskey is made, we’re marking the day with an Old Fashioned and a dive into the cocktail’s history. There’s plenty of material: its origins are so disputed that an entire book has been devoted to the subject.

If you’ve been out to bars lately, you may have noticed that Old Fashioneds fall into two categories: a sweet, well-garnished and muddled fruity cocktail on the rocks, or an austere mixture of bitters, sugar, and whiskey served with a twist. Here’s the thing: they’re both classic Old Fashioneds. They’re just from different eras.

Dueling Names

This cocktail began its contentious life as an eye-opener that went by the name of Whiskey Cocktail. The mixture of bitters, whiskey, sugar, and ice served up appears in print in the oldest surviving cocktail book, Jerry Thomas’s 1862 edition of How to Mix Drinks. However, its history probably goes back at least to 1806, and maybe even earlier.

In the days of herbal medicine, herbal tinctures known as bitters were mixed with sugar, whatever booze was available, and water. At some point around the 1800s, Americans also started drinking these beverages for fun.

Over time, bartenders began spicing up this cocktail with absinthe or other imported liqueurs that had recently become available. New cocktails were born, but traditional bar patrons started demanding simpler old-fashioned drinks. One throwback was almost exactly the Whiskey Cocktail, but with the addition of a cube. By 1888, this drink had a name—the Old Fashioned.

During this time, the drinking culture had also changed. Instead of wanting to drink the cocktail in one dram, the new generation of drinkers preferred to savor it. Thus, the tradition of serving an Old Fashioned over a large ice cube was born.

Identity Crisis

Between the 1880s and Prohibition, the Old Fashioned also appeared under the names "Old-Fashioned," "Old Fashion," "Old-Fashion," and "Old Fashioned Whiskey Cocktail." The lack of a standardized name was reflected in the lack of a standardized recipe. As a result, the drink began to change.

Even before Prohibition began, the fruit started piling onto the Old Fashioned. During the Noble Experiment, different liqueurs snuck back into its glass. By the mid-1930s, a heavily garnished Old Fashioned became the rule instead of the exception.

The shift in the cocktail’s identity is seen in the differences between the recipes included in 1932 and 1937 editions of The Savoy Cocktail Book: the 1932 recipe has fruit, but the 1937 edition calls for more fruit and for seltzer water. Despite all the additions, the practice of muddling fruit into the glass with the sugar only joined the process in the 1970s.

Managing Claims

It’s often cited that the Old Fashioned’s 20th century form was born at the Pendennis Club in Louisville, KY. Since the club’s name doesn’t appear in the cocktail writings between 1888 and Prohibition, this claim is shaky at best.

Both Chicago and New York have also claimed it at one point in time. It’s more likely that it originated in one of these cities, but no conclusive historical evidence exists to pinpoint an exact location.

Hit the Lab

The lack of a conclusive definition (or recipe) for an Old Fashioned makes it the perfect drink to showcase a bar or bartender’s personality. To concoct your own house Old Fahioned, experiment with the amount of sugar, types of bitters, and garnishes.

Whiskey Cocktail

[Modified from Jerry Thomas’s Bartender’s Guide or How to Mix Drinks or The Bon Vivant’s Companion.]

2 dashes of bitters
3-4 dashes of gum arabic syrup
2 oz whiskey

Combine over ice in a shaker tin. Shake* and strain into a glass. Garnish with a twist of lemon.

*Stirring is recommended to provide a richer texture and more attractive presentation.

Old Fashioned

1 raw sugar cube
3 dashes Angostura bitters
2 orange wheels
2 maraschino cherries
Club soda
2 oz whiskey

Place the sugar cube in an Old Fashioned glass. Dash the bitters onto the cube along with a splash of soda water. Add one cherry and one orange and muddle the fruit and sugar together. Add whiskey and fill with ice. Garnish with the remaining cherry and orange wheel.

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What's the Right Way to Make a Sazerac?
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If you pronounce New Orleans "New Or-leens," or if you can’t get enough of those Big Ass Beers sold on Bourbon Street, you’re probably not actually from New Orleans. But if you’re feeling adventurous and missing the Big Easy, a Sazerac might be just what the doctor ordered. 

‘Tails and Stories

A few hundred years ago, you might have actually gotten a doctor’s order for a Sazerac. One of the drink's origin stories claims that it was invented by New Orleans apothecary Antoine Amedie Peychaud. According to this tale, Mr. Peychaud mixed up the drink with his eponymous bitters and served it in an egg coupe in his shop. 

A more likely origin story states that the drink was invented by a different New Orleans resident (though in the same neighborhood). Around 1850, Sewell T. Taylor sold his bar to Aaron Bird and went into the import business. One of his products happened to be Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils brandy. While Taylor was importing, Bird renamed his bar the Sazerac House and began serving a house cocktail that featured Taylor’s brandy and, as the story goes, bitters made by his neighborhood apothecary, Mr. Peychaud.

