Thoughts from our Resident Mixologist: Brown, Bitter, and Stirred

This post is brought to you by our close friend and Resident Mixologist, Evan Wilson.

“Brown, Bitter, and Stirred

It’s a pithy, clichéd response to a barman’s inquiry, and it’s also the blunt instructions for most cocktails; in particular, the Old Fashioned.  Due in part to the success of “Mad Men,” this reliable tipple is making a resurgence.  Unfortunately, when one orders Don’s go-to, the result is quite often bastardized, bowdlerized, or manhandled.  The Old Fashioned is a dignified drink dating back to the later decades of the nineteenth century and should be shown the respect it deserves.

The traditional base spirit of the Old Fashioned is American Whiskey.  While the prominence of rye is seemingly cyclical, be grateful that we are currently enjoying a rye renaissance.

The small, sugar-crusted bottle in the back of your parents’ liquor cabinet and non-existent at too many drinking establishments marked, “Angostura,” is not your enemy.  Several dashes add depth, complexity, and a je ne sais quoi of Christmas spice.  You may not necessary notice the addition of bitters to your cocktail, but you will surely notice its absence.

I love James Bond.  I. LOVE. JAMES. BOND.  But, while he’s adept at espionage, marksmanship, and martial arts, he’s occasionally a cocktail dunce.  Not all cocktails need to be “shaken, not stirred” (I hope that phrase is trademarked/there aren’t any IP lawyers in the audience…).  In fact, it is deleterious to shake most cocktails. In general, if it doesn’t have viscous juices, syrups, shrubs, or eggs (yes, eggs) it should be stirred. Stirring a cocktail allows for easier and more accurate management of dilution and chills without creating ice-floes (Ice melts and water is an important and oft overlooked ingredient).  Mouthfeel– it may be a pretentious, made-up word, but damn, it’s important.

**PSA, DC area bars, especially if you persist on shaking every drink and calling it a Martini, please learn what “double-strain” means.


1.5-2 oz Rye (Rittenhouse 100 is arguably the best option considering its price-point)
2-3 dashes Angostura Bitters (Orange Bitters may be substituted or exchanged for 1 dash of the Angostura)
1 Sugar Cube

Barspoon of Water
Maraschino Cherry (if it’s fluorescent, place on top of a child’s sundae or disregard)
Orange Slice

Preparing an Old Fashioned

  1. Fill an Old Fashioned Glass  with ice
  2. In a mixing glass, add Sugar Cube (Some will debate that an Old Fashioned is best built in an Old Fashioned Glass.  It is a discussion best held over several rounds.  There will be no losers.)
  3. Saturate Sugar Cube with Angostura Bitters

(Optional: add Maraschino Cherry and Orange Slice)

  1. Muddle (if the Sugar Cube is resisting, add a barspoon of water)
  2. Add Whiskey
  3. Fill with ice (about 2/3 capacity)
  4. Stir
  5. Continue Stirring.
  6. Empty the Old Fashioned Glass of ice and any melted water
  7. Strain and Pour Old Fashioned into freshly frosty glass
  8. Enjoy
  9. If sipping slowly, add one large piece of ice

THE Old Fashioned is a specific cocktail; however, it is also a class of drinks.  Muddle sugar and bitters + base spirit of choice = “base spirit of choice” Old Fashioned (e.g., Rum Old Fashioned, Brandy Old Fashioned, et cetera).  Now that the nights are starting to get longer and colder, I am beginning to fancy two particular variations:

Rum Old Fashioned: This is an incredibly accessible drink and a very good introduce to rum/cocktails for the neophyte.
1.5-2 Rum (Zaya or Zacapa 23)
2-3 Dashes Angostura Bitters
1 Sugar Cube

Fernet (Brancha) Old Fashioned: Love it or hate it.  I love it.
1.5-2 Fernet Brancha (A minty, herbaceous Italian amaro/bitter liquor)
2-3 Dashes Angostura Bitters (Yes, I’m suggesting add more bitters to an Amaro)
1 Sugar Cube
I do not consider this variation sessionable, but it is a fine nightcap.

For more on the Old Fashioned, avail yourself to the rest of the internet.  A very quick highlight: