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maggiethecat

The Old Fashioned Cocktail: The Topic

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[...]

i get so mad when bartenders ask questions like what base spirit (aroma) before they ask what structure (high acid or not). the Jeet Kun Do of making drinks is gustation before olfaction, but the spirits industry tries to drill into everyones' head brand first. gustatory structure clues like hyphenated names should never be scoffed at.

[...]

I do like that point.

Few guests, especially not very spirits savvy ones, really go out to the bar thinking, "Boy I'm really looking forward to trying a new Gin drink tonight." They are far more likely to have something from their food vocabulary in mind. Mint, ginger, lemon, lime, etc.

Using these food vocabulary cues is far more productive when communicating with these guests than trying to explain the difference between Cognac and Pisco.

The slightly more savvy drinker will generally have a favorite drink which they order every time they go out. It is here where "If you like a X, whey don't you try Y" comes in. Though many at this level, especially if they are older, are unbudgeable from their single favorite drink.


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Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Personally speaking I don't like the separation of the terms Old-Fashioned and Cock-tail and think they should be used together because, well for me, they are one and the same.

...someone would respond and say, "Sounds good but it's fundamentally a Tequila Old-Fashioned. Maybe call it a Chiapas Old-Fashioned."

Why not kill two birds with one stone and call it a Chiapas Cock-tail? It would drive home the point you're trying to make while not wrinkling the noses of the Old-Fashioned police.


Edited by KD1191 (log)

True rye and true bourbon wake delight like any great wine...dignify man as possessing a palate that responds to them and ennoble his soul as shimmering with the response.

DeVoto, The Hour

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Just to clarify a few things:

St-Germaine

It's St-Germain. ;)

Why not kill two birds with one stone and call it a Chiapas Cock-tail? It would drive home the point you're trying to make while not wrinkling the noses of the Old-Fashioned police.

Because I don't live in the 17-1800s and the term Cock-tail is no longer used as it once was, and as already pointed out it'd be foolish to try and change that especially when you have the Old-Fashioned which is recognised by most (including those not working in the industry) as the term used for the drinks family of spirit, sugar, water and bitters.

And it is a drink created in the style of the Old-Fashioned Cock-tail.


Evo-lution - Consultancy, Training and Events

Dr. Adam Elmegirab's Bitters - Bitters

The Jerry Thomas Project - Tipplings and musings

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This is a very interesting point and something I agree with but I think that the majority of bartenders ask about the base spirit first to have a better grasp of the guest they're dealing with.

From there you'd then proceed to build a drink that is perfectly suited to their palate and is appropriate for that moment in time (aperitif, digestif, first drink of the evening, and so on).

asking about base spirit might be a strategy to size up a guest, but i don't think its the best. i've always seen it creating a large degree of choice paralysis for starters. many bars then handle high acid drinks in strange ways. "citrus?" sure, but what exactly am i getting? citrus implies acid but its not the end of the story.

its very tricky to articulate a relationship of sweetness to acidity because the culinary literacy rate is so low. when tasting people on wine, many use the term bitter for acidic because they don't have the vocabulary and bitter to them is synonymous with dislike. very few people are enthusiasts of the mechanics of flavor perception.

one co worker cannot tolerate an old fashioned or a manhattan. she doesn't even like a 2:1:1 sour made with a 400g/l syrup. she only enjoys side car style sours with 250g/l liqueurs. you can only increase the level of sugar relative to acid on her if you add drying aromas (mezcal, gin, rye, chartreuse). very tricky. she is a wine drinker. she can't even articulate any of this. she tells me not to put any sugar in her drinks.

the other co worker only drinks an old fashioned at the end of the night. he favors beer over wine. most of our patrons are dry wine drinkers and we seem to sell high acid cocktails 10 to 1 low acid. go to the beer bar around the corner and they have the reverse ratio.

the data points to people always seeking gustatory pleasure before aroma, and tells the story that gustatory preference is very polarized therefore needs serious discussion. spirit types are mainly issues of aroma and though aroma influences gustatory perception its not as significant as plain old acid and sugar.

what is crazy is that if we really seek out gustatory pleasure over aroma then we probably over engineer most of our drinks. good aroma is what costs money (dollar an ounce stuff), but you can nail any gustatory structure for low bucks. (you can then add spectacular low dollar aroma with aromatic bitters)

so he who masters communication to segment his market between first the polarized gustatory preferences of imbibers then second their attention span for enjoying aroma can probably make more money than his competitors.

