Lesson Two: Recipes

Chapter Eight: Old, Short and (Mostly) on the Rocks, aka The Old-Fashioned

Supporting Cast:
Champagne Cocktail


The Old-Fashioned used to be somebody. In the world of drinks, it was the guy next door, the one who keeps his house painted and sweeps up the leaves and takes the neighborhood kids to the baseball game. Steady, reliable, a tad dull, perhaps, but no creampuff and no pushover. A veteran.

You used to be able to walk into any bar & grill anywhere in the country and be able to expect that they’d fit one of these together for you with a minimum of fuss and a maximum of competence. After all, there’s nothing simpler. You just muddle up a sugar cube with a couple dashes of bitters, pour in a slug of whiskey, slide in a clutch of ice cubes and stir, stir, stir. Lemon peel and you’re done. Easy. So easy, in fact, that you could make one while bouncing around the sky in a small plane. That, anyway, is what Jim Backus contends in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, when he asks his temporary copilot Mickey Rooney to mix them up a round. Rooney, naturally, is skeptical: “Old-Fashioneds? Do you think you oughta drink while you’re flying?” Backus’s response is a classic: “Well, stop kidding, will ya, and make us some drinks! . . . It’s the only way to fly!”

That movie came out in 1963, at about the end of the Old-Fashioned’s century and a half of popularity. The O.-F. began its career right after the Revolutionary War, when it was known simply as the Whiskey Cock-Tail. A simple mixture of whiskey, bitters, sugar and water, it gained ice and lemon peel in the 1830s and a whole bunch of fancy stuff shortly after that. When drinkers got tired of the fancy stuff and went back to the basics, it picked up that “Old-Fashioned” monicker; that was in the 1890s.

It didn’t take long for things to start slipping—the 1910s saw the introduction of a gratuitous fruit garnish, which Prohibition saw muddled into the drink, with results not unlike dressing that solid neighbor in a pink gingham apron. Order an Old-Fashioned nowadays and you’re likely to get not only the fruit paste and too much sugar, but the whole thing drowned in club soda to boot. There is hope, though—the Old-Fashioned has become something of a hipster’s drink lately, and say what you will about hipsters, they do pay attention to the details.

1 sugar cube or 1/2 teaspoon loose sugar
2 dashes Angostura bitters
2 ounces straight rye  or bourbon whiskey
Lemon peel

Muddle (that is, crush with a grinding motion using a wooden muddler) the sugar with 1 teaspoon of water—for God’s sake, no more—and the Angostura bitters in a heavy-bottomed Old Fashioned class until the sugar dissolves. Add the whiskey  and stir briefly; add 2 or 3 ice cubes and stir some more; squeeze a large swatch of thin-cut lemon peel over the top and drop it in. This drink is always best if you let it sit for a minute or two before sipping it.

Substitutions: For the sugar, turbinado or other raw sugar, or rich simple syrup (this saves stirring, but that’s not necessarily a good thing with this drink); for the whiskey, cognac or other brandy, tequila, gin (see below), applejack, or just about any other liquor up to and including plain old vodka (see below also). For the bitters, any other kind of bitters; for the lemon twist, a twist of orange peel.


This New Orleans take on the original Whiskey Cock-Tail is one of the things that makes the Crescent City the temple to happy hedonism that it is. The “special ritual” by which it’s mixed is nothing more than a fossilized version of bartenders’ standard operating procedure for making a cocktail, circa 1870, with the addition of an extra bit of fanciness; the bitters and the absinthe substitute with which it’s made are New Orleans’ own brands, which can be difficult to get elsewhere. If necessary, Angostura bitters and Pernod will still make for a lovely drink, if not a strictly according-to-Hoyle Sazerac.

1 sugar cube
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
2 1/2 ounces straight rye whiskey
1 teaspoon absinthe or absinthe substitute (in New Orleans, they use Herbsaint; Versinthe, Absente, or Pernod will work fine too)
To finish: lemon peel

Put an Old-Fashioned glass in the freezer. In another one, muddle the sugar cube with the bitters and 1 teaspoon water. Add several small ice cubes and the whiskey. Stir well. Remove the chilled glass from the freezer; pour in the absinthe, swirl it around to coat the sides, and spill the excess out. Strain the chilled drink into this glass, twist lemon peel over the top, and then smile.

Champagne Cocktail

Perhaps not a truly great drink, but elegant through and through. Born in pre–Civil War America, the Champagne Cocktail was for whatever reason something of a late bloomer. I suspect its wattage was too low to appeal strongly to the professional tipplers of the Gilded Age. In any case, it really hit its stride in the 1920s, at the Ritz Bar in Paris, where the crack corps of bardogs shot them out at the assembled press of Hollywood luminaries, Wall Street sharks, and other Prohibition-dodgers like so many machine-gun bullets.

1 sugar cube
3 dashes Angostura bitters
Chilled brut champagne
To finish: lemon peel

Put the sugar in a champagne flute and hit it with the bitters. Fill with champagne and twist lemon peel over the top.


As essential to Brazilian life as oxygen, soccer, and teensy thongs, the Caipirinha has spread to the rest of the world, carried in the shapely hands of the runway models Brazil turns out in such profusion. Cachaça, its motivating spirit, is a raw, funky kind of rum that requires just the sort of taming this drink delivers.

1/2 lime
1 teaspoon sugar (raw sugar works best)
2 ounces cachaça

Cut the lime crosswise into two slices and then cut the slices into 8 wedges each. Muddle the lime pieces and sugar in an Old Fashioned glass, add cachaça and ice, and stir.


Ryan Demonstrates How To Make a Caipirinha.

Cut half of lime into quarters put into mixing glass
Add 2 spoon fulls of granulated sugar
Muddle well
2 oz of Cachaca
Add ice and shake
Pour all contents into rocks glass

Champagne Cocktail

Ryan Demonstrates How To Make a Champagne Cocktail.

Champagne Cocktail
Soak 1 sugar cube with Angostura Bitters
Put soaked sugar cube into wine glass
Slowly pour champagne into glass


Ryan Demonstrates How To Make a Sazerac.

Put 2-3 dashes of absinthe into a rocks glass, swirl around
to coat the inside of the glass then set aside
In mixing glass add;
1 sugar cube
3-4 dashes of Peychauds Bitters
Splash of club soda
2 oz Rye Whiskey
Add Ice and stir well
Strain into rocks glass
Garnish with lemon zest

Old Old Fashioned

Ryan Demonstrates How To Make an Old Old Fashioned.

Old Old Fashioned
In mixing glass add;
1 sugar cube
splash of club soda
muddle thoroughly
add 4-5 dashes of Agnostura bitters
2 oz Rye Whiskey
Add ice and stir thoroughly
Strain into pre-chilled rocks glass (without the rocks)
Garnish with Orange zest

Reproduced from “Killer Cocktails” by David Wondrich.