Steeped in ritual and beautiful in its simplicity, the Old Fashioned is the quintessential (and quite essential) classic cocktail. Even back when cocktails were newly making a home for themselves in beverage culture, the Old Fashioned — as the name suggests — was already the tried-and-true, the throwback, the cool original.
With the season of holiday entertaining upon us, now is a great time to consider how we approach the Old Fashioned, whether our goal is to serve a group of revelers or to quietly wind down with a tumbler after the party.
How To Make an Old-Fashioned
As I alluded, for many drinks enthusiasts, how they go about making their Old Fashioned is based as much — if not more — in ritual as in reason. Typically, we're talking about a slow build: Dump sugar in a glass, stain that sugar with a good few dashes of bitters, cut a swath of orange peel and muddle that peel over your wet sugar, watching the crystals collapse under the duress. Then add a splash of rye whiskey, stir a bit, add a few cubes of ice and stir some more. Add more whiskey, stir, and add more ice.
See? It takes time — and that's a big part of what makes the drink special.
Making Old-Fashioneds for a Crowd
But what if you want to mix up a batch of Old Fashioneds for friends? Stopping to muddle sugar and orange peel at the bottom of everyone's glass à la minute could definitely cut into your other hosting duties. Fortunately, there are some helpful and perfectly acceptable shortcuts you can take to speed up the process and scale up the order.
First off, instead of using whole sugar (and I recommend demerara for an Old Fashioned), turn your sugar into simple syrup ahead of time. Simply heat equal parts sugar and water over medium heat, just until the mixture begins to simmer and the sugar has all dissolved. As you let it cool, toss in a couple of orange peels so the syrup can take on a bit of their flavor. By using this orange-tinged simple syrup, you've circumvented the muddling step.
If you still wish to build each Old Fashioned in its glass to order, simply add the syrup (1/2 ounce), then bitters (3 to 4 dashes), then whiskey (2 ounces), then ice, stirring after each addition, then express an orange peel over the top and drop it in the glass to garnish.
If you'd prefer to streamline the process even further, you can pre-dilute your whiskey with water (try a 10:1 ratio), which will cut down on stirring time. With this method, everything can go in the glass at once and get a brief stir to combine. (Be sure to hit each serving with an expression of orange peel as a final touch.)
Then, once the crowd has dissipated, another holiday gathering is in the books, and your home is yours again, mix up an Old Fashioned the old-fashioned way. The stuff in the glass is essentially the same as the quick-mixed ones, but there just might be something in the ritual that makes this version better.
The Old Fashioned
3 to 4 dashes
aromatic bitters (preferably Angostura)
Add sugar to an Old Fashioned glass. Wet with bitters. Add the orange peel and muddle gently to break up the sugar crystals and coat the interior of the glass with mixture. Add about half the whiskey, then stir to further dissolve the sugar. Add 2 to 3 ice cubes and stir again. Add the rest of the whiskey and 1 to 2 more ice cubes. Stir until your Old Fashioned is well chilled and stiff yet palatable.
Old-Fashioneds for a Crowd: Dissolve equal parts sugar and water over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Add a few orange peels to the syrup as it cools. Strain once cool. Combine 1/2 ounce syrup with 3 to 4 dashes bitters and 2 ounces whiskey over ice for each serving.