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maggiethecat

The Old Fashioned Cocktail: The Topic

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If you're drinking enough agave-sweetened cocktails to cause health issues, fructose is not your biggest problem.

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Wait... so you're taking a naturally occurring sugar and mixing it with a nerve toxin... and the sugar is the problem?

ETA:

"a small amount of agave nectar isn't going to kill you. Just don't buy into the idea that it's any better for you than plain old sugar or HFCS"

OK, cool. So it's only as good as plain old sugar, but not better. That'll do.


Edited by Kohai (log)

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If you're drinking enough agave-sweetened cocktails to cause health issues, fructose is not your biggest problem.

That's not the problem...

"a small amount of agave nectar isn't going to kill you. Just don't buy into the idea that it's any better for you than plain old sugar or HFCS"

This is the problem. It's not that it's bad, it's just not better.

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So... it's comparable to sugar, therefore it's "poison"?


Edited by Kohai (log)

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"a small amount of agave nectar isn't going to kill you. Just don't buy into the idea that it's any better for you than plain old sugar or HFCS"

This is the problem. It's not that it's bad, it's just not better.

I guess I'm still not sure how it's a problem. In the cocktail world, I don't see people entirely switching over from regular simple to agave syrup due to perceived health benefits (or for other reasons, for that matter). Is the argument that agave syrup is 'not better' flavor-wise?

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Meh. What's with the value judgements? Assuming all sweeteners are equal, they're just different. Cane sugar, turbinado, honey syrup, maple syrup and agave all bring different things to the party. Where's the problem, exactly? If we're concerned about maintaining myths of "healthful" cocktails we might as well stop putting the alcohol in, dontcha think?

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I guess I'm still not sure how it's a problem.

I thought it was pretty clear by my last posting. There's nothing wrong with agave, but there are a lot of people under the impression that agave is somehow better for you which is not the case. That's it, nothing else.

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I don't know if Erik was joking or not when he referred to agave syrup as "poison" -- but that's the remark that led to this fork in the discussion. It seems a bit fatuous to complain about the healthfulness of any ingredient used in a cocktails, so long as its supposed effects are somewhere below the level of making you grow nine arms and eleven heads. After all, as I'm sure others have noted, plenty of the things we use in cocktails are known to be at least as bad for you as a teaspoon of agave syrup or high fructose corn syrup. For example, I know people in the booze business who will only drink high congener spirits such as Smith & Cross and funky mezcals in minute amounts because of health concerns. I'm not saying I agree with this outlook, but it's at least as legitimate as being afraid of a teaspoon of agave syrup or high fructose corn syrup in an Old Fashioned.

I would point out that the real health issue with high fructose corn syrup is not anything having to do with it's composition, but rather the fact that sugar is massively overconsumed and high fructose corn syrup is the most common kind of sugar in this country. But it's not like all these health issues that people attribute to high fructose corn syrup would disappear if we replaced it in every instance with cane sugar. What's really bad is the fact that people are eating tons of sugar (sometimes without knowing it) and also the various ways that the production of high fructose corn syrup is supported by government subsidies. Presumably this won't become an issue with agave syrup because it's too difficult to make in massive quantities.

With respect to its use in cocktails, I would suggest that the only appropriate consideration is whether it tastes good or not. Personally, I've never particularly liked the stuff, but to each his own.

I should hasten to add that I do think Erik does make a good point in mentioning that agave syrup isn't as "natural" a product as cane sugar (not that even "raw" sugar isn't extensively processed). I think people have the idea that agave syrup is made in a process similar to cane sugar production, by crushing up agave and boiling down the juice, and this isn't actually true. The process of making agave syrup is more similar to the process used to make malt syrup: the carbohydrate-rich "agave juice" is held at temperature so that enzymatic action can reduce the complex carbohydrates to simple ones (aka sugars). Just as with producing malt syrup from grain, these enzymes can come from the plant itself or they can be added in refined form. Corn syrup, which is 100% glucose, is made by a similar process, except the amylase enzymes are always added in refined form. High fructose corn syrup is the term for a number of syrups that have undergone further enzymatic action to convert some of the glucose to fructose. It is "high" fructose because it has any fructose at all, not because it contains a particularly high percentage of fructose (it doesn't). The blend used in most soft drinks contains a bit more fructose than glucose, but the blend used in baked goods contains more glucose than fructose (sucrose syrup is equal parts glucose and fructose). Agave syrup can be almost exclusively fructose. Agave syrup is, then, a bit more "natural" than corn syrup and right around the same as malt syrup, and people have various ideas as to what they believe about how much fructose (or whatever) is in your diet. Personally, I can't help thinking that anyone who feels that strongly about a teaspoon of sweetener in a cocktail doesn't have any business drinking things like tequila, rum and whiskey in the first place. To me the main knock on high fructose corn syrup is that it doesn't taste all that good and is usually used in products that are not very high quality.


