Lincoln, Nebraska is an event driven city. Year-round, dirt roads transport dusty farm families to the big city for sporting events, concerts, or graduations. Droves of thirsty Cornhuskers keep the bars and restaurants afloat, and the bars and restaurants offer employment to the students. It’s the beat of the city.
I bartended and served tables for eight years in Lincoln – in short, I put in my time. For almost a decade I learned the ins and outs of the industry that makes this city tick. I learned how to properly tap a keg, I learned about the different grapes in various wines, and I learned what it takes to make a great drink. One of my favorite drinks to make and order is the whiskey Old Fashioned.
The Old Fashioned is as refined and timeless as it is smooth and delicious. It is the sweeter cousin of the Manhattan, and much smoother I may add. It is typically made with muddled bitters and sugar, combined with alcohol and served with a fruit rind garnish in a short, round, Old Fashioned glass. You can add almost anything to whiskey and I’d drink it, but if I’m choosing what I’m boozing, it’ll most likely be a whiskey Old Fashioned. Also, pro tip for date-goers, few drink orders are manlier than the whiskey old fashioned – and even more so if you specify the whiskey. If I am doing the ordering typically I tell them Bulleit Rye, Templeton or Old Overholt Rye.
Many different ways to make a whiskey Old Fashioned exist, however I am here to tell you that most of them are wrong. I witness bartenders adding cherries or soda and overcomplicating a very simple drink. No more. In this blog I will teach you how to craft a perfect whiskey Old Fashioned, one using everyday fixings, the other highlighting more upscale ingredients. With simplicity in mind and a nod to conventional craft cocktails, here is what you will need to make you and your friends a legendary drink:
The first step is always ice. In this case, it should be deposited into a tumbler glass. You may think ice is a minor detail, but no detail can go overlooked in a legendary whiskey Old Fashioned. Standard ice will work, but if you’re going for the gold, use clear ice, not cloudy or white and the bigger the better, no shards or bits that might melt and dilute the drink. Ice molds are wonderful but if you don’t want to splurge, muffin tins work great!
Next come the bitters! The bitters go directly on the ice. A small but very important step, bitters provide a balance and aroma crucial to the drink’s profile. Angostura bitters is a must, but if you are entertaining guests, be sure to add a dash of flavored orange bitters. During the winter, add a cinnamon stick to spice up your cocktail!
The easiest way to do this is to just buy simple syrup. But of course there is a low road and a high road for everything. If you are going legendary, opt for turbinado or demerara sugar, which are dark sugars thus less processed. No matter if you have a fancy sugar or a sugar cube, the sugar MUST be dissolved. This is where syrups become convenient, but any sugar can be heated with water until it dissolves to create simple syrup. For a creative alternative, try your next batch with brown sugar!
This is a personal preference section. If you have a favorite whiskey, use it! Any whiskey can be used in an Old Fashion, but Rye goes best with the accompanying flavors. Rye whiskey is less sweet and much sharper. If you are celebrating, go for a higher end rye whiskey such as Whistlepig Straight Rye or Sazerac 18 year Rye.
Just make sure its fresh! For this drink, I usually cut an orange peel slice about the size of my thumb. You will only be using the orange peel, so go ahead and eat the rest of that delicious orange. After crafting this particular Old Fashioned, try one with a different fruit like a lemon.
Don’t over think this. Add the bitters directly to the ice, then dissolve the sugar, last add in the whiskey. Your goal is not to mask the whiskey, but to release its natural flavors to enjoy it even more. The final step is the garnish. Take your orange peel and rub the outside of it around the entire rim of the glass. If you are hoping for a promotion or celebrating an engagement, learn to flame the damn orange, it is quite simple and can impress almost any crowd.
Not too many places in town make an Old Fashioned the right way, but if you want to see one first-hand, one bar definitely stands above the rest. One of my favorite bars in all of Lincoln is Jakes Cigar Bar. If you are ever in the Lincoln or Omaha area, be sure to stop in for a thoughtfully crafted whiskey Old Fashioned.