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Editor's note: Robert O. Simonson is the author of "The Old Fashioned" and he writes about cocktails, spirits and bar culture for The New York Times as well as GQ, Wine Enthusiast, Wine Advocate, Imbibe, Edible Manhattan and Edible Brooklyn, and Time Out New York.
The thing to keep in mind about the Old-Fashioned - and the reason this drink keeps people fascinated, satisfied and frequently argumentative - is that it’s not just a great cocktail but that it’s also the cocktail. That is, it follows to the letter the blueprint for a category of drink - spirit, bitters, water, sugar - that was established more than two centuries ago.
That recipe structure, while as sturdy as steel, also happens to be endlessly welcoming of interpretation, embracing spirits well beyond the de rigueur whiskey. In fact, for a short period of time in the late-19th-century and early 20th century, a number of old cocktail books treated the Old-Fashioned not as a single drink, but as a branch of cocktails. (Gin Old-Fashioned, Brandy Old-Fashioned, etc.)
Today’s mixologists approach the drink with much the same mix of reverence and imagination, perfecting their ultimate expression of the classic drink with one hand, while messing around with the model with the other. The profit of this twin-minded attitude is that many of today’s cocktail menus include a classic Old-Fashioned for the purists and, for the curious, an in-house version that switches out the base spirit, the sweetener, the bitters and sometimes all three.
So, it you ever find yourself growing tired of the same old Bourbon or Rye Old-Fashioned (why this would happen, we can’t fathom), there are options. Try giving one of these differently spiritous iterations a spin.
5 Old-Fashioned variations for every spirit: Robert O. Simonson
Ray Isle (@islewine on Twitter) is Food & Wine's executive wine editor. We trust his every cork pop and decant – and the man can sniff out a bargain to boot. Take it away, Ray.
An appealingly cynical English friend in the wine business once told me, “You see, what you do is that when your child is born, you purchase a case of vintage port from that year. Then, when the child finally graduates from college, you send them on their way, and you drink it.”
Exactly. All this business about putting wine away until your kid is able to appreciate it is just bunk; the person who really deserves a good bottle post-graduation is the parent. After all, it costs somewhere on the order of $241,000 to raise a kid, and that isn’t even counting college—don’t you think you deserve a bottle of something nice after all that?
Here are some splurge-worthy suggestions from some of the world’s great wine regions. They’re a little pricey, but on the bright side, you could buy more than 5,000 bottles of any one of them for what you just paid to raise your newly minted graduate.