Book Review: The Old-Fashioned

It’s no secret that my favorite cocktail is the old-fashioned. No matter how many cocktails I try, nothing beats the simplicity of whiskey, a little simple syrup, and some bitters. So I was excited, to say the least, when I learned a book solely focused on the old-fashioned was being published.

The Old-Fashioned: The Story of the World’s First Classic Cocktail, with Recipes & Lore was published in May by Ten Speed Press. Author, Robert Simonson, is a journalist specializing in spirits and cocktail culture and he did an amazing job on his first book.

Simonson masterfully divides the book into two sections, history and recipes. The history section is interesting and well written. As someone who has done quite a bit of reading on the old-fashioned, I still learned a great deal in this book. Over 45 great recipes fill the remaining pages and the photographs that accompany them are beautiful.


The recipes section begins with topics such as proper equipment to use, simple syrups, bitters, and garnishes. Then Simonson shares the classic recipes from bartending legends like Jerry Thomas and Harry Craddock before moving on to standard variations, rum old-fashioned and applejack old-fashioned, to name a few.

Most cocktail aficionados will really love the final section of the book, The Modern Classics. Simonson begins the section with this intro:

“These drinks, all of recent vintage, date from the headiest years of the (continuing) cocktail renaissance. Once the Old-Fashioned was reestablished as a classic cocktail worthy of adulation, it soon became regarded as a cocktail worthy of imitation–which, as we are constantly told, is a form of flattery. Some of these drinks were created as calling cards for new bars, some as advertisements for the versatility of a spirit. A few are a vehicle for a new drink-building technique, while still others are flights of fancy that somehow landed on all fours. All are delicious.”

The drinks in the modern classic section are interesting and complex. Ingredients such as Amaro Averna and Green Chartreuse make an appearance. Recipes for bitters, simple syrups, and infusions are also included. Anyone interested in peanut-infused bourbon?

Here are three of my favorite old-fashioned variations from the book:

  • Elder Fashioned (from Phil Ward at Death & Co. in Manhattan): Plymouth Gin, St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur, orange bitters, grapefruit twist
  • The Clint Eastwood (from Mike Ryan at The Violet Hour in Chicago): rye whiskey, Angostura Bitters, Green Chartreuse, demerara syrup, orange twist
  • The Bartender (from the author, Robert Simonson): Buffalo Trace Bourbon, Fernet Branca, sugar cube, Angostura Bitters, lemon twist

If you’re a fan of the old-fashioned, cocktails in general, or are into creating new variations of classic cocktails, you will love this book.