I love an Old Fashioned for its simplicity. It's probably the easiest cocktail to make at home, and you can choose your favourite whiskey and play around with the sugar balance (or change the sugar source completely) until you find an Old-Fashioned that's just right for you.
Jeffrey Morgenthaler's, The Bar Book (see more below) outlines the history of the Old Fashioned (in the section on making sugar syrups):
Jerry Thomas's The Bar Tenders Guide (1862) was the first book of drink recipes ever published in the United States. The recipe for a whiskey cocktail is 3 or 4 dashes of gum syrup, 2 dashes of bitters, 1 wine glass of whiskey, and a piece of lemon peel - fine ice, shake and strain into a fancy red wine glass. It's the same drink we typically think of as an old-fashioned today. It is believed that once the word cocktail took hold, all drinks became known as cocktails (as they still are), and old-timers looking for that original formula might ask the bartender for a cocktail "in the old fashion".
A modern-day Old Fashioned is generally made with bourbon or rye, though I've had quite a few with brandy or Scotch. As Jeffrey Morgenthaler states, "we'll make an old-fashioned cocktail with a base spirit and then match the sweetener to the base". This might mean maple syrup with a Canadian whiskey, or agave simple syrup with tequila.
The following gifts are ideal for Old Fashioned Lovers whether they want to learn more about the cocktail (and get some inspiration and guidance on playing around with the flavour profile, or get the right tools and alcohol for making a perfect Old Fashioned at home.
Gifts For Old Fashioned Lovers
Books For Old Fashioned Lovers
I'm not a huge fan of most cocktail books as they tend to involve way too much effort to make a drink and require rare and expensive ingredients I'll probably only use once. This is one of the reasons why I love making Old Fashioned cocktails - they're dead simple, and you can easily find the ingredients at any price point. The following books are some of my favourites because they're educational and practical, and the drinks are not overly complicated.
I kept seeing The Bar Book by Jeffrey Morgenthaler, recommended by bartenders as the quintessential guide to bartending and cocktail making, so I finally got a copy of my own, which did not disappoint. The Bar Book is not only full of recipes but also breaks down all the essential techniques necessary for a good cocktail and the history and rationale for different methods and tools. The Bar Book is the bartenders' how-to handbook and would be a welcome addition to any cocktail enthusiast's home. An Old Fashion fan will love The Bar Book, not least because there are four Old Fashioned recipe variations but also because it'll tell you why (and how) you should pair your sweetener with your base spirit.
The Bar Book's recipes specify generic spirits - e.g. 'Canadian Whiskey' or 'Bourbon Whiskey' which makes it super easy to follow along, as you can use whatever whisky, whiskey, bourbon or rye you've got to hand (which definitely appeals to the part of me that hates buying a specialist item just for one cocktail). But sometimes I want to know what the experts recommend; what's their favourite whiskey to use in an Old Fashioned (or Manhattan or Sazerac)? This is one of the reasons I loved Last Call by Brad Thomas Parsons:
The Last Call is another book I kept seeing recommended by bartenders (Instagram mixology fangirl here). Last Call is a series of interviews with the guys and gals who make fantastic drinks for a living and asks what their last drink on earth would be. There is a touch of memento mori in this book which sets it apart from most cocktail books and makes for an endearing read. The answers are refreshingly and often surprisingly simple - there are two different Manhattan variations, two Sazerac and 2 Old Fashioned (one Brandy, one Rye). This book sent me down a rabbit hole of researching flavour profiles of the recommended ingredients ('cause these bartenders know precisely what liquor they want in their cocktail, and not all of them are readily available outside the USA). I've got bookmarks on half a dozen now-favourite cocktails (though the Featured Cocktails index is super handy).
Who knew Agnostura wasn't the only bitters out there?! Bitters are a vital ingredient in an Old Fashioned, which is why your Old Fashioned Lover should love this book. This is another fantastic book by Brad Thomas Parsons (see Last Call above). Half of Bitters details the history and importance of bitters in balancing cocktails and how to make bitters (and syrups) at home - a worthy experiment for any DIY mixologist. The other half is chock full of some beautifully photographed cocktail recipes. Bitters is a great companion to the Bar Book or a stand-alone guide to what was initially considered an essential component in any cocktail - bitters. There's also a chapter on how to stock a bar, with a list of the author's favourite spirits - an excellent and affordable list! - some of his suggestions are below in Booze for Old Fashioned Lovers).
