Old Fashioned Week 2019

30 Oct. 2019
Make it Cuban!

Fiction is not real, they say. Do no mistake what you see on the screen and the world out there. And yet, as far as drinks are concerned, what happens on the screen really, really matters. When prohibition ended, cult movie The Thin Man reacquainted Americans with the joys of the Martini,  the Manhattan and the Bronx. James Bond, of course, is responsible for a memorable formula that bartenders all over the world have come to hate with a passion. And where would the Old Fashioned be without Don Draper? Where indeed?

From November the 1st to the 10th, the Old Fashioned Week will hit the international bar scene. The event was initially launched from Paris in 2015. That was precisely the year the last season of Mad Men was broadcasted. Its main, hard-drinking character Don Draper loved cocktails in general and the Old Fashioned in particular. Prior to the show’s premiere in 2007, the Old Fashioned was, well, plainly old fashioned. It just took a few episodes for drinkers of all descriptions (cocktail lovers or not) to rush to the nearest bar and order an Old Fashioned to check for themselves what was all the fuss about…

The Old Fashioned first appeared in print in the United States in 1888. Many legends have been written about its lineage, but the actual story is very prosaic. Once upon a time, the word ‘cocktail’ was not an umbrella for all manners of mixed drinks: it was just one family of mixed drinks. If you ordered a cocktail, you expected the spirit of your choice, some sugar, a few drops of bitters and dilution (initially with plain water, later with ice). A simple drink for a simple life. But as bartenders got fancy, they added fancy liqueurs, used fancy glasses and fancy garnishes. Some old-timers were decidedly not impressed: they came to order a cocktail mixed “the old-fashioned way”. The name stuck.

Don Draper’s Old Fashioned was of course made with American whiskey — as befits a New York drinker in the 50’s. And, as Floridita’s Alejandro Bolivar would tell you, in Cuba the Old Fashioned was initially introduced as a rye drink. Indeed, a quick look at the Cantineros’ various manuals from the 20’s and the 30’s proves it. After all, most of their clients at the time were from the United States and this was a very American drink. Still, the cantineros made sure that, even with whiskey, the Old Fashioned became distinctly Cuban: we know it will sound sacrilegious to most, but they lightly shook the drink with lime peel, strained it over fresh ice and garnished it with mint and pineapple — and, you know, it’s friggin’ delicious.

As the novelty of the Old Fashioned started to wear off, though, many bartenders looked more closely into the drink’s origins. And they realized that you could legitimately make one with any spirit. In the good old days, what Americans customers would ask them made with would depend on were they were — they would almost invariably pick the local spirit. In New York, it might have meant ‘Holland gin’ (genever). In New Orleans, cognac. In Maryland, rye. In Boston, it was rum — there was an important rum industry in New England, based on molasses bought in… Cuba.

And so today, you see Old Fashioned based on mezcal or cognac or scotch. Or rum — and if you ask us our opinion, that’s really what you should mix or oder for Old Fashioned Week. At its core, the Old Fashioned is basically a ‘seasoned’ spirit. If you ‘just’ add ‘salt and pepper’ (sugar and bitters, in cocktail parlance) to a spirit, you’d better use a spirit of first rate quality. Havana Club 7 fits the bill: it’s a perfectly modern formula and yet it’s absolutely respectful of the drink’s heritage. Whether you stick to the traditional recipe (50 ml Havana Club 7, a couple of teaspoons of sugar, two dashes of bitters and orange peel) or play it creative (our friend Rudi De Vos from Cape Town’s House of Machines suggest using muscavado agave syrup instead of sugar), you really can’t go wrong.

For more info on the Old Fashioned Week: https://old-fashioned-week.com