In the 1870s and 1880s, Europe's grape crops were decimated by an infestation of American aphids. In just four years, French wine production was cut by 67 percent, and even the most dedicated cognac drinkers switched to whiskey. For New Orleans, that meant switching to rye whiskey that was shipped to the city down the Ohio River and through the Mississippi. Thomas Handy, who owned the Sazerac Bar during that time period, likely switched the drink's main ingredient. This take on the signature cocktail is the one that found its way into the 1908 edition of The World's Drinks and How To Mix Them, with the recipe calling for "good whiskey," not Sazerac cognac. 

The origins of the Sazerac’s name is vague. It’s possible that it was a nod to the fact that it was the bar's house cocktail, but it’s also possible that it’s a reference to the brand of brandy. In those days, “cocktail” referred to a specific alcoholic drink format. As put forth by The Balance and Columbian Repository in 1806, a “cock-tail” is “a stimulating liquor composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters.” If you wanted this type of drink with whiskey in it, you would ask for a Whiskey Cocktail. If you wanted Sazerac brandy (until the aphid plague, at least), you'd ask for a Sazerac cocktail.

Hit the Lab

Sazerac Recipe:

2 dashes Peychaud's bitters
.25 oz simple syrup (or a sugar cube)
2 oz good rye whiskey (use the good stuff)
lemon peel for garnish

Place the sugar cube into an absinthe-rinsed rocks glass. Dash the bitters onto the cube and muddle. Add whiskey and one large ice cube and stir to combine. Garnish with a lemon twist.

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What’s the Right Way to Make a Caipirinha?
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Flickr User Janice Waltzer // CC BY 2.0

The Rio Olympics start in just a few weeks, and all eyes are on Brazil. To celebrate, we decided to focus on the country’s most famous cocktail creation: the Caipirinha.

In form, the Caipirinha is pretty much a Brazilian Daiquiri. It’s made from sugar, lime, and cachaça. Cachaça could be considered a cousin to rum, but it is altogether unique. While most rum is made from molasses, cachaça is made from fresh sugarcane juice.

Unlike rum, which can be made anywhere, cachaça can only be made in Brazil. Though it’s often sold unaged, it is usually matured in woods that are native to Brazil, like peanut and balm. As with wine, beer, and whiskey, different kinds of wood affect the product inside differently.

The classifications of cachaça aren’t based on the type of cask in which it’s aged. It can get a bit confusing: Spirit that is not stored in wood or is kept in stainless steel vats before it’s bottled is often called branca (white). But cachaça aged in wood that doesn’t color the liquor may also be labeled as branca. This category goes under several other names, including prata (silver) and clássica (classic).

Cachaça that’s stored or aged in wood is usually labeled as amarela (yellow), in reference to its color. These may also be labeled as ouro (gold). Envelhecida (aged) cachaça, a subtype of amarela, is a bit more involved: it’s considered aged if more than 50 percent of the content of the bottle has been aged for at least a year in a barrel that’s 700 liters or smaller.

Cachaça is the “third most produced distilled drink in the world,” according to Alcohol In Latin America: A Social and Cultural History. Though more than 5000 brands existed in 2008, it was relatively ignored outside of Brazil until the recent resurgence of craft cocktails. In fact, until 2013, it had to be labeled “Brazilian rum” to be imported into the U.S. As a result, it’s often mistaken by many people for being a type of rum.

Unfortunately, we don’t really know anything definite about the origins of the Caipirinha. Like the Mojito and the Old Fashioned, the formula was perhaps first used in folk medicine. Carlos Lima, the executive director of IBRAC (the Brazilian Institute of Cachaça) told Casa e Jardim that a mix of lime, garlic, and honey with a pour of cachaça was probably used in São Paulo around 1918 as a remedy for the Spanish Flu.

As the story goes, someone eventually decided to skip the garlic and honey. Then, to balance the acidity of the lime, sugar was added. Over time, the drink spread into bars, ice entered the equation, and it became the Caipirinha we know today.

HIT THE LAB

Like the Mojito, the classic Caipirinha recipe is quite simple, but it’s also been the subject of many, many variations. We’ve included the International Bartenders Association (IBA) recipe as well as a modern take on the drink.

Caipirinha
Modified from the IBA website.

2 ounces Cachaça
1/2 of a lime
1 tablespoon sugar

Muddle lime and sugar in an Old Fashioned glass. Fill with ice and pour cachaça over it. Stir and enjoy.

Prata B. (Puerto Rico Asta Ah Brazil)
Recipe by Luis Ramos, bar manager of Bourbon and Branch in San Francisco.

1 3/4 ounces Avua Prata Cachaça
3/4 ounce lime juice
3/4 ounce pineapple gomme syrup
1/2 ounce Pedro Ximenez sherry
1/4 ounce Punt e Mes
Grated nutmeg, lime zest, lime wheel for garnish

Combine all ingredients in a Collins glass. Add crushed ice and stir until glass frosts. Top glass with grated nutmeg, lime zest, and lime wheel.

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