Few guests, especially not very spirits savvy ones, really go out to the bar thinking, "Boy I'm really looking forward to trying a new Gin drink tonight." They are far more likely to have something from their food vocabulary in mind. Mint, ginger, lemon, lime, etc.

Using these food vocabulary cues is far more productive when communicating with these guests than trying to explain the difference between Cognac and Pisco.

The slightly more savvy drinker will generally have a favorite drink which they order every time they go out. It is here where "If you like a X, whey don't you try Y" comes in. Though many at this level, especially if they are older, are unbudgeable from their single favorite drink.

the mint and ginger are basically low art aromas. cheap and fun. perfect for when people don't have the attention span for high art aromas like $1.50 an ounce cognac.

on the favorite drink issue i'd say most are in love with the structure of their favorite drink, (and besides having an often narrow sense of harmony) they stick with it because they can't communicate what they enjoy about it. the risk of the getting something unpleasant and it costing $10 is not worth bothering.

no one like mint enough to switch from a tart to sweet drink just because it has their favorite low art aroma. when you get to the high art aromas that is a different story.

i'd say the next phase of bartending is first about communication and teaching the multi-sensory perception of flavor and second making drinks cheaper.


abstract expressionist beverage compounder

creator of acquired tastes

bostonapothecary.com

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asking about base spirit might be a strategy to size up a guest, but i don't think its the best.

I agree with what your saying but there is no 'best' way, essentially this is an element of reading your guest. A lot of people have preconceptions about what they like and are quick to announce that they don't like *insert spirit here* and I find with increasing regularity that finding out their preferred choice of spirit allows me to introduce them to something new or something that is guaranteed to have them back for more. If they say vodka they'll likely end up on gin, if they say whisk(e)y there's a World of opportunity, same for rum, breaking down the boundaries of tequila is also great fun, brandy/cognac/armagnac is something that few have tried yet many love, and so on...

Asking about the spirit, finding out what they typically drink, moving onto flavour profiles (sweet, sour, strong, dry, bitter, creamy, an so on) and finding out about their evening thus far and the plan for the rest makes perfect sense. Within that, you've also started a conversation with the guest, and more often than not the guest appreciates that you're going to this extra effort of constructing a drink based entirely on their wants and needs. Building a level of trust between bartender and guest is of the utmost importance for me.


Edited by evo-lution (log)

Evo-lution - Consultancy, Training and Events

Dr. Adam Elmegirab's Bitters - Bitters

The Jerry Thomas Project - Tipplings and musings

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. . . Old-Fashioned . . . is recognised by most (including those not working in the industry) as the term used for the drinks family of spirit, sugar, water and bitters.

See, this is where we differ. While there are certainly more than a few cocktail geeks, both behind the stick and not, who are treating the Old Fashioned as a "drinks family" capacious enough to contain the kinds of variations being bandied about here (and, for the record, by that I'm mostly talking about the copious splashes of liqueurs, aperitifs and such, rather than the minute variations in sugar and bitters), I think most informed tipplers still expect an Old-Fashioned to be made like an Old-Fashioned: that is, sugar, not syrup, a healthy slug of a main spirit and a couple of dashes of bitters, stirred with ice and sprayed with citrus oil (with, of course, the option of adding a half-wheel of muddled orange to the proceedings). It's fundamentally a simple drink, a self-effacing, spirit-forward refuge from the sometimes unhinged creativity one finds behind the modern bar. In other words, it's a drink, not a family of drinks.

Now, obviously, language evolves. "Cocktail" no longer means just a bittered sling. "Martini" no longer means just gin and vermouth and maybe a dash of bitters. But that's no reason to surrender "Old-Fashioned." Just because the Rommel made it through the wire, the Australians didn't give up Tobruk.

