The Old-Fashioned is classic enough to have a glass named in its honor. Yet writing of the venerable drink’s history, Ted Haigh, aka Dr. Cocktail, proclaims that from simple origins as a whiskey cocktail of rye, bitters, sugar, water, and maybe a splash of curaçao, “it morphed into a veritable fruit cocktail with oranges, orange juice, cherries, and sometimes a piece of pineapple.”
Dr. C goes on to decree the Platonic ideal: two dashes bitters, a few drops of water, 1/2 teaspoon sugar, and a swath of orange peel (no fruit), muddled together and stirred with rye or bourbon. So I determined to find out how it was being done around the city.
At Feast, Kat Sargologos was holding forth. Sargologos is not a muddler; she built the drink in, yes, an Old-Fashioned glass using Knob Creek rye, simple syrup, and Angostura bitters, stirring it all with two ice cubes which were then removed and replaced with three pristine ones. Her most distinctive touch was to take a large swath of orange peel and vigorously whack it around the rim of the glass to release oils. Yes, Sargologos’ drink was served with a maraschino cherry, but it was one of the non-glow-in-the-dark kind. In all, a stiff drink with prominent orangey aromas at the outset and a good meltdown quality.
O-F2 was concocted by Javier ‘Javi’ Gutiérrez at The Brooklynite. Here’s how Gutiérrez did it: one cube sugar, dash of water, four dashes Angostura, all muddled. To which he added two ounces of Old Overholt rye. The drink was stirred with ice cubes that were removed to make way for four new ones, and the whole was then transferred to a new, cold glass. One more cube was added, and a large swath of orange was twisted over the glass, smacked, then dropped in — resulting in a drink that was pleasantly spicy and nicely bittered.
At Bar Du Mon Ami, Gerry Shirley happened to be behind the metaphoric mahogany. Mon Ami’s O-F was distinctly different with its blend of orange and grapefruit bitters, muddled orange peel and the possibility of some water on top (politely declined). Shirley added a large shot of Bulleit rye, stirred the mix with ice, and dropped an orange slice into the glass. Despite the muddling of the peel, this version was mellower and less orange-oily than its forebears.
At the indoor-outdoor bar of Arcade Midtown Kitchen, Holly Whisler admitted she hadn’t worked at a serious cocktail joint before, but she had apparently been trained well by bar manager Chris Ware. “I usually do this with bourbon,” she said, and we agreed on Buffalo Trace. She started with a sugar cube, a splash of club soda and a couple generous dashes of Ango. After muddling, she added ice, along with two ounces of bourbon, and a big swath of orange peel, pinched and dropped into the same glass. The club soda lightens the drink a bit, but the Buffalo Trace adds unexpected spiciness.
I finally threw in the towel at Bar 1919 where owner Don Marsh says, “I judge all bartenders on how well this particular one is made.” Christine Lux demonstrated, muddling together a half wheel of orange, a (good) cherry, and Angostura before adding two-ounces of wheated-bourbon (Larceny). An orange peel is sometimes flamed and dropped in. I liked it despite the implications of extra fruit, but why stop there? Nick Kenna, bartender at the same establishment, developed a variation on the theme with his Good Ol’ Ben (Franklin) employing Luxardo maraschino, brown sugar simple syrup and Rittenhouse rye. Sweeter, yes, and fragrant with the cherry liqueur — but still a kissin’ cousin, despite Dr. C.