Classic Cocktails ~ No. 8

No. 8 ~ Whiskey Cocktail, Old Fashioned

• The First “Cocktail”
• Old School Recipe
• Newer Old Fashioned

Here’s another grand, old school cocktail. Indeed, it is probably the original mixed drink to go by the name cocktail. In 1806 a newspaper editor defined a cock tail as:

a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters it is vulgarly called a bittered sling, and is supposed to be an excellent electioneering potion inasmuch as it renders the heart stout and bold, at the same time that it fuddles the head. It is said also, to be of great use to a democratic candidate: because, a person having swallowed a glass of it, is ready to swallow any thing else.

Source: The Balance, and Columbian Repository, Hudson, NY, v5,n19

Despite the political cynicism, this first definition of a cocktail embodies the Old Fashioned Whiskey Cocktail and many similar mixed drinks, which used a different liquor. It does not explain the origin of the word cock tail, though. My made up explanation is that the fruit garnish was threaded onto a skewer and looked something like a rooster’s tail. If it were originally spelled cock tale, I might think it referred to political rhetoric.

In a modern bar, asking for an Old Fashioned will likely get you one mixed with bourbon. But back in the day you would specify the type of spirit, for example, “I’ll have a whiskey cocktail, old fashioned.” The Whiskey Old Fashioned embodies all of the flavor components typical of a great cocktail: sweet, sour, bitter, alcohol. See Classic Cocktails ~ No. 9 for more on the subject of wholeness.

Mixologist Robert Hess says that the first whiskey cocktails used lemon, not orange, and had no candied cherries. They certainly had no soda water either. In that spirit, here’s a recipe for a very early whiskey cocktail.

Old School Whiskey Old Fashioned

  • 1 teas. raw sugar
  • 2 dashes bitters
  • 2 slices of lemon
  • 2 ounces whiskey: bourbon or rye


In a tumbler, combine the sugar, bitters, and one slice of lemon. Break down the lemon with a muddler or the back of a sturdy spoon until the fruit is bruised and the sugar is dissolved into the juice and the bitters. Add your whiskey. Bring up the volume with pure ice water. Garnish with a lemon slice.

Newfangled Old Fashioned

Modernistas like things sweeter, more colorful, and easier, but we still have to have the bitters in there. This version is less muddy since we substitute orange liqueur for muddled orange and all the fruit goes in at the end. Although purists say that soda water isn’t authentic, it does lend some zing. Whether or not you use soda water, there still has to be some water incorporated into the drink, either from melting ice during the shaking or by straight addition.

  • 1 tbl. triple sec (Grand Marnier or Cointreau)
  • 2 dashes bitters
  • 2 ounces whiskey: bourbon or rye
  • splash of soda water
  • 1 slice of orange
  • 1 maraschino cherry


In a shaker, over ice, combine the triple sec, bitters, and whiskey. Shake firmly. Pour while straining into a tumbler over more ice, bring up with soda water, and garnish with a slice of orange and the cherry.

With election day less than six weeks away, may I suggest a Whiskey Cocktail, Old Fashioned? It may be just what you’ll need to swallow the grandstanding, stump-stomping, whistle-stopping, banner-waving  hysteria. They can’t buy one for you anymore. Nope, you’ll have to make it yourself. TPJ


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. tinkyweisblat
    Sep 24, 2010 @ 08:08:46

    This was my grandfather’s favorite drink! He always made it with maple syrup since my grandmother grew up in Vermont and there was always a big jug in the house.


  2. Frontier Psychiatrist
    Sep 25, 2010 @ 16:11:46

    This is my go-to drink. I like tinky’s suggestion of maple syrup. Gotta try that.


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