Time Travel in a Glass: A Short History of the Old Fashioned Cocktail

Old Fashioned history

Whether you’re looking for a sophisticated cocktail to enjoy before dinner or a relaxing drink to sip after a long day, the Old Fashioned is the perfect choice for its classy yet familiar flavor. 

If you were ever curious about the history of this iconic drink, its name might give you a clue on just how quintessential it is. Ready your notes, here’s a short history of the Old Fashioned cocktail.

But First, What is an Old Fashioned?

The Old Fashioned is a simple but notable harmony of four basic flavors. Whiskey (bourbon) provides a robust and complex base. Sugar is then added—typically as a sugar cube or simple syrup—to add sweetness. Bitters serve as the aromatic backbone of the Old Fashioned, with its notes of citrus, spices, and herbs. Finally, there is a citrus twist to brighten up and add some freshness to the drink. 

This simple yet elegant recipe has stood the test of time, captivating cocktail enthusiasts for generations. 

The Founding Father of Drinks

There’s a reason it’s called an Old Fashioned. It dates back as early as 1806. Yep, some 200 years ago. According to historians, the term “cocktail” was first written down in the early 1800s by the upstate New York newspaper called The Balance and Columbian Repository. They defined a cocktail as a drink made from alcoholic spirits, sugar, water, and bitters – exactly what today’s Old Fashioned consists of.

It was also reportedly called “The Whiskey Cocktail” at its inception. Since there were so few cocktail recipes in the depository back then, its name later evolved to become the “Old Fashioned” in light of all the new ways that whiskey could be added to a cocktail.

Old Fashion, New Heights

A common consensus regarding the creation of the Old Fashioned is that it was introduced by a bartender and bourbon connoisseur, James E. Pepper. Pepper reportedly made the drink at the Pendennis Club in Louisville in the late 1800s, before bringing it to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel bar in New York where it soared to new heights.

Indeed, the Old Fashioned has been around for hundreds of years and continues to stand as a drink favored by pop culture and cocktail enthusiasts. 

As we raise a glass to this classic cocktail, we embark on a journey through time, transported to a bygone era of sophistication. The Old Fashioned, with its rich history and timeless appeal, is more than just a drink; it’s a symbol of how simplicity and a captivating taste can travel through time.

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