One of the most fundamental mixology books, The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks by David A. Embury, mentions the Old-Fashioned cocktail as one of the six basic drinks one must know how to prepare. While it is uncertain when the cocktail was created and who created it, the most popular story is that a bartender invented it in 1881 at a gentleman’s club from Louisville, Kentucky. The bartender, who worked at the Pendennis Club, reportedly created this cocktail to honor Colonel James E. Pepper, a renowned bourbon distiller. This is why the original recipe for the Old-Fashion is usually considered to contain Bourbon whiskey as its main ingredient.
The official recipe for the Old-Fashioned cocktail, as presented by the International Bartenders Association, requires ingredients such as bourbon or rye whiskey, bitters, sugar, water and citrus rind. The preparation requires the use of a muddler, which is an essential tool for any bartender who wants to create complex and fruity cocktails. Furthermore, this drink had a glass named after it, so it is generally the perfect environment to prepare it in.
Thus, the Old-Fashioned cocktail is prepared by putting one sugar cube in the glass and saturating it with bitter; you can add a dash of plain water here if you like, then using the above-mentioned tool you muddle the contents until the sugar dissolves. Now the glass can be filled with ice cubes, over which the whiskey is poured. To complete the drink, you can garnish it with a slice of orange and a cocktail cherry. Sometimes, bartenders who wish to prepare the cocktail faster and better replace the muddling with a syrup that they prepare previously, mixing water and sugar. This simple syrup, as they call it, reduces the chances that the sugar wasn’t well dissolved in the drink and thus the chances of spoiling a drinker’s last sip of the cocktail.
There are also popular versions of the Old-Fashioned cocktail that use brandy instead of whiskey, and even gin in certain parts of the United States. Others prefer to change their recipe by adding soda water instead of simple water, to add fizz and texture to the cocktail. Like with many drinks from that time, the Old-Fashion lost some of its popularity subsequently, but that seems to have changed lately, especially since it features as the favorite drink of main character Don Draper from the famous television series Mad Men.