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When winter arrives and the nights get frosty, that’s when we collectively mark the transition from gin season to whiskey season (or is that just us?). If there are better ways to unwind after a day at work and a cold walk to the front door than an old fashioned, they can’t be many. Something about the combination of smokey, well-aged bourbon, and a zesty punch of orange peel is downright good for the soul. Before you rush to dumping house whiskey in a glass with a splash of tap water, remember who this drink is for. If we were making you a drink, you better believe we’d make it as great as we possibly could. Don’t shortchange yourself when you make your own. That means learning how to make an orange twist for a garnish, ladies and gentlemen.
Everyone has their own taste, so we’ll leave the bourbon selection to you. There are a few basic tools and ingredients you’ll need to mix a killer old fashioned, though, so give these items a try and feel free to thank us when it’s the best damn old fashioned you’ve ever made.
Mofado rocks glasses
The first thing you’re going to need in your quest for the perfect old fashioned is a pair of Mofado rocks glasses. This design falls just this side of no-frills, with just enough subtle character to make them interesting. Sure, you can get all kinds of fancy glasses, but we like to focus on what’s inside. These 12-ounce rocks glasses are the traditional size and shape, characterized by a short barrel, wide mouth, and heavy base. These are made from crystal rather than glass, which makes each one weigh in at more than a pound. Lead-free crystal is also remarkably clear and bright. That brings out the colors in your old fashioned, making it as enjoyable to look at as it is to sip. When you want to make the switch to sipping Scotch neat, this is the perfect glass for that, too. [Buy]
Fee Brothers bitters
A great old fashioned requires great bitters, like this blend from Fee Brothers. This company has been crafting mixers in Rochester, New York since 1863. Apparently, the Civil War inspired people to drink more. Who would have guessed? This bitters recipe uses a careful blend of spices, citrus oils, and Angostura bark to create a recognizable flavor that brings out the best in your whiskey of choice. Although it’s our go-to for an old fashioned, this option is also great in other cocktails–especially the Manhattan. A dash or two is all it takes, so this five-ounce bottle should last you a while. Many mixers are non-alcoholic, but this contains 17.5-percent alcohol. At the volumes you’ll be using, though, the only difference you’ll notice is the exceptional flavor. [Buy]
Pratt Standard simple syrup
You can make your own simple syrup, but what not leave it to the professionals at Pratt Standard? Premixed simple syrup eliminates the chance of messing up your ratios, using the wrong kind of sugar, overcooking your syrup, or making a mess when you try to bottle it. This extra-thick simple syrup packs a flavorful punch. You won’t find any high-fructose corn syrup, artificial flavoring, or stabilizers here. Pratt Standard uses only high-quality demerara sugar that provides the taste and texture that’s defined craft cocktails for generations. We recommend using half as much as you normally would. One 16-ounce bottle makes about 40 drinks, so you’ll definitely get your money’s worth. When you feel like branching out, try some of their flavored simple syrups in your other cocktails. [Buy]
Brotec whiskey stones
Take your old fashioned game to the next level with a set of Brotec whiskey stones. The old fashioned is meant to be served on ice. If you’re like us, that’s a problem because enjoying a cocktail shouldn’t be a race to finish it before the ice waters it down. Keep your drinks cold and classy by having a set of these in your freezer for special occasions or an after-work splash of whiskey. The set includes six stones cut and ground into thick discs. Since they’re a natural product, each is one-of-a-kind. Offer them to guests in a wooden display tray with a cutout for each stone. Brotec even includes a pair of coasters to protect your furniture. These stones are dishwasher-safe, but we’ve also had good results by soaking them in clean water. [Buy]
Triangle channel knife
For the pièce de résistance, use this Triangle channel knife to garnish your old fashioned with an orange twist. Sure, you could let the bitters handle the citrus notes. You could also slice a piece of orange peel for some extra flavor, but a twist is a great way to add serious pop to your cocktails and give your guests first-class treatment. The circular cutting blade makes quick work of orange peels (or lemon peels, for that summertime gin and tonic). Just cut a long strip, wrap it around your finger, and give it a little squeeze to create a tight spiral that puts your old fashioned’s presentation over the top. The zester comes in handy when you want to mix other drinks or add some fresh zest to your favorite baking recipe. Never underestimate the ability of a sub-$15 tool to make your cocktails look like a million bucks. [Buy]
Types of barware
You’ll need to outfit your home bar with two types of barware: things to make cocktails with, and things to drink them from. A few basic tools can set you up nicely to make most types of alcoholic drinks. Channel knives can be used to cut orange and lemon twists, and they often include a zester. If you don’t want to water your drinks down with melting ice, toss a few whiskey stones in the freezer for melt-free chilling. It’s easy to go crazy with mixers, but bitters and simple syrup are a great start. Both are widely used, inexpensive, and don’t take up a bunch of space in your liquor cabinet. Of course, you’ll also need glasses. Each alcoholic beverage has a glass you’re technically supposed to drink it from. These shapes are designed to bring out certain flavors, insulate the drink from the warmth of your hand, and perform other tricks. If you’re looking for a versatile glass to start with, you can’t go wrong with a rocks glass.
Key features of barware
- Materials: Generally, barware should be non-absorbent and easy to clean. The last thing you want to do is grab a muddler that tastes like the last mint julep you made. Stainless steel and heavy glass will cost a little extra, but you probably won’t need to replace the good stuff.
- Craftsmanship: Taking pride in your cocktails makes the whole experience more fun. Anyone who’s been to a speakeasy knows that watching someone chisel ice off a massive block is more fun than seeing them scoop ice cubes out of a cooler with a plastic cup. Try to make each drink an occasion, and that starts with buying quality barware.
- Intended Use: There’s a reason well-equipped bars look like a mad scientist’s lab. Cocktail recipes are full of specialized tools, unique ingredients, and every shape of glass you can imagine. Before you go on a shopping spree, decide which drinks you enjoy the most, and prioritize the barware they require.
- Features: Barware manufacturers are always looking for a way to stand out in the crowd, so there is no shortage of unique features. Get the most for your money by looking for barware that can perform multiple jobs (like our channel knife/zester combination).
Benefits of barware
First of all, you’ll have a lot more success if you mix drinks with the right tools. Good barware is also a great way to get more out of the experience. If you get excited about a chance to break out the fancy rocks glasses, you’ll enjoy the whole experience more and do a better job of detaching yourself from the daily grind. Top-shelf liquor is completely different from budget liquor, and the barware you use is almost as important.
Drinking can get expensive in a hurry. When you make the jump from $20 bourbon to, say, $80 bourbon, it’s easy to price yourself right out of a good time. Luckily, there’s some good news: barware is generally inexpensive. Not only is it affordable, but it can also last a lifetime. A few carefully selected pieces can set you up to mix your favorite drinks without breaking the bank on obscure, specialty items you’ll rarely use. Pick up basic tools and ingredients for less than $15 each. A good pair of matching glasses costs about $30. You can always spend more, but there’s nothing wrong with saving some money for what goes in the glasses.