But again, there are no "Old-Fashioned police." You can call a drink what you want in this world. I guess the only reason I keep coming back to this circular argument we're having is I was just beginning to feel that I could walk into a bar, ask for a rye Old-Fashioned, and get a drink substantially congruent with that little glass that's glowing warmly in my mind's eye. I'd hate to have to go back to arguing, specifying or otherwise wrangling with this one again.


aka David Wondrich

There are, according to recent statistics, 147 female bartenders in the United States. In the United Kingdom the barmaid is a feature of the wayside inn, and is a young woman of intelligence and rare sagacity. --The Syracuse Standard, 1895

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While there are certainly more than a few cocktail geeks, both behind the stick and not, who are treating the Old Fashioned as a "drinks family" capacious enough to contain the kinds of variations being bandied about here (and, for the record, by that I'm mostly talking about the copious splashes of liqueurs, aperitifs and such, rather than the minute variations in sugar and bitters), I think most informed tipplers still expect an Old-Fashioned to be made like an Old-Fashioned: that is, sugar, not syrup, a healthy slug of a main spirit and a couple of dashes of bitters, stirred with ice and sprayed with citrus oil (with, of course, the option of adding a half-wheel of muddled orange to the proceedings). It's fundamentally a simple drink, a self-effacing, spirit-forward refuge from the sometimes unhinged creativity one finds behind the modern bar. In other words, it's a drink, not a family of drinks.

... I guess the only reason I keep coming back to this circular argument we're having is I was just beginning to feel that I could walk into a bar, ask for a rye Old-Fashioned, and get a drink substantially congruent with that little glass that's glowing warmly in my mind's eye. I'd hate to have to go back to arguing, specifying or otherwise wrangling with this one again.

I think that's a good line to draw -- and one we maintain where I work. I posted the Green Velvet in this topic as another in a series of drinks using a liqueur instead of sugar, but an Old Fashioned at work and at home is booze, sugar (though, to be honest, we'll use syrups instead of crystals), bitters, and twist. We called that drink a Green Velvet for a reason, and you aren't going to get one asking for a Rye-Heering Old Fashioned.

Just to pick a nit, the Oaxaca Old Fashioned wouldn't meet Dave's criteria above: agave syrup, after all.


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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[...]

Just to pick a nit, the Oaxaca Old Fashioned wouldn't meet Dave's criteria above: agave syrup, after all.

Well, no one's still mixing with that poison, are they?

Just when you thought you got the High Fructose Corn Syrup out of the modern bar, they sneak another chemically created sweetener in under the radar.


---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Rich simple made from Mexican piloncillo?


aka David Wondrich

There are, according to recent statistics, 147 female bartenders in the United States. In the United Kingdom the barmaid is a feature of the wayside inn, and is a young woman of intelligence and rare sagacity. --The Syracuse Standard, 1895

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Rich simple made from Mexican piloncillo?

I just made some of this the other day...it is delicious, evocative of molasses (naturally). I've only tried it with Rhum Agricole so far, but the vibe I get is pretty different from the agave syrup that I've had. Your mileage may vary, as there appears to be significant variability between brands of panela/piloncillo, at least from appearance on the shelf.


True rye and true bourbon wake delight like any great wine...dignify man as possessing a palate that responds to them and ennoble his soul as shimmering with the response.

DeVoto, The Hour

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Rich simple made from Mexican piloncillo?

I just made some of this the other day...it is delicious, evocative of molasses (naturally). I've only tried it with Rhum Agricole so far, but the vibe I get is pretty different from the agave syrup that I've had. Your mileage may vary, as there appears to be significant variability between brands of panela/piloncillo, at least from appearance on the shelf.

Yeah, sometimes it's pretty smooth. Others, I have to strain out bits of cane and dirt and ash. Still--or maybe hence--I love the stuff.


aka David Wondrich

There are, according to recent statistics, 147 female bartenders in the United States. In the United Kingdom the barmaid is a feature of the wayside inn, and is a young woman of intelligence and rare sagacity. --The Syracuse Standard, 1895

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See, this is where we differ. While there are certainly more than a few cocktail geeks, both behind the stick and not, who are treating the Old Fashioned as a "drinks family" capacious enough to contain the kinds of variations being bandied about here (and, for the record, by that I'm mostly talking about the copious splashes of liqueurs, aperitifs and such, rather than the minute variations in sugar and bitters), I think most informed tipplers still expect an Old-Fashioned to be made like an Old-Fashioned: that is, sugar, not syrup, a healthy slug of a main spirit and a couple of dashes of bitters, stirred with ice and sprayed with citrus oil (with, of course, the option of adding a half-wheel of muddled orange to the proceedings). It's fundamentally a simple drink, a self-effacing, spirit-forward refuge from the sometimes unhinged creativity one finds behind the modern bar. In other words, it's a drink, not a family of drinks.

