The Old Fashioned is a cocktail with a lot of history. The bourbon-based cocktail started appearing in cocktail recipe books in the 1880s and was reportedly born in New York’s famed Waldorf Astoria. However, the first time this cocktail appeared, it was already considered “Old-Fashioned.” And supposedly, customers in the late 19th century would sidle up to the bar and order a cocktail “the old-fashioned way,” begging the question: how old really is the Old Fashioned? This question leaves most cocktail historians scratching their heads, but after a few sips of the boozy-forward beverage, it’s easy to see why this cocktail stood the test of time.
The first time I drank an Old Fashioned, I was coming off a Mad Men marathon, and I asked a bartender friend if she would “make me that Don Draper drink.” Luckily, she knew what I meant, and a few minutes later, I took my first few sips of an Old Fashioned. Up until this point, I wouldn’t have considered myself a cocktail man. I drank my spirits straight and scoffed at anyone who ordered anything except a dram of whiskey, neat. Thankfully, we all grow up. After enjoying an undisclosed number of Old Fashioneds, I became determined to make that Don Draper drink for myself. I went out and bought all the ingredients (sugar cubes, Angostura Aromatic Bitters, and atomic red maraschino cherries), and proceeded to make the worst Old Fashioned the world has ever tasted. Needless to say, I still drank it, and then I made another that was a little better and another. Eventually, I found a recipe I liked, and I began to develop a taste, not just for the Old Fashioned, but for cocktails.
For me, The Old Fashioned was a gateway into the world of cocktails, and so it has a special place in my heart. It’s also one of the first cocktails I started to experiment with. After a lot of trial and error, I discovered that Maple Syrup made a pretty tasty Old Fashioned, and the Easy Maple Old Fashioned was born. Since Bourbon is already pretty sweet, the complex sugars of 100% maple syrup compliment the spirit perfectly. The relatively light syrup blends far easier than a potentially gritty muddled sugar cube, and maple pairs perfectly with the notes of clove and cardamom in Angostura Aromatic Bitters. The Easy Maple Old Fashioned has a booze-forward flavor profile with a velvety texture and just a hint of maple sweetness. It’s approachable and complex, and easy enough for anyone to perfect.
Easy Maple Old Fashioned
Prep Time: 5 min
Makes: 2 servings
- 2 BAR SPOONS (TEASPOONS) OF MAPLE SYRUP
- 3 DASHES OF ANGOSTURA AROMATIC BITTERS (SEE PRO TIPS FOR POSSIBLE SUBSTITUTIONS)
- 2 DASHES OF PEYCHAUDS AND REGAN’S ORANGE BITTERS (OPTIONAL)
- 2 OZ. BOURBON OR RYE WHISKEY (LIKE MAKER’S MARK OR KOVAL)
- 1 ORANGE PEEL
- 1 MARASCHINO CHERRY (OPTIONAL)
Bitters, particularly Angostura, are hard to replace in a beverage. They are tinctures often composed of dozens, even hundreds of ingredients, and they add a certain depth of flavor to cocktails. They are relatively inexpensive, and you don’t often go through them very quickly, but if you don’t have them (or want to make them) the cocktail will still be perfectly drinkable without. Certain bitters, like Regan’s Orange bitters, can be somewhat compensated-for with an extra expression of orange (squeezing the orange peel with the outside towards the drink).
Stirred cocktails can be daunting, but the right technique is just as helpful as having more tools. If you keep the back of the spoon against the side of the glass when you add ice, it will position the spoon in a way that you can freely rotate the spoon without getting jammed up with ice cubes. A bartender will often stir with their wrist, by keeping a loose, pencil-like grip on their spoon, leaving the back of the spoon against the side of the glass. In this manner, I’ve made stirred cocktails in pint glasses, small vases, and even a pewter pitcher (that was a fun vacation).
Using a good rye whiskey is a great way to add notes of pepper, baking spices, and to up the maple factor in this cocktail. A spicy, rich spirit, rye whiskey is often underappreciated and undervalued (read cheaper) than some of the more established bourbons out there. Trust me, good rye is nothing to turn your nose up at.
- Koval Distillery makes one of my favorite rye whiskeys and some of my favorite sustainable spirits. All of their spirits are organic from grain to bottle, as well as, certified Kosher. The water they use in their spirits comes straight from Lake Michigan where it is then charcoal filtered and combined with their 100 percent organic Midwestern grains, distilled and bottled onsite at their Chicago Distillery. Even the enzymes and yeast used in the fermentation process are certified organic. Their copper pot still, was designed by some of the best minds in the industry to be as energy-efficient as possible, and Koval partners with local nonprofits like the Green Chicago Restaurant Coalition to make the food service industry as sustainable as possible. Established in the 1800s, Koval has stood the test of time because of its commitment to quality and sustainable spirits. Perhaps that’s why they’re a key component of the perfect Old Fashioned.