Edited by slkinsey (log)

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It seems a bit fatuous to complain about the healthfulness of any ingredient used in a cocktails

No-one suggested that, it's not even touched upon in the link posted.

If, as Erik suggested, bars are dropping it (or it's no longer being used) due to the myth being exposed then they need to read a little more about the subject. In fact, if bars started using agave because of its supposed health benefits then they should read a little more full stop... :wink:

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... making you grow nine arms and eleven heads....

Please tell us more. Surely this would be massively helpful for bartenders everywhere. :wink:

Thanks for the sugar lesson. I found it interesting and educational.

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OK, I was exaggerating by saying "poison". Sorry about that.

I've also been away from the computer for a few days.

To be honest, the thing that galls me the most about most of the Agave Syrup Marketing is indeed the implication that it is some sort of natural, unprocessed, traditional Mexican Sweetener which is somehow more healthy for you than sugar.

It isn't particularly natural and it was invented some time in the very late 20th Century. It is from Mexico, though, as far as I know, plain old honey would be a far more "traditional" Mexican sweetener. If you want rustic Mexican sweeteners, go with Piloncillo.

It has recently been irritatingly popularized by Bethany Frankel as part of her dubiously healthy pre-prepared "skinny girl margarita", even though it has been a part of the Tommy's Margarita for years.

I don't have the Scientific or Nutritional qualifications to evaluate the arguments, but as far as I can tell, if you avoid High Fructose Corn Syrup for any perceived health reasons, it makes not much sense to use Agave Syrup.

I do not agree that the fact that alcohol is potentially poisonous and addicting should preclude us from using other natural, organic, or downright healthy ingredients in alcoholic beverages. I know I feel proud being able to tell people that the bar I work in uses all organic citrus, fruit juices, and sweeteners, and I think our drinks are better for it.

Given that there never really seems to be a glut of Mexican Agave and the process seems a bit labor and energy intensive, I am curious about the circumstances that gave rise to invention of Agave Syrup.

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I do not agree that the fact that alcohol is potentially poisonous and addicting should preclude us from using other natural, organic, or downright healthy ingredients in alcoholic beverages. I know I feel proud being able to tell people that the bar I work in uses all organic citrus, fruit juices, and sweeteners, and I think our drinks are better for it.

To each his own, of course. To me, it only makes sense to use organic citrus, fruit juices and sweeteners (etc.) in alcoholic drinks if they taste better. Sometimes they do. Sometimes they don't. My point being that if you really care about the healthfulness of that half-ounce of lime juice, what are you doing drinking two ounces of funky country mezcal full of fusel oils, smoke-derived chemicals and who knows what other congeners?

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I was recently writing this cocktail up, and it reminded me of this topic:

Vanderbilt Cocktail

3 Dashes Syrup.

2 Dashes Angostura Bitters.

1/4 Cherry Brandy.

3/4 Brandy.

Shake well and strain into cocktail glass.

Actually, I'm thinking of replacing the Cherry Brandy with Curacao and renaming it The Elmegirab Cocktail. Or maybe the Evo-Lution Cocktail.

;-)

I'm drinking one of these right now. Interesting drink. My girlfriend pronounced it boozy, and a bit like Fernet on the finish and I have to agree. Of course though, if this is an Old Fashioned, I'll eat my hat. But on the rocks, with an orange twist and a good cherry, some might be fooled...

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I think I may actually have had a few Old Fashioneds (and should it really have a hypen: "Old-Fashioneds"?) the last time I tried to address this question, but...

Can someone who rigidly adheres to the school of solid sugar over syrup explain why it's supposedly the correct or better way? I would be curious to hear why. Is it strictly a purist thing? I personally prefer syrup for practical and taste reasons. I also find it difficult to believe that people didn't make sugar syrups for convenience even in the earliest days of the cocktail.

Anyway, a good counteropinion would be interesting. Thanks.


Edited by Kohai (log)

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I think that a major element of what makes the Old Fashioned seem, well, old fashioned is the style of preparation. I suppose this might not make much difference when the drink is prepared at a service bar and brought out to the customer. But think back to the Japanese bartending thread where the point was repeatedly made that things such as the bartender's physicality and presentation and the bar's atmosphere can have a profound impact on the perceived qualities of the drink. I should think this applies here as well.

Also... try making one with demerara syrup and one with an equivalent amount of sugar in the form of a demerara sugar cube. I think you will find that they don't taste exactly the same. I also like using rough sugar because sometimes I like to muddle a twist in with the sugar and bitters, in which case the sugar abrades the surface of the twist and really extracts a lot of oils (I got this idea from Gary Regan).

