BOOKS: The Old Fashioned, An Essential Guide

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BY TIM KNITTEL

With the twin rise of craft distilling and craft mixology, there has been a corresponding explosion of books devoted to a single spirit or even a single cocktail. But there’s always room for one more, especially one as well researched and annotated as Albert W. A. Schmid’s The Old Fashioned: An Essential Guide to the Original Whiskey Cocktail.

Schmid is the kind of person Kentucky is proud to call its own (even if he was born in Texas – mere technicality). His resume far exceeds the length of this review, so here’s the summary: Schmid is a renowned chef, culinary educator and author of The Hospitality Manager’s Guide to Wines, Beers and Spirits and The Kentucky Bourbon Cookbook. He serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Culinary Science and Technology and has taught at the Distilled Spirits Epicenter and Sullivan University in Louisville

(His post-nominal acronym soup: M.A.CCP, CHE, CFBE, MCFE, CSSCCE, CEC, CCA, COI, CSW. That in itself is almost too long for this review.)

Schmid’s latest contribution covers the Old Fashioned cocktail, which is much more than one drink – it’s better described as a style or whole category of mixed drink. He argues quite successfully that the Old Fashioned is really the original cocktail. He quotes The Balance and Columbian Repository (1806), “[A] cocktail, then is a stimulating liquor composed of spirits … sugar, water, and bitters – it is vulgarly called a bittered sling.”  Much of the book is devoted to exploring how the ‘Old Fashioned’ came to its name instead of lingering as just ‘cocktail’ or ‘bittered sling’ and how it came to include the muddled orange and cherry.

He also argues that the creation of the mint julep is an extension of the Old Fashioned, citing recipe books from 1818 and 1995 to prove his point. It’s an interesting take on the legend of that drink and nicely compliments the theories of Colonel Joe Nickell in his 2003 book The Kentucky Mint Julep.

It’s a little unclear whom the book is targeted to. Much of the history will probably be familiar to most professional mixologists and bourbon aficionados. He does debunk many of the common myths about the Old Fashioned with excellent citations, which is always useful for winning bar bets:

According to legend, the Old Fashioned was invented at the Pendennis Club in Louisville, Kentucky. … However, David Wondrich has busted this myth, pointing out that the drink was clearly mentioned in the Chicago Tribune a year before the Pendennis Club was founded in 1881. (David Wondrich, Imbibe! (New York: Penguin Group, 2007), 197.)

For the amateur mixologist (and perhaps the for the professional), the real heart of the book is the recipe collection. The recipes range in date from 1885 to 2011 and include a surprising variety of base spirit (rye, Canadian whiskey, