• Matt Ellingson

Old Fashioned Elites

I woke up the morning after I published Episode 5 of The Liquid Home to a message from an old friend.


"That is not an Old Fashioned."

I have to admit I chuckled immediately but I was more than happy to engage in the conversation. Let me first say that this is a person who I have the most immense respect for and have considered a mentor for many years. He knows more about spirits than I probably ever will. I was ready to be schooled. I've actually been wanting a little healthy debate for people to challenge my way of thinking!


"That is a "Fancy" cocktail. OF's are booze, water, bitters. If you use any modified sweetener (Orgeat, Triple, etc.) then it is a fancy. Old Fashioned= Booze Sugar Bitters Water THAT'S IT. It is Old Fashioned"


"I disagree. Fancy would be a liqueur modifier in my mind. Orgeat syrup and triple are two different categories of ingredient and have very different effect."


"OK Matt, that is a hard line. Every FLAVORED syrup will have a DIFFERENT effect. If there is alcohol in the syrup or not. Those syrups are called cordials. ABV or 0 ABV it is FLAVOR and SUGAR, or fancy. You are smart enough to think this through. It really is surprising to me that you would make this statement."

Now at this point I asked him to slow down a little bit. Not because I'm sensitive but I hadn't even had a second sip of coffee yet. I went on to ask about the 'flavor' addition and the contention that changing a syrup would make it a 'fancy'. What is the line to draw between simple syrup, demerara syrup, or non alcoholic syrups like orgeat or fallernum? I also asked him to send me articles, documentation, and facts to definitively prove where the 'Old Fashioned' was invented and what recipe was documented.

He sent me a couple of articles from mutually loved sources that further compounded the mystery of what we were debating. They both claimed definitions as well as contradicted definitions. They said certain flavors were unacceptable while others were. Cinnamon Syrup was fine but Fallernum wasn't? And apparently it is totally okay to fat wash a bourbon with bacon but not add a flavored syrup? Okay, I'll make a fallernum syrup infused Bourbon, will that be allowed?

The thing about the craft cocktail community is that we're so busy trying to be right and authentic that sometimes we forget to be curious and adventurous. David Wondrich pretty much taught us all that the history and facts of cocktails is much of the time a mystery. Thank god we have him and some others doing the work to dig up this amazing history when possible.

But when it comes to the Old Fashioned there are numerous thoughts as to its invention and its lineage. I really don't have an interest in debating the community on any of these fronts but what I really care about is just helping the everyday drinker to understand a little more about the drinks they love. And more importantly, simplify how to think about drinks to empower them to make them in their own homes!

And while the Pendennis Club, KY lays claim to one legend of its creation, and others stress the Old Fashioned is purely a classic 'cocktail' by the original definition, the fact is that too many people are drinking and being served bad fruit cocktail soda topped versions of a simple drink. How did that happen? I don't believe that end result stems from one bar or club's recipe traveling so far and being so misunderstood. And I don't believe it is as simple as people just adding stuff to it over time. The Manhattan seems to have survived pretty intact! I believe the telephone game of bad information and confusion of ingredients led to the 1980's version of an Old Fashioned and that telephone game very likely really took hold after prohibition and the dark ages of the American cocktail.

But ultimately it really doesn't matter! What's fun for me is to empower someone at home, with minimal ingredients and modifiers, who loves an Old Fashioned to take the basic spec and experiment. And while I personally revel in going down the rabbit hole into ever geekier conversation with my friends and peers behind the bar, it is shall I say, not very entertaining to watch.

Old Fashioned Spec

2 oz. Spirit

½ oz. Sweet Syrup

3-4 dashes of Bitters

Build in a rocks or Old Fashioned glass, add ice, give it a half stir, and garnish with a citrus peel to brighten it up. Or put a candy cane in there as a garnish if you want. Switch out the spirit, change up the bitters, and experiment with different syrups. Just enjoy it!

To paraphrase the end of the conversation...


"I don't understand why this so difficult for you to understand. OLD Fashioned... Booze+sugar+bitters=Old Fashioned"


"No that's a 'cocktail'.




"I just disagree with the lines on what sweetener you see as acceptable. Once a liqueur or or cordial with abv is introduced then it enters improved/fancy territory. I don't draw a line between simple and orgeat."


"OK, whatever"


If we can't have a productive conversation about a stupid drink, how are going to fix our bigger problems?

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