It’s a drink that causes the most aggravation amongst the bartending trade. Many bartenders are judged on the quality of their Old Fashioned, many bartenders hate making the drink because they feel they are bound by a law that states “Never accept an Old Fashioned that has taken less than eight minutes to make,” and therefore never have any time whatsoever to make one (the best example of this is a bartender whom is bound to that “law” and still orders three at once from another bartender that has had the eight minute rule implanted in their brains since forever.) Some bartenders add soda or 7up to their version. Some bartenders include fruit in their muddling process.
All these things are contentious, but it’s the “Eight Minute” rule that I’m particularly interested in. Where did it come from? Why eight minutes? Is it justified? Where’s my cat gone?
To start, I’ll share with you the very first method I was taught to make an Old Fashioned.
- 50ml Bourbon
- 1 Sugar Cube
- 2-4 Dashes of Angostura Bitters
- Few splashes of water
- Orange zest
Prepare the sugar cube on a napkin, soak it with the bitters and drop into a glass (minus the napkin, obviously) add an orange zest to the glass and add a few drops of water then muddle everything together until you create a paste. Add some ice cubes and pour in 2ml of bourbon and stir until the ice has f**ked off. Repeat process until all bourbon is used. Add ice to glass and garnish with an orange zest. Prep Time: 12 mins.
12 minutes is a long time to wait for any drink, and to be honest this is how I thought Old Fashioneds were made for a good two years, all because I was taught it and I subsequently taught others that method.
Do I feel bad? Do I feel like I’m part of the process? Yes. Yes I do, but hey, I’m what’s wrong with this industry, so is it any surprise?
There are hundreds upon hundreds of websites that all talk about the Old Fashioned. A lot of them all mention that the original probably/definitely used brandy or genever. A lot of them all talk about the “proper” ways to make an Old Fashioned and why everyone else is naught but a peasant for making them to non specific templates.
Let’s get started on the journey to find out why people are taking longer to stir a drink than they take having sex.
There’s numerous websites and “experts” on the topic of the Old Fashioned. Old Fashioned 101 is solely dedicated to informing you how to make the “perfect Old Fashioned” and besides being the normal “YOU MUSTN’T DO THIS OR IT ISN’T AN OLD FASHIONED” there’s no mention of the eight minute rule. In fact the site mentions stirring the drink as a “tip” and not as a method. How can this be? It’s common knowledge that an Old Fashioned needs to be slowly stirred and the whiskey be diluted as slowly as possible to allow the flavours to bond and aromatise… right?
I went looking around on the Difford’s Guide (this is a Mecca for Bartenders and if anyone disagrees then they are wrong wrong wrong) and their explanation for an Old Fashioned suggests some stirring but there is no mention of a slow process that requires all of your attention for the next ten minutes.
The next place to go to from the Difford’s Guide could arguably be the IBA (International Bartenders Association) but unfortunately at the time of writing this, their website is being revamped so technically there is no official say on what the IBA classify as a classic Old Fashioned, On Wikipedia you will find what is supposedly the IBA’s official recipe and even here you will not find a mention of the drink having to be stirred for more than five minutes. Scour the Wikipedia page if you want, there’s nothing there.
It’s all starting to look a bit fishy. It’s all starting to smack of the same myth that “Bourbon has to be from Kentucky” or “Scotch Whisky has to be from Scotland” (it’s a joke…’kin hell) but nonetheless we carry on.
I did find an article that mentions a prep time of 5-8 minutes, it’s for the Julian Van Winkle Old Fashioned but even with the large prep time, none of it is dedicated to the importance of stirring and diluting for a large period of time.
There’s a numerous list of websites that list an Old Fashioned cocktail recipe: Singapore Bartenders , Bartender HQ, The Guardian, The Kitchn, About Food, the list goes on and I could name all of them but it’s the same story: there’s no mention of having to stir the drink for a small lifetime.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, “There must be something out there?” I did find one website that suggests a larger than normal stirring time: OhGo mentions pouring in one shot and stirring, and then adding another shot after this and continuing to stir.
Let’s be truthful to ourselves though, one website post doesn’t shape the existence of bartending methods and arguably a method that is practiced throughout the entirety of the UK.
If we approach the angle that it’s for dilution and it helps the flavours progress and mature (which I’m all for, knock yourselves out) then the aspect of your Old Fashioned being served straight up with no ice needs to be brought up. If you’ve achieved perfect dilution in your drink, then you are not going to want to pour it over some more ice (even big f**k off ice balls melt eventually) and to add to this factor: who wants a drink that’s at its peak in the first 20 seconds? People who drink really really fast? It’s just not enough to justify the Eight minute rule.
If we look at it in contrast to the way a Martini is made: a martini is notoriously a drink that requires stirring (unless you shake your martinis, which you’re entitled to do) and every recipe that calls for stirring a martini requires them to be stirred for a set period of time or until a specific result is achieved: Esquire, FoodNetwork, Difford’s, About.com. The list and the story goes on: the stirring is a specifically mentioned attribute. This isn’t something that I’ve come across when researching the Old Fashioned (The only uniformed thing that everyone agrees on is that you should NEVER shake an Old Fashioned.)
I’ve had to read A LOT of articles and posts about the Old Fashioned, and absolutely everyone has their own favourite variation of the drink and absolutely everyone will think that someone else is wrong.
You know what I’ve gathered? There is absolutely no reason for it to take you up to ten minutes to make an Old Fashioned and it has derived from a rumour that one bartender has created and it’s been passed on in a whimsical game of knowledge whispers.
So, where’s it come from? Where has the rule that Old Fashioneds must be stirred for eight minutes or there about, come from? The logical explanation is that it most certainly is a myth that has done the rounds in the same vain as Bourbon from Kentucky and it’s being taken as gospel by bartenders who don’t know any better who get taught it by other bartenders like me who also didn’t know any better.
I care about the craft just as much as the next man. I care about the cocktails I produce. I like to put thought into them, but sometimes urban myths just get out of control and they affect the way a person works.
People are going to disagree with me and it’s their right as a person. I respect any and all disagreements. I don’t want to upset anyone. If you feel I have raised issues here that you believe to be abhorrent and insulting to you, then please do click here and I’ll try to answer your questions thoughtfully.
NEXT TIME: Is it possible to “bruise” tomato juice? *Edit* It is possible to bruise tomato juice.
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