When I first started in the industry in 1991, I was told that the Old Fashioned Cocktail was created in Louisville at the Pendennis Club. That has since been proven incorrect by extensive research done by Dave Wondrich. I remember speaking to Dave when he was doing this research and I can assure you that he was covering every base while looking at the origin of the Old Fashioned. Author Albert Schmid in his book The Old Fashioned Cocktail does redeem the legend somewhat in saying that the Pendennis Club is where the muddled fruit was first introduced in the cocktail. Based upon this legend, the city of Louisville decided in 2015 to make the cocktail the “Official Cocktail of Louisville”.
I thought I would look at some historic recipes for the Old Fashioned Cocktail. I am starting by looking in Harry Johnson’s book New and Improved Illustrated Bartender’s Manual from 1882. There is not a recipe called “Old Fashioned Cocktail” but there is a recipe for a “Whiskey Cocktail” that is similar to the Old Fashioned.
Whiskey Cocktail: ¾ glass of shaved ice, 2 or 3 dashes of gum syrup, 1 ½ or 2 dashes of bitters (Boker’s Genuine only), 1 or 2 dashes of Curacao, 1 wine glass of whiskey, stir up well with a spoon and strain it into a cocktail glass and squeeze a piece of lemon peel on top, and serve. This drink is without a doubt one of the most popular American drinks in existence.
I then moved to Jerry Thomas’ book The Bar-Tender’s Guide from 1887. Once again, I failed to find a recipe titled “Old Fashioned Cocktail”, but here is his recipe for a “Whiskey Cocktail”.
Whiskey Cocktail: (Use a small bar glass), Take 3 or 4 dashes of gum syrup, 2 dashes of bitters (Boker’s), 1 wine glass of whiskey, Fill 1/3 full of fine ice: shake and strain in a fancy wine glass. Put a piece of twisted lemon peel in a glass and serve.
I next moved to the 1911 publication Beverages De Luxe. This book was published by the Louisville based trade magazine Wine and Spirits Bulletin and includes recipes from the Pendennis Club. There is no recipe for an “Old Fashioned Cocktail”, but there is a recipe for an “Old Fashioned Toddy”. It does not include muddled fruit.
Old Fashioned Toddy from the Pendennis Club: Dissolve ½ lump of sugar thoroughly, one cube of ice, one jigger of whiskey, stir well and serve in a toddy glass.
Tom Bullock, an African-American who worked as bartender at the Pendennis Club and credited by some as the creator of the Old Fashioned, wrote a book in 1917 titled The Ideal Bartender in 1917. He has a drink called the “Old Fashion Cocktail”. Here is his recipe:
Old Fashion Cocktail: Use and Old-Fashion Toddy glass, 1 lump of ice, 2 dashes of Angostura bitters, 1 lump of sugar dissolved in water, 1 ½ jigger of Bourbon whiskey. Twist a piece of lemon skin over the drink and drop it in. Stir well and serve.
I failed to find a pre-Prohibition recipe titled “Old Fashioned Cocktail” so I next moved to the 1935 Old Mr. Boston Official Bar-Tender’s Guide. Finally, I found a recipe titled “Old Fashioned Cocktail”, but there is no muddled fruit. It does look similar to the Whiskey Cocktails of the 1880s.
Mr. Boston Old Fashioned Cocktail: ½ lump of sugar, 2 dashes bitters, 1 jigger water, Muddle well, then add jigger of Old Mr. Boston Whiskey and large cube of ice. Stir well and decorate with a slice of orange, twist of lemon peel and a cherry. Serve in Old Fashioned cocktail glass.
I still have not found a recipe that calls for muddling the fruit. My next stop was Gary Regan’s The Bartender’s Bible, published in 1991. Regan credit’s the Pendennis Club for creating the drink in this book, so if they were the creators of muddled fruit in the Old Fashioned, then surely this is where I will find it. I was wrong – it calls for fruit garnishes, but not muddled fruit. Here is his recipe:
Bourbon Old Fashioned: 3 dashes bitters, 1 teaspoon water, 1 sugar cube, 3 ounces Bourbon, 1 orange slice, 1 maraschino cherry. In an old-fashioned glass, muddle the bitters and water into the sugar cube, using the back of a teaspoon. Almost fill the glass with ice cubes and add the Bourbon. Garnish with the orange slice and the cherry. Serve with a swizzle stick.
My final stop in my Old Fashioned Cocktail research was Joy Perrine and Susan Reigler’s book The Kentucky Bourbon Cocktail Book published in 2009. Here, I finally found a recipe with muddled fruit. Here is Joy’s recipe:
Old Fashioned: 1 tablespoon simple syrup, 6 dashes Angostura bitters, 1 orange wedge, 1 red cherry, 2 ounces water, 2 ounces Kentucky Bourbon. Put the simple syrup and bitter in the glass. Add orange wedge and cherry: muddle. Add ice, water, and Bourbon, and stir. Garnish with a long-stem cherry.
Having searched through the recipes I have going back almost 140 years, I find several versions of the Old Fashioned cocktail. Was the muddled fruit first done at the Pendennis Club in 1881? Not that I found, but maybe. What I have found based upon the recipes, is that muddling the fruit does seem to be a late 20th century addition to the cocktail.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller