History: It’s ironic that a cocktail called the old-fashioned never, ever goes out of style. That’s the sort of thinking in which one might indulge while also indulging in a couple of libations, along with considering that the hazy status of so many cocktail origin stories likely is not unrelated to the subject matter. To wit, by the mid-nineteenth century there existed an entire category of cocktails known as “old-fashioneds” in contrast to the more complex concoctions that recently had come into vogue. But the private Pendennis Club in Louisville, Kentucky, has a solid claim on this essential icon by virtue of a barman there codifying the recipe around 1889 in honor of member James E. Pepper, a prominent bourbon distiller and racehorse breeder who spread the old-fashioned gospel on trips to New York City’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel.
Now this deceptively unpretentious, eternally gratifying cocktail belongs to the world, though no sober appreciation extends to corruptions that border on fruit salad—the whole idea is for the short list of other ingredients to subtly complement your favorite bourbon. “An old-fashioned is what you want to sip prior to what’s going to be a long, lovely dinner gathering,” says Ti Martin, owner of Commander’s Palace and contributor to the Museum of the American Cocktail. “It’s the official drink of that special moment.”
Mixologist Tip: Even if you run out of rocks glasses (aka old-fashioned glasses), select a similarly squat one with a tapered interior so that the muddler can best perform its job.
Variations: It may sound like heresy, but bourbon can be swapped out for brandy, rum, or tequila.