Now, obviously, language evolves. "Cocktail" no longer means just a bittered sling. "Martini" no longer means just gin and vermouth and maybe a dash of bitters. But that's no reason to surrender "Old-Fashioned." Just because the Rommel made it through the wire, the Australians didn't give up Tobruk.

But again, there are no "Old-Fashioned police." You can call a drink what you want in this world. I guess the only reason I keep coming back to this circular argument we're having is I was just beginning to feel that I could walk into a bar, ask for a rye Old-Fashioned, and get a drink substantially congruent with that little glass that's glowing warmly in my mind's eye. I'd hate to have to go back to arguing, specifying or otherwise wrangling with this one again.

But we don't differ at all, and what you've said is the point I've been making all along. If you walk into a bar where I'm tending and ask for a Rye Old-Fashioned that's what you'll get. The only questions you'll get from me will be to ask how your day has been and then to ascertain which rye, which bitters, the level of sweetness and what citrus zest you'd like as a garnish. If you stay for a few more drinks I'll likely suggest some other cocktails in the Old-Fashioned style.

Take a look at the menu I compiled for Mim and this will back up my point - http://www.scribd.com/doc/36344694/Mim-Aberdeen-Drinks-Listing-2010 - the Old-Fashioned variation we offer in this instance is a Tombstone however it is prepared and served in a different way. ;) Now I'm not saying that is an Old-Fashioned as it's not prepared the same way but as a bartender (and guest more often than not these days) it's a drink I can recommend to someone who likes a cocktail in that style.

The only thing I will disagree with you on is that you say it's a drink and not a family of drinks. A specific drink has one recipe but when a drink is defined by something such as spirit, sugar, water and bitters then that to me is a family based on the elements you speak about;

Old-Fashioned to be made like an Old-Fashioned: that is, sugar, not syrup, a healthy slug of a main spirit and a couple of dashes of bitters, stirred with ice and sprayed with citrus oil

The other factor is that not every guest is as educated as yourself when it comes to drinks and drinks history so sometimes alternatives or twists should be offered to make drinks like the classic Old-Fashioned more accessible, or to at least open the eyes to someone who hasn't yet experienced a specific category of drinks. I can think of one close friend and guest who can't stomach whisk(e)y due to drinking too much one night as a youngster, yet he's a huge fan of Rum Old-Fashioneds with just a tear-drop of Maraschino. Does that drink really need a new name when it is prepared in exactly the same way as your Rye Old-Fashioned?


Evo-lution - Consultancy, Training and Events

Dr. Adam Elmegirab's Bitters - Bitters

The Jerry Thomas Project - Tipplings and musings

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I think most informed tipplers still expect an Old-Fashioned to be made like an Old-Fashioned: that is, sugar, not syrup, a healthy slug of a main spirit and a couple of dashes of bitters, stirred with ice and sprayed with citrus oil (with, of course, the option of adding a half-wheel of muddled orange to the proceedings).

Ok, the discussion seems to be calming down and you bring up a sugar issue. I can totally understand bartenders using simple instead of sugar, although I don't mind some crystals in the glass. But how far afield can one go with the sugar and still be true to the spirit of the name? With a few exceptions :wink: people here seem to think liqueur is out. How about sugarcane syrup? Demarara? Does today's ultra-refined white sugar taste anything like 1800s loaf sugar? I would think that flavoured simple is getting too far away, although I think it could make for some tasty drinks.


It's almost never bad to feed someone.

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My guess is Mexican Piloncillo is about as close to unrefined loaf sugar as you are going to get, though I've seen actual unrefined loaf sugar for sale in Chinese groceries.

If you're going to use sugar in an old-fashioned, I think superfine or caster is best. Though you can always run any sugar through the blender or food processor for a few seconds for finer grains.


---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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I've made one with maple syrup. I called it a maple old fashioned, not sure if everyone here would agree with the name but I'm sure you would agree that it's very tasty and a perfect fall/winter/holidays libation.

My guess is Mexican Piloncillo is about as close to unrefined loaf sugar as you are going to get, though I've seen actual unrefined loaf sugar for sale in Chinese groceries.

