Dale DeGroff is the godfather of the modern craft cocktail movement. He set the stage for it in 2002 when he published his seminal book, The Craft of the Cocktail, which should be required reading for every home bartender. In a recent article in New York Magazine By Rob Patronite and Robin Raisfeld, DeGroff is asked what is the most underrated cocktail. He goes on to tell the authors that it’s the muddled version of the Old Fashioned. We don’t know if it’s the most underrated, but it certainly is high on that list.
The craft crowd pooh-poohs the muddled Old-Fashioned, but you know, on Thanksgiving my family took a piece of orange, a cherry, extra bitters, muddled the hell out of it with a sugar cube. My mother even made us put a little of that awful juice from the cherry jar in hers and they were delicious.Dale DeGroff
The Old Fashioned is at once a classic, simple, and easy to make drink and at the same time a confusing cocktail that comes in many varieties. It’s just whiskey, sugar, bitters and fruit, after all. But then it gets confusing. Bourbon or Rye? Sugar cube or Simple Syrup? Add the fruit as a garnish or muddle it? Add soda or not – yes, many bars add club soda to the drink . . . yuck. And, of course, there’s a question about the quantity of each (see our preferences in our recipe here).
We like it with muddled fruit. While it seems intimidating (see our tutorial on muddling here), it adds just a few seconds to the preparation of the drink. You put in the sugar cube or simple syrup, then use a muddler or the back of a big spoon to squeeze everything together. Just a few quick presses do the trick. Add the whiskey and bitters and, voila, you have a perfect Old Fashioned. One that the king of cocktails would approve of.
August 17, 2020 at 4:44 pm
Good to see the muddled old fashioned getting some respect. I’ve always felt that the non-muddled version could hardly be called a cocktail – adding nothing but sugar and bitters hardly makes a cocktail, only reason to do that is if you have terrible whisky. Which is probably why it was invented.
August 17, 2020 at 6:33 pm
Well Glenn, I think you should do a little old fashioned book learnin' and you'd find out that the addition of sugar, water, and bitters is exactly what originally composed a cocktail. And it didn't originally apply just to whiskey, but to any spirit.
Now like you, I have no problem with the muddled fruit version either, but it's certainly not the old fashioned cocktail originally referred to in the late 1800s.
And to take this a step further in the development of the mixed drink, I would assert that many of the drinks served up as Old Fashioneds today stray so far from the original concept that they can hardly be called old fashioned. I'm sure many of them are tasty drinks, however their composition is clearly modern in the drinks evolution.
August 17, 2020 at 6:57 pm
Michael, I wasn't questioning what was the original. I just think the original is a pretty lousy excuse for a cocktail, even if it is the first cocktail. It may have been done because a lot of the whisky then was terrible. Why anyone would want to do that today to good whisky, just because that's how it was done historically to make crap whisky palatable, is beyond me. To me, a cocktail should contain ingredients that add additional flavors to the drink, not just sweeten it. At least muddling fruit does that. If some people like to drink sweet whisky, that's fine; I don't. And I find it ironic that self-appointed cocktail experts, who usually criticize cocktails that are too sweet, fawn over sweetened whisky, but for some reason think that adding a little bit of natural orange and cherry flavor (well, if using natural cherries) is to be looked down on. Kudos to Dale DeGroff for bucking that trend.
August 18, 2020 at 3:45 pm
Thanx for the clarification. I was responding to the statement that "[it] could hardly be called a cocktail- adding nothing but sugar and bitters hardly makes a cocktail". All too often in the discussion of this subject, I find people seem to substitute their opinion for facts. That is all I was trying to point out.
And, personally, I've never been able to make sense of the idea that the cocktail was created as a method of making "terrible" spirits palatable. I know you hear that all the time, but it makes about as much sense as to say that that's the reason someone first put butter on bread or salt, pepper, and cheese in an omelet. The spirits, bread, and eggs were certainly not always terrible. These creations were naturally born of the curious and inventive spirit of the human animal. At some point in history, someone looked at these things and said "What more can we make from this?"
With regard to the types of drinks you seem to prefer, traditional mixology had a name for them… fancy cocktails, and improved cocktails. I would argue that, in terms of traditional mixology, most Old Fashioneds served today probably fall into these categories.
I'm in complete agreement with you regarding the perplexing inconsistencies of some of the "experts". And, in my opinion, this applies not only to armchair experts, but some of the opinion proffered as fact by some of those generally considered experts in the established drinks community. I'll tell you, it just about made me crazy reading one of the highly lauded recent books on the subject that was so rife with pretzeled logic and self contradiction, that it would be hard for any well studied student of this craft to take it seriously. I have always theorized that those types of opinion are due, in part, to a cursory study of the early work in this field, combined with the projection of modern assumptions, rather than attempting to understand the developments in their own time.
That quote by DeGroff has been making the rounds lately, and I had already seen it. I chuckled. Back a few years ago I wrote a specialty menu called "Old Fashioned What?" for a mixed-drink lounge that, regrettably, I've never opened. In the preamble, I discuss the rift between the OG Old Fashioned and the muddled fruit version, espousing the virtues of the latter. The menu then offers three (OFs) comprising different base spirits two ways… Garbage In, Garbage Out, as a nod to David Embury's encapsulation of this same cultural battle in the mid 1900s. When I read that quote by DeGroff, if I didn't want to have a drink with him before, I do now!
August 18, 2020 at 10:42 pm
Hi Michael. I didn't realize I'd actually written ""[it] could hardly be called a cocktail", but it seems I did. I can understand your reply now. I guess I mis-stated my point a bit, since obviously it can be called a cocktail since it was the original cocktail. I was trying to give my personal opinion but I wrote it as if it were a (mis) statement of fact. Regarding the adding of sugar and bitters to make low quality liquor palatable, I have to admit some doubts crept into my mind as I was writing that as to whether that really is the reason for this or whether it's just something repeated over and over without a basis in fact. I assume quality control wasn't always what it is now, so it seems quite plausible, but plausible doesn't necessarily mean true. And just to clarify, when I wrote about "experts" I was referring to ones who write and have audiences, not just armchair "experts". It crossed my mind that my statement could have been taken as a jab at you, labeling you an armchair expert; that was not how it was meant. Anyway, it sounds like we're in agreement on a lot of this. Good chatting with you. And if you ever get a chance to have a cocktail with DeGroff let me know! 🙂