It seems the Sazerac and Old Fashioned are the Gamera and Godzilla, respectively, of the cocktail Monster Island, locking horns in a duel for supremacy while Godzuki, the lowly Manhattan, looks on (although it’s on my go to list). There is lively debate about which came first and who reigns as the oldest and classic American cocktail, but, for me, the Old Fashioned is going to come out on top every time. And the best I’ve ever had? Well, my Grandma Lola’s still tops that list.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Hers is definitely a West Coast/Menlo Park/1948 version, not at all like the bare bones 1800’s original consisting of just sugar, bitters and whiskey. A few in the current OC craft cocktail set look down on the fruit salad version, thinking it gauche and not deserving of respect, all the while creating a Dungeons and Dragons version of cocktailery that may or may not have ever existed. My bartender buddy Josh said it best “You can’t tell me that some hipster kid with tight pants and a bad haircut really enjoys drinking a Negroni”. Well put, and I’ll leave that for posterity to decide.
What made Lola’s so good? Her secret was simmering orange slices in simple syrup and storing them in a jar in the fridge to use as garnishes. She would use the citrus-infused syrup as the base for her cocktails, muddling bitters with a nice lemon twist.
A note on muddlers. I still have her teak muddler from the 1950’s and only bust it out for special occasions. It’s the perfect size and has a nice patina on the muddling end from thousands of beverages. I don’t know when muddlers started looking like bondage and discipline sex toys, but it’s silly. I think a muddler should be made of wood and seasoned, from use much like a cast iron skillet. Pass on the disco version of the muddler and grab a traditional wooden one. It was good enough for Lola and damn well good enough for me.
And what whiskey to use? Ancient Age was her favorite, but that was in the days before readily available good booze and those (like her) that suffered through the Great Depression were dearth to spend too much money on hooch. I like using Woodford Reserve or Maker’s Mark; they both stand up well to the bitters and citrus. A good rye, Irish whiskey or even brandy works as well; mellow bourbon like Basil Hayden’s probably wouldn’t do so great here and would be blasphemy anyway. Lola did hers like a press as well, using half Seven Up and half soda water to cut the bourbon. For bitters? Angostura is plenty fine, you really don’t need to get esoteric on this one.
So here’s hers. I like starting out with a 10oz tumbler for this one. You’ll need:
2oz spirit of your choice
1 nice, thick lemon twist
3 dashes of bitters
1tsp Orange simple syrup
Splash Seven Up
Splash soda water
Muddle lemon twist, orange simple syrup and bitters. Add ice, whiskey and top with soda water/Seven Up. Quick stir or one shake and garnish with candied orange slice and a maraschino cherry. Best part of the cocktail (besides the booze) is the candied orange slice, which is edible, rind and all.
Well Lola, here’s to ya, wherever you are. I hope you are looking down with a smile. You are gone but not forgotten and I’ll keep making Old Fashioneds your way and hoist them in your name.