A Brief History of the Old Fashioned


The craft cocktail experts at Speakeasy Co. are back again with #BartenderKnowHow. This week’s installment? A brief history of a true classic, the Old Fashioned. The following content originally appeared here. – Laura

The full story is drearily long, but the history is unusually important to understanding this classic, so here is the abridged version:

While the term “cocktail” today might refer to both a Sazerac and an Appletini, in the beginning, terminology was more persnickety. There were Slings (spirit, sugar, cold water), Toddies (spirit, sugar, warm water), various citrus Punches and such, but no mention of the word cocktail. It wouldn’t be until 1806 that the “cock-tail” was defined in print, originally written as a drink comprised of “spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters.” Those four ingredients made a cocktail. Anything else, tasty as it may be, wasn’t a cocktail.

But over the next 75 years, bartenders continuously tweaked and played. There was the “fancy cocktail” with curacao, then the “improved cocktail” with maraschino liqueur and absinthe.

The evolution continued with pineapple sticks, raspberry syrup, muddling in fruit slices, and the like – what would later be referred to as “the garbage”. It’s all tasty, and a solid template, but it was not a cocktail according to the original definition.

When The Chicago Tribune printed “old-fashioned cocktails” in 1880, they were not referring to a recipe that felt quaint and homey, but rather defining a type of drink from the past. They referenced local curmudgeons, who sought a cocktail like the kind they used to get. The Old Fashioned kind. And an Old Fashioned is today just as it was back then: spirit (whiskey), sugar, water (ice), and bitters.

This drink, as much as any other, is how we know the age of cocktails is back and here to stay. Men and women, young or old, it doesn’t matter. Everyone drinks it now. All it asks of you is that you enjoy your drinks (1) strong and (2) delicious. The Old Fashioned will take it from there.

It’s worth noting that any claim to have “invented” the Old Fashioned is absurd, seeing as it was being made for at least 75 years, as a “cocktail” before it earned its latter name. But extra nonsense points go to the Pendennis Club of Louisville, who maintain their paternity claim even though they opened their doors in 1881, a full year after it first appeared in print.

P.S. – Everything You Need to Know About Cocktail Subscription Service Speakeasy Co (formerly Thirty3Club). 

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