Updated: Sep 17, 2020
When it comes to cocktails my hands-down all time favorite is an Old Fashioned. Personally I enjoy the simplicity and flavors of the beverage, along with the ease to make. If you've never had an Old Fashioned I recommend you try one; but be careful, there is a lot of inconsistency across bartenders -- I'll provide a quick guide below on what to think about before you order and how you can evaluate your bartender's old fashioned after.
Quick side-bar: Ordering an Old Fashioned is actually very similar to ordering a cheeseburger -- now before you think I'm insane hear me out. I've ordered thousands of cheeseburgers in my lifetime and what I've found is it's pretty easy to make an "average" cheeseburger that you will be happy with and enjoy over a meal. It is however, quite hard, to make an exceptional cheeseburger. If you're like me and love cheeseburgers you can probably pick out a few spots that do a much better job than others - the goal towards the end of this post is to help you do that for an Old Fashioned Too. The concept above around cheeseburgers is really similar when it comes to an Old Fashioned. Bartenders are generally able to make an Old Fashioned that is "average" and you will enjoy as a drink, but few of them take the time to master and balance the recipe to make it exceptional. Interested in this more, keep reading and the post below has a guide to how you can order a better old fashioned.
Okay, so you've got your next outdoor adventure scheduled and you want to bring stuff to make an Old Fashioned to have around the camp fire. We'll I've got you covered with the essentials that will ensure success.
Old Fashioned Essentials - Camp Edition
1. Bourbon - quite a few options you can consider, for this trip I took Michter's Small Batch.
2. Simple Syrup - I suggest you try making your own, it's really easy, but if you're not able to do that then Pratt Standard is pretty great.
3. Angostura Bitters (not shown in picture)
4. Oranges and/or cherry (cherry not shown in picture)
5. Stainless Steel Jigger - for measuring and consistency
6. Stanley Adventure Flask - this flask has a side latch that allows you to open the entire top making it easy to add orange slices and mix the drink.
7. Camp Cups - United by Blue enamel steel cups shown
8. Cutting Tools - any knife will do that can slice and peel the orange.
9. Portable Camp Light - you'll likely be making these once the sun goes down
Now that you've got everything here's the recipe that I have found I enjoy the most. Try it out, and modify it to your liking so you can consistently make a campfire classic.
Mike's Old Fashioned Recipe - Camp Edition:
Step 1: Measure 2.5oz of bourbon using Jigger -- for mine just fill to the top -- and pour into your mixing container (I use the Stanley Adventure Flask when outdoors because it opens from the side and top, making it easy to add all ingredients, clean, and act as a strainer)
Step 2: Add 0.5oz of simple syrup and 2 dashes of Angostura bitters to flask. (If you use a sugar cube, make this step 1, and use the end of a knife or other sanitary item to crush the sugar cube. I highly recommend simple syrup for a "cleaner" taste.
Step 3: Use cutting tools to thinly slice an orange and add to flask.
Step 4: Close flask and gently swirl to mix ingredients for 15-30 seconds.
Step 5: Place large ice block in camp cup and use top of flask spout to pour liquid over ice.
Step 6: Use knife to thinly peel a long section of orange. Twist and squeeze orange over the ice cube and liquid then rub the rim of the cup. Next swirl the liquid around the ice using the orange peel and drop directly in drink.
Step 7: Enjoy & expect to repeat.
Now that you've got the essentials and my camp recipe I'm going to go into a little bit more detail around some of the key decisions I make when I make an Old Fashioned, and what you can look for (or what to avoid) if you order one out at a bar.
Choice 1: Type of Whiskey
I am 100% not a whiskey snob, but do appreciate good whiskey. For an Old Fashioned I recommend you look for a bourbon and can typically find really good options in the $25-$45 range. A few of my favorites are Buffalo Trace, Michters, Eagle Rare, and Bullet. If you're into Rye, Templeton and Sazerac are also great choices. While you can make a good Old Fashioned with other Whiskey I generally stick to bourbon and don't like to use $50+ bottles that I enjoy drinking neat or with ice. When at a bar, see how the bartender interacts when you order the drink. They score points if they ask you what type of whiskey you would like and/or have recommendations. If they don't ask you, suggest one of the ones noted above so you don't get their well whiskey, unless you think that's a good fit.
Choice 2: To Muddle or Not?
I recommend you try an Old Fashioned both ways to truly figure out if you have a preference. What is Muddle? When you smash the ingredients together that makes somewhat of a pulp, such as the orange, cherry, and sugar (if using cubes vs simple syrup). If you're reading this an not sure, the easy way to think about it is how do you like your orange juice. Do you like it with pulp or pulp free? Personally I'm a pulp free kind of person and think it makes a much cleaner drink. While this is 100% personal preference, my recommendation is to not muddle. Generally at a bar they will not ask you, bartenders have a preference of how they make their drink. If you're like me and have a strong preference make sure you communicate that to the bartender.
Choice 3: Simple Syrup or Sugar Cubes
I'll keep this one simple. If you're going for the cleaner taste and look that I like go with simple syrup. If you want the muddled taste in your drink still go with simple syrup. The orange and/or cherry will give you enough muddle. Only when you're in a pinch and can't make simple syrup should you use sugar cubes.
Choice 4: Quality of Ice
If you have a choice I always recommend using high-quality ice blocks or balls that have gone through directional freezing -- post on this coming in the future, it's super easy to do at home, don't be intimidated by it. Why is ice so important? We'll the larger ice blocks and balls are slower to melt, allowing you to enjoy your beverage for longer without having an overly watery taste to the drink. If you want to take it a step further have ice that has gone through directional freezing. This creates "pure ice" that is practically 100% clear and without any impurities. Through the freezing process the impurities have been "removed" or pushed towards bad ice. Trust me, this isn't just for ascetics, although it does make a huge difference in the overall look of the drink. With the impurities removed you'll have an overall more pure and consistent taste to your drink. So what's the take-away here? If you're at a bar, avoid any of the ice cubes and if they have the option always get a singular large ice block or ball.
With these tips you should be covered for having a great Old Fashioned around a camp fire and order a more consistent drink at bars, providing you a good way to evaluate your bartender and get a drink you know you'll enjoy.
Let me know what you think in the comments below!