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I did mean to address the sugar versus syrup question, but things have been a bit hectic lately. I think Sam has summed it up well. The Old-Fashioned gained popularity as much for the archaic nature of its preparation as for its taste. I believe I waxed poetic about this somewhere upthread, but basically it recalled the days when a muddler was called a "toddy stick" and there was still such a thing as a Whig party in America. The ritual is an essential part of the drink. Sure, you can cut a corner by using syrup and achieve a congruent result, but that's not really getting into the spirit of the thing, is it? If you regard the Old-Fashioned as merely a mixological category, as some clearly do (and there's nothing wrong with that), then you may dispense with muddlers and lump sugar.

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I wrote this earlier this year when I was researching Sazeracs. As far as I know it is accurate:

Interestingly, I was reading somewhere or another about sugar. It always seems semi authentic to muddle a sugar cube, but in point of fact, it’s not very 19th century at all. In "Olden Tymes", sugar would have been cut or ground from a loaf, not formed into sugar cubes. Odds are, most bartenders in the 19th century would have been using some version of gomme or simple syrup. Possibly finely ground sugar. Sugar cubes would have been the province of tea parties and the upper class, not most bars.

In fact, according to the wikpedia article on Henry Tate, and information on the Tate and Lyle Website, it was not until 1872 that, “he purchased the patent from German Eugen Langen on a method of making sugar cubes, and in the same year built a new refinery in Liverpool.” Langen may invented his patented method for forming sugar cubes a bit earlier than this, but as far as I know cubes were not widely distributed before Tate’s introduction. Yes, the same Henry Tate whose name now graces a rather nice art gallery in London.

Personally, I am fond of "Cock-tails" or Old-Fashioneds with my friend Jennifer's Gum Syrup...

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Re syrup -- it does add more dilution, no? First you have the water in the syrup, then you have the added ice melt to cool the syrup, especially if it starts at room temperature.

I loathe the last sip that has either undissolved or more concentrated sugar. If you don't have time to fully dissolve the sugar, I'd prefer syrup.

I have fond memories of my Dad's little wooden muddlers. Old Fashioneds were reserved for holidays -- Thanksgiving in particular, as I recall his mother particularly liking them. I think the muddlers came from his father. The drink was served with the muddler in it -- something I haven't seen elsewhere.

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Interestingly, I was reading somewhere or another about sugar. It always seems semi authentic to muddle a sugar cube, but in point of fact, it’s not very 19th century at all. In "Olden Tymes", sugar would have been cut or ground from a loaf, not formed into sugar cubes. Odds are, most bartenders in the 19th century would have been using some version of gomme or simple syrup. Possibly finely ground sugar. Sugar cubes would have been the province of tea parties and the upper class, not most bars.

Erik--

Many 19th-century bars--even unto the end of the century--had a sugar drawer under the bar, that would be full of granulated sugar (and, no doubt, insects). The bartender would slide it open and spoon out the sugar. I agree that modern sugar cubes are not authentic for 19th century bar culture, but they do preserve the ritual of muddling the sugar with the splash of water. You can still get lump sugar, though, if you're a strict recreationist, and various old-fashioned types of loose sugar.

If you do a close reading of 19th-century bartender's bibles (perhaps not the best use of your limited time on this earth, to be sure) you'll see a surprising number of bartenders who continued to call for sugar instead of syrup. Granulated sugar is certainly neater to work with.

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These points all make sense, although I'm not sure I personally am going to abandon the syrup so readily. Is the opinion of Embury, who stressed the use of syrup for simple ease, given no consideration regarding this drink? Is it because he was writing 100 years too late?

Finally, what about the orange slice? I shudder at the thought but it sounded like David (Wondrich, not Embury) tolerates them. I thought that stuff like that was derided as "the garbage"....


Edited by Kohai (log)

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Embury's opinion is just that--one man's opinion. As is mine that an Old-Fashioned is better without the orange slice. But there were at least three generations of drinkers who largely, albeit not universally, accepted the orange slice and often the muddled cherry in their Old-Fashioneds. That's not opinion, that's historical fact. Those two things are different. That, essentially, is all I've been trying to say about this simple drink. Where you stand on it depends on whether you view it aesthetically or contextually. They're both legitimate, and it's possible to view it both ways. What is not legitimate is to confuse the two.

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Oh right, continuing the thought, sorry it was early here, while sugar cubes may not have been authentic to the 19th Century bar, it seems making Old-Fashioneds and Sazeracs with sugar cubes was certainly authentic to the late 19th and early 20th Century, when both of these variations on the cocktail were probably created.

Just as to be authentic to the late 20th Century, you'd make them with muddled fruit.

I guess it just depends on whether you're wearing an edwardian collar, a vest and tie, or a black shirt.

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when a muddler was called a "toddy stick"

Slightly off topic here but this brings me to something that's been puzzling me for quite a while now, the connection of the Scottish Toddy to the American Cock-tail.

Their DNA is very similar, spirit-sugar-water-spice for toddy, spirit-sugar-water-bitters for cock-tail, and both were consumed for their remedial qualities (morning drinks, pick-me-ups and as a cure-all). And then there's the toddy stick...

:unsure:


Edited by evo-lution (log)

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