Is it easy to make? Check. Do I already have the ingredients? Probably. Does it taste good? Check!
The ol’ old fashioned is probably the easiest cocktail in the world. Just put some sugar in a cup, add a few dashes of bitters, swirl it around with some ice, then add some alcohol. Some places add citrus and get nuts with muddling, but don’t be mistaken; the old fashioned is meant to be a liquor-forward drink that’ll put a little hair on your chest (that said, an orange zest is a nice touch).
All trimmings aside, the real decision when making an old fashioned is what alcohol to use. You can use anything (seriously, just about anything goes), but most people start with whatever whiskey is in their cabinet. Narrow it down even further and you most often have an old-fashioned battle between bourbon and rye.
BvsB 1 is a doozy – a taste-off between Buffalo Trace, a smooth as a smooth barrel bourbon favorite, and Rittenhouse Rye, a 100-proof bar favorite for this very drink.
To help, I had my wife, Emily, who likes a stiff old fashioned, but makes pouty faces when I pull out bottles that aren’t Bulleit. We were half-watching a football game (I’m pretty sure she was 100% playing Candy Crush) when she said, “It’s a real shame I don’t have a drink in my hand.”
Yeesh. So demanding.
2 oz whiskey
1/4 oz simple syrup
3 dashes Angostura bitters
1 big ice cube
Notes: Build this one in a rocks glass. Add the sugar and bitters first, then stir a bit, then add the ice cube, then the whiskey. Give it a little stir if you like a colder drink, or sip slowly and taste the transition from cool to cold. Add an orange peel if you’re compelled, although don’t feel obligated.
Emily’s first sip was of Buffalo Trace, and her Bulleit sense immediately went off.
“Agh, it hit me right in the nose,” she puckered. “It’s sweet, but harsh.”
Then she tried the Rittenhouse. “Ok, this is milder. It tastes a little weird, but it’s not as harsh. Is there less alcohol in this?” (Answer: “lol, sure!”)
After tasting both again, she decided the Rittenhouse was way better. “The other one tastes kind of like a punch in the throat. Neither is as good as Bulleit, but the one on the right (Rittenhouse) is definitely better.”
My sips went a little different, possibly because the drinks were a bit colder and more diluted after sitting a few minutes (but probably because I wasn’t protesting the lack of Bulleit). To me, the Buffalo Trace old fashioned tastes like something you’d want to give someone who says they don’t like bourbon. It’s sweet and smooth, but still gives you a little of that alcohol burn in the back of the tongue. It might be a bit better though with less simple syrup. And bitters. And ice. You should probably just drink your Buffalo Trace neat while stroking your beard.
In the other corner, the Rittenhouse was more the old fashioned flavor I was looking for. The rye balances the sweet of the simple syrup, and it has this entire tongue numbing effect I really admire (probably because it’s 100 proof) – but it still goes down without any of that high alcohol funk. I don’t know if Rittenhouse Rye neat would be any good, but in an old fashioned, it’s brown stuff gold.
In a unanimous decision, the Rittenhouse old fashioned was the winner. It’s got enough rye to make it interesting, but enough sweetness to be easy to drink. And it’s 100 proof, which can only mean good things.
“It’s still not as good as Bulleit though,” Emily protested. We’ll save that battle for another night.