Cocktail Kits + Accessories For Old Fashioned Lovers
An Old Fashioned doesn't require too many accessories - however, there's a good chance that your gift recipient will like them anyway 🙂
An Old Fashioned glass is the first requirement. We own a set of 4 Marquis Waterford Old Fashioned glasses - Roddy was the main reason behind this - while not an Old Fashioned fan, he loves this style of tumbler for having a quiet dram or two, ideally near an open fire, comfy couch, etc etc. I love them as they're exactly what I need them for - finishing off an Old Fashioned (or Sazerac).
We own this exact set and love them. They're very well-made, solid pieces of glassware that sit nicely in hand, and the cut glass design makes them look rather fancy too. Old Fashioned tumblers are versatile as they're perfect for sipping whisky or doubling as water glasses.
Long handled bartender spoons make life so much easier when mixing cocktails and a strainer is a must. I have a set similar to this and I use it all the time. Sadly mine didn't come with a neat little rack to keeps things tidy and presentable.
Stirred cocktails, like the Old Fashioned, are almost always prepared in a glass. Jeffrey Morgenthaler (The Bar Book) reckons it's because "when properly stirred, a cocktail looks appealing to the guest, dancing around in the glass with an occasional flash of silver or gold". The Yarai seamless mixing glass (500ml) is "one of the most found in craft cocktail bars". This gift set includes a set of stainless steel Koriko® Weighted Shaking Tins, a Koriko® Hawthorne Strainer, a 30-33.5cm stainless steel bar spoon, and a stainless steel 1oz/2oz (30ml/60ml) jigger with internal markings of ½oz (15ml), ¾oz (22ml), and 1½ oz (45ml) markings on the inside. The Yarai seamless mixing glass is also available separately. All items are dishwasher safe.
These large ice cube moulds (square and sphere set) really take your Old Fashioned presentation up a notch for that professional cocktail look at home. I prefer the cubes in my Old Fashioned, but science says spheres melt slower as their surface area is smaller than a cube. Still, I tend to drink my Old Fashioned before it has much chance to risk over-dilution from either shape. I'll leave it up to you to decide which form you prefer. Silicone Ice Cube and Sphere moulds are easy to clean, and the silicone's flexibility makes it easy to pop out the ice once frozen (unlike fighting with my plastic ice cube trays).
Booze For Old Fashioned Lovers
The key traditional ingredients in an Old Fashioned are Whiskey (Rye or Bourbon, though I've also had with Scotch), Sugar syrup, Bitters and an orange or lemon twist (I prefer ruby grapefruit, and I also prefer a rye Old Fashioned). Briana Volk (of the Portland Hunt + Alpine Club - see Last Call above) prefers her Old Fashioned with Old Grand-Dad Bonded Rye.
My favourite rye is made in my home town of Melbourne, Australia (but is available at select stores internationally, and they ship to the USA). The Gospel Straight Rye is purpose distilled/matured for making Old Fashioneds (and Sazeracs) though it is equally tasty neat, or with their Solera Rye Whiskey. If you're in Australia or the USA The Gospel's selection of high quality whisky-based spirits (including whisky bitters) and whisky-cocktail companions, is superb (i.e. sweet vermouth and Amaro for Boulevardiers). The Gospel Straight Rye is available in the UK/EU via the Whisky Exchange.
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The Gospel Straight Rye Whiskey is "a full-flavoured, rich in spice, deep and complex whiskey that reveals more of itself as you sip. It has a medium body and intensity, perfectly balancing the rye spice and vanilla oak influence." The Gospel are one of my favourite distilleries and this would be a welcome addition to the liquor cabinet of an Old Fashioned Lover. The Gospel also make a fabulous pre-made Old Fashioned cocktail, and sell Old Fashioned Kits (Straight Rye, Whiskey Bitters and Sugar Blend)
Brad Thomas Parsons recommends the following Bourbons and Ryes in Bitters:
A close companion of the Old Fashioned cocktail is the Sazerac - fundamentally the same recipe but with the addition of Absinthe. Most recipes call for you to swirl the Absinthe in the glass and then dump it, but I find this a waste of good Absinthe and leave it. There's a good chance an Old Fashioned Lover will also love a good Sazerac. Brad Thomas Parsons recommends the following Absinthe and Absinthe alternatives (and Jeffrey Morgenthaler recommends using an atomiser to spritz the Absinthe and coat the glass without all the wastage):
Scotland Whisky Maps and Photographic Prints
Whisky Gifts, Wall Art and Man Cave Decor. Made By Whisky Lovers For Whisky Lovers