The relationship between the cherry and the Old Fashioned cocktail is the story of an on-again, off-again romance, spanning decades. In its early days, the Old-Fashioned (like any strong-willed youngster!) wanted to go it alone, reveling in its own straightforward bravado and bare bones balance of bitters, water, spirits and sugar. But, as it got a little older, the cocktail began to experiment….
As the Old Fashioned passed into its awkward teen and young adult phase, it began hanging out with a different crowd; more colorful but with less substance. The Old Fashioned began mixing it up with a cast of fruity characters, so much so that it was losing its true personality, giving itself over to a muddled mix of orange, pineapple and random fruits, and becoming a sickly sweet syrupy hot mess! Maybe it was Prohibition that introduced the drink to these new players, as a means of masking poor quality spirits? Maybe there was a blurring of lines between the toddy and Old Fashioned recipes? However, it happened, this fruit-heavy period is when our young cocktail first met the cherry.
Sadly, it wasn’t yet meant to be. The cocktail didn’t know how to have a healthy relationship, and succumbed to an unhealthy codependency with its fruity partners, forcing and mashing up things so that all involved were eventually left beyond recognition. Like so many relationships, they persisted although they weren’t ready, damaging their reputations and their livelihoods in the process.
Fortunately, current day cocktail historians and craft bartenders, stepped in to save the Old Fashioned, then battered beyond recognition thanks to the orgiastic years spent indiscriminately mixing it up with any kind of fruit. They cleaned up this old cocktail, and taught the Old Fashioned to love itself again for the beautiful classic it is. With its resurgence in popularity, the Old Fashioned grew stronger and wiser. After a few decades, it felt ready to enter into new relationships. This time, in a healthy way, with the right kind of partner.
While the Old Fashioned had not been so selective in its youth, it now learned to seek out something better. Gone were the days of its fruit-harem following or one night stands with the cheap and tarty cherries filling the plastic bar trays. These days, the Old Fashioned knows what it wants: a quality cherry, perhaps brandied or imported from Italy.
Though some purists still try to keep these two apart, others with more romantic sensibilities celebrate the love that has sprung from their new found maturity. Modern takes on this classic cocktail are many. In his book The Old-Fashioned:The Story of the World’s First Classic Cocktail, with Recipes and Lore, Robert Simonson compiles recipes for most of the more important modern day Old Fashioned versions, including the McKittrick Old Fashioned from Milk & Honey, the New Orleans Bellocq bar’s eponymous Old Fashioned Cobbler, and the Sorghum Old Fashioned from Seersucker, NYC – all of which reunite the Old Fashioned with its lost little cherry lover in the form of a garnish. Proving that true love always prevails.