Old is New Again…

The Old Fashioned is New Again. For over 200 Years a fan favourite

The Pendennis Club, a gentlemen’s club founded in 1881 in Louisville, Kentucky, claims the old-fashioned cocktail was invented there. The recipe was said to have been invented by a bartender at that club in honor of Colonel James E. Pepper, a prominent bourbon distiller, who brought it to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel bar in New York City.[7] Cocktail critic David Wonderich finds this origin story unlikely, however, as the first mention in print of “old fashioned cocktails” was in the Chicago Daily Tribune in February 1880, before the Pendennis Club was opened; this in addition to the fact that the old fashioned was simply a re-packaging of a drink that had long existed.[2][8] (WIKIPEDIA)

My personal attachment to the Old Fashioned suprisingly goes back to a Chinese restaurant in Kingston, Ontario. Many decades ago, when I was a university student in Kingston, Ontario I used to frequent a Chinese restaurant just down from my home for Peking duck, the house specialty. The restaurant was tiny. It had six booths and a four stool bar. There were intricate oriental designs on the peeling wallpaper and huge mural on the back wall of a Chinese temple with an archway that led to the kitchen through swinging saloon doors. The owner was a wizened Chinese man who was a third generation Canadian and still in the family business his grandfather has started sixty years before. From the conversations we had he enjoyed travelling whenever he could and had postcards taped to the bar he had sent himself. He ran the little bar and seated people as well. He was always dressed immaculately in a black, striped waistcoat with a starched white shirt. A university student was the server and in the back could be heard the rattling of the kitchen staff. At this restaurant, they had the traditional Chinese restaurant placemat which was a compilation of different cocktails no one in the 80’s dare order. One of these cocktails, was an Old Fashioned. On one of my bi-weekly evening suppers I ordered one.

I stepped up to the bar to watch the creation. The barkeep grabbed two sugar cubes and placed them in a tall mixing glass. Then he took a small clear glass bottle full of a a brown liquid and added five or six good dashes of the liquid to the sugar. He had a wooden muddler worn from years of use and proceeded to muddle the sugar and liquid (it was bitters). He set the slurry aside. Selecting an orange from several in a bowl on the bar he pared off a thin rind of the peel. He rubbed the peel between his fingers. Then he lit the rind on fire with a lighter and blew it out immediately. As it was smoking he grabbed a whiskey glass and held it upside down letting the smoke waft into it. He rubbed the peel on the edges of the glass inside. He dropped the rind in the glass. To the mixing glass he added two great shots of Crown Royal and some ice cubes from a round ice bucket. He stirred the concoction and then strained it into the smoke-infused whiskey glass. He added a few cubes of ice and finished it with an orange slice garnish, speared together with a maraschino cherry.

I sat back down at my booth and waited for the server to bring it over. It was love at first sip. Spicy from the whiskey and sweet from the sugar with the bitters somehow fusing the different components. The smokiness was subtle but added a different level to the sipping. Now all these years later the Old Fashioned is popular again. There are dozens if not hundreds of variations but at it’s simplest form it is sugar, bitters, whiskey, and a hint of orange essence. If you have the opportunity, give one a try. Drink, enjoy. Live your best life.

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