Considered the original cocktail, the Old-Fashioned is made of whiskey, sugar, bitters and ice. Kimball, the founder of Milk Street, a multimedia food conglomerate, has been perfecting his recipe for the drink for years. “It’s one of those cocktails where it can be great, but boy, if you don’t pay attention, it’s not.”
While there are plenty of variations on the Old-Fashioned, it’s almost always stirred. Not only does Kimball like to shake his Old-Fashioned, but he uses both rye and bourbon as its base spirit, rather than choosing just one type of whiskey.
Now that Kimball’s found his perfect Old-Fashioned, he’s not deviating from his recipe. “I riff on a lot of things in the kitchen, but you have to have something in your life that is relatively unchanging,” he says. “I finally figured out how I like it. I don’t want to mess with it.”
Here’s how Kimball fixes his Old-Fashioned.
A few years ago, a bartender at restaurant Luce, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, shared his secret for his delicious Old-Fashioned. “He told me that he mixed rye with bourbon,” reveals Kimball. For him, the spiciness of the rye balances out the sweetness of the bourbon.
He usually reaches for classic Kentucky bourbons, such as Willett or Buffalo Trace, and enjoys High West Double Rye, a blend of two different rye whiskies that packs a spicy punch.
With the large amount of rye spice in the cocktail, “it’s really important to have enough sweetness,” says Kimball. He likes using a dark brown sugar cube rather than simple syrup, for both the additional flavor and because he enjoys having to muddle. “It gives me something to do,” Kimball confesses. “It makes me feel like I’m making a drink.”
Some Old-Fashioned recipes involve adding an orange slice and a cherry along with the sugar cube. Kimball wants no part of that and prefers the classic preparation. “This is not fruit cocktail.”
Kimball likes switching up the bitters he uses in his Old-Fashioned. He usually uses both Angostura and orange bitters, but plays around with flavors like cardamom and chocolate when he’s feeling adventurous. Though, Kimball jokes, “if the variety of spice in my life is which dash of bitters I use, I guess I’m pretty much done.”
Now, we have to address the elephant in the room. So why in the hell does Kimball like to shake his Old-Fashioned? “I don’t want to wait for it to get cold,” he remarks, “because it’s not going to be there ten minutes later.” Sipping a cocktail isn’t in Kimball’s playbook, so the temperature and dilution must be right on the first sip. He favors using a so-called Boston shaker, made up of a stainless steel mixing tin and a pint glass.
As for the jigger, “I don’t like the ones where you have to fill it to the top to get the measurement,” Kimball explains. So to reduce the risk of spilling whiskey, he uses Oxo’s angled measuring jigger.
His choice of glass for an Old-Fashioned proves to be a deeply personal one. Kimball prefers a cut-crystal double Old-Fashioned glass. “I really like crystal, because I like the weight of it,” he says, “and at the end of the day, it just makes it more pleasant.”
However, his wife, Melissa Baldino, opts for a smaller, flared tumbler. She also prefers one large ice cube and very little sugar, if any. “She always says it’s too sweet, so I finally just put no sugar in it,” Kimball laughs.
The finishing touch to his Old-Fashioned are two brandied Griottines cherries. He drops them into the glass first, so they’re at the bottom of the cocktail. “Not that you need a reason to drink the entire drink,” Kimball clarifies, but they’re the last little treat at the end, like the prize in the Cracker Jack box.
- 1.5 oz Rye
- 1 oz Bourbon
- 1 Dark brown or Demerara sugar cube
- 1 dash Angostura Bitters
- 1 dash Bitters of your choice (orange, cardamom, chocolate, etc.)
- splash Water
- Glass: Double Old-Fashioned
- Garnish: 2 Griottines cherries
In a shaker muddle the sugar cube with the bitters and a small splash of water. Add the whiskies and fill with ice. Shake, and strain into a double Old-Fashioned glass filled with fresh ice. Garnish with two Griottines cherries.
In our new monthly column, House Drink, we talk to people about their favorite cocktails to make for themselves at home.
Illustrations by Olivia McGiff