What did it look like? What did the label say? I'm in China and the brown sugar here looks just like the fake stuff (white sugar plus a bit of molasses) back home.

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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.

;-)

Even moreso, making this one last night:

West Indian Cocktail

1 Teaspoonful Sugar in medium-sized Tumbler.

4 Dashes Angostura.

1 Teaspoonful Lemon Juice.

1 Glass Burrough's Beefeater Gin.

1 Lump of ice.

Stir and serve in same glass.


Edited by eje (log)

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Old Fashioned #6

1.5 oz. Scarlet Ibis rum

1.0 oz. Smith & Cross rum

1 bar spoon spiced simple syrup

4 drops Whiskey Barrel aged bitters

Stir and strain into an Old Fashioned/Rocks glass. Flame an orange peel over surface of the drink, rub on the rim, dunk and discard. Tiniest splash of soda to open it up. Delicious autumnal Old Fashioned.


Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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Old Fashioned #6

That's NOT an Old Fashioned...it's a FREE MAN.

Sorry, couldn't resist. That actually sounds delicious.


Edited by KD1191 (log)

True rye and true bourbon wake delight like any great wine...dignify man as possessing a palate that responds to them and ennoble his soul as shimmering with the response.

DeVoto, The Hour

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Wow. That was kinda scary having my mouse taken over. A bit bizarre. I actually didn't name the drink, just came up with the skeletal recipe. I think my cohorts thought that a "numbered" drink sounded cool or perhaps it was the 6th attempt that finally tasted just right. Wasn't there so I don't have the answer...


Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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Trying to figure out ways to use this rosemary orange syrup I made at work, and thought it might go well with Redbreast. It does:

2 1/2 oz Redbreast Irish whiskey

1/2 oz rosemary orange syrup

3 dashes Regan's orange bitters


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Trying to figure out ways to use this rosemary orange syrup I made at work, and thought it might go well with Redbreast. It does:

2 1/2 oz Redbreast Irish whiskey

1/2 oz rosemary orange syrup

3 dashes Regan's orange bitters

That looks like it would be fun to give the Sazerac treatment to, though what the rinse would be is a little tricky.


Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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Wow.

This has been both an incredibly frustrating and utterly fascinating thread to watch for weeks now. While I personally fall into the school that defines an O.F. rather narrowly (sugar + bitters + spirit + ice + twist)... I confess! I balk at the demand for solid sugar over syrup.

Dave, you say that you expect to receive a drink made using:

"sugar, not syrup, a healthy slug of a main spirit and a couple of dashes of bitters, stirred with ice and sprayed with citrus oil (with, of course, the option of adding a half-wheel of muddled orange to the proceedings)"

The thing I don't get is this: If I make you an old-fashioned with solid sugar (granulated or what have you) thoroughly dissolved in bitters and a splash of water, then mixed with spirit, ice, twist, etc...

And then I make you an old fashioned with a syrup that (in this hypothetical world) provides an identical amount of sugar, use an identical amount of bitters, and essentially make it in exactly the same way as the first old-fashioned...

In a blind taste test you wouldn't be able to tell the difference. The only way you could tell the difference (and I'm talking about plain old simple syrup here, not gomme syrup or any other kind of mouthfeel-enhancing syrup) is if the sugar was insufficiently dissolved, (which I personally find somewhat repellent).

So why the insistence on shunning simple syrup? Is it simply to satisfy the purist demon on one's shoulder?

Furthermore, although the difference between an Old Fashioned with sugar and one with syrup is minimal, the difference between an O.F. with a muddled orange and an O.F. without is so large as to be an entirely different drink. And yet, if I understand the quote above, you think either is allowed... Orange is OK, but not simple syrup? How to reconcile these contradictions?

I speak as an enthusiastic (yet confused) fan of your work, for the record.


Pip Hanson | Marvel Bar

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Well, no one's still mixing with that poison, are they?

Just when you thought you got the High Fructose Corn Syrup out of the modern bar, they sneak another chemically created sweetener in under the radar.

While I'm at it... what's wrong with agave syrup? This is totally off my radar. All the info I find on it seems to indicate that it's natural, non-chemical - legit, in other words, depending on the brand. Wherefore the gripe?


Pip Hanson | Marvel Bar

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