A Brief History of the Old Fashioned

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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). 

More #BartenderKnowHow:

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Hi there! I’m Laura, your friendly neighborhood Distillerista. A Texas native, California transplant, and lover of all things food and drink. I’ve worked in publishing, finance, tech, fashion and wine, but what I’m most excited about these days is the ever-expanding popularity of American-made craft spirits and – more importantly – the distillers and stories behind those spirits.

In creating Distillerista I aim to help thoughtful drinkers – such as yourself! – better understand the art and craft of distilling so that they can make better informed purchases and enjoy elevated imbibing experiences.

The journey that led me to create Distillerista has been an absolute joy. I’ve taken the last year to learn from and work under some of the best distillers and industry leaders America has to offer. Now, I’m back home in Southern California and thrilled to share the next phase of this ride.

In addition to serving as a one-stop resource for all things craft distilling, Distillerista will be your window into my day-to-day as my team and I embark on the incredibly exciting, albeit lengthy road to opening my first distillery! Set in San Diego, CA and slated for a 2016 grand opening. More delicious details to come.

As mentioned, expect to find a wealth of information and education pertaining to craft distilling and spirits here at Distillerista. Including – but not limited to – drilled-down distilling know-how, industry trends, easy cocktail recipes, fun entertaining ideas, and a peek behind the (sometimes smoky) curtain of America’s modern day liquor business.

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