Back to Basics

Since we are teaching a bitters class this week, we thought we would go back to basics and revisit the original cocktail recipe – base liquor plus sugar, water, and bitters.

The Whiskey Cocktail is the original Old Fashioned, before Don Draper ever thought of ordering the drink that now goes by that name. This cocktail is as simple as it sounds. Start with whiskey, add sugar (we prefer simple syrup because it dissolves better), add bitters, and stir with ice (the water in the equation).

In the late 1800s, it became fashionable to fill cocktail glasses with a variety of fruits, but true believers would go into a bar and ask for “one the old fashioned way,” meaning NO FRUIT, just a basic cocktail. Over time, this understanding became muddled like the hunks of cherry and orange you see at the bottom of an Old Fashioned today.

Whiskey Cocktail 3Whiskey Cocktail

  • 2 ounces of good whiskey (bourbon, rye, Irish, whatever you prefer – but not Scotch)
  • 1/2 ounce of simple syrup
  • 2 dashes of bitters – if you can find them, use Jerry Thomas bitters or Boker’s. Angostura will do in a pinch. Peychaud’s is good for variety.

Stir in a mixing glass full of ice until about 25% of the ice melts, then strain into a small rocks glass. Garnish with a piece of fresh lemon peel.

Another drink that is beautiful in its simplicity is the Champagne Cocktail, which is just about as old as the cocktail itself, but it became more popular than ever during the roaring ’20s.

Champagne Cocktail 2Champagne Cocktail

  • Put a sugar cube in a champagne flute or coupe glass
  • Soak the sugar cube with bitters – again Angostura will do fine, but be adventurous
  • Fill the glass with champagne, preferable a very dry one, but it needn’t be expensive

We do like to use an actual sugar cube  for this one because of the visual effect. As the bitters-soaked sugar cube slowly dissolves, the bittersweet combination begins to cascade up from the bottom of the glass. It’s not a crime to stir a little bit to help it along though.