Charles Browne, in his 1939 Gun Club Drink Book, proposes that earliest known American use of the word “cocktail” was in 1806 to describe a drink made with “a little water, a little sugar, a lot of liquor and a couple of splashes of bitters.’’ There is a similar recipe in Jerry Thomas’ 1862 How to Mix Drinks, or the Bon Vivant’s Companion called a whiskey cocktail. Cocktail historian David Wondrich points out that the Old Fashioned, a drink now questionably credited to a barkeep at the Pendennis Club in Louisville, Kentucky at the turn of the 20th century, is clearly a direct descendant of that first cocktail.  In fact, the name itself may point to that ancestry.

An Old Fashioned is a simple combination of peppery rye whiskey or a smooth, silky bourbon with sugar, water and Angostura bitters.  The sugar traditionally is muddled with the bitters in the bottom of a rocks glass, but some modern mixers find that the sugar doesn’t dissolve completely in muddling, leaving a gritty texture. They prefer to make a simple syrup by mixing two parts granulated sugar with one part water in a saucepan over medium high heat and stirring until the sugar is thoroughly melted.  And gin is sometimes substituted to create a gin OldFashioned.

1 scant teaspoon simple syrup

2 dashes Angostura bitters, plus more to taste

1 half dollar sized slice orange peel, including pith

2 ounces good quality rye or bourbon

1 Luxardo cherry for garnish                                                                                                                             


1.   In a rocks glass, combine the simple syrup and bitters.  Fill the glass halfway with ice, then stir about a dozen times.  Squeeze orange peel over the glass to extract oils, add peel to glass, then add whiskey.  Stir just until drink is cold and alcoholic bite has softened, about a dozen times.  Garnish with a cherry, a swizzle stick and a straw.

adapted from epicurious.com

ANGOSTURA BITTERS, one of the world’s most popular bitters brands, is essential to classic cocktails like the Old Fashioned and the Manhattan.  The original recipe, created in 1824, is held a close secret by the company.  Only five living people are allowed to know the ingredients at a time, and they must agree to never fly together lest, in a worst-case scenario, the recipe could be lost.

The recipe is not the only mystery surrounding this product.  Why is the label much too large for the bottle?  It extends past the neck of the bottle and, with use or packaging, bunches at the top.  The answer does not require airplane tickets.  When Dr. Johann Siegert, the creator of Angostura, died in 1870, the business passed to his three sons, Carlos, Luis and Alfredo, who moved it from Venezuela to Trinadad and Tobago.  Until then, the bitters were known primarily as a medical treatment for sea sickness.  The brothers decided to rebrand the product to encourage broader applications and entered a local competition to expand the brand’s recognition.  In a rush to meet the competition’s deadline, each brother took responsibility for an aspect of the work.  One was assigned to design the bottle, another to create the label.  They failed to discuss sizing, with the predictable result.  The label was too big for the bottle.  But it was too late to turn back.

They lost the competition, but received some interesting advice from one of the judges, who told them to keep their questionable packaging which would stand out on a shelf because “no one else would make this mistake.”

adapted from vinepair.com

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