The recipe is a little bit Ritz Carlton, a little bit Simple Goodness Farm, or put another way, it's a little bit country and a little bit rock and roll. The Old Fashioned cocktail was invented in 1880 either by James E Pepper in Louisville, KY or at the Waldorf Astoria Bar, NYC- the debate rages on. This blog is not about the history, though there are several booze historians out there that dig into that, this post is about the tried and true Old Fashioned cocktail recipe we serve at our Soda Shop to wide acclaim.
Let's first address tradition. The formula of whiskey, bitters, and sugar has had infinite riffs over the last hundred plus years. The classic consisted of whiskey, bitters, and sugar, stirred over ice. Typically you see an orange twists to finish the cocktail and a cherry garnish. Within that general outline, there are fine lined differences. You can swap a sweeter bourbon for whiskey, or choose a 100% Rye whiskey that is spicier in place of a blended or single malt- all will taste wildly different. The muddled orange twist and cherry additions gained popularity in the 1950's (I refer to this style as the Don Draper.) This muddled fruit version remains the stronghold recipe in the midwest. Some bars add a dash of cub soda or a glug from the 7 Up soda gun, for a 7&7 and Old Fashioned mash up.
Elsewhere, the craft cocktail purists have eschewed the muddled fruit and instead serve a cocktail that is purely brown and garnished with a cherry on a toothpick, finished with a twist (I call this the Ritz Carlton, as it is closer to the original recipe.) Some bartender opt to stir in the cherry so a tiny bit of juice enters the equation. Some garnish with an orange peel twist, some don't. These days, you're also seeing bartenders get creative by using this formula but changing out the spirit- putting in a smoky mezcal in place of the whiskey, or a bourbon barrel finished gin. The fun thing about bartending is that if two or more of the original specs are changed, it's a new recipe and can be called its own name. So you may see drinks listed on a menu that are not titled "Old Fashioned" but you notice that the drink contains hiskey, bitters, and sugar- that's one bartenders riff on the classic.
The Old Fashioned can, like most traditional recipes, be made a lot of slightly different ways for huge variations in flavor and presentation. They taste dfiffeent everywhere you go, which is one of the fun things about ordering the same drink on repeat, so that you can pick up on these changes and hopefully appreciate them. After all, if you want the same drink every time you should probably order a spirit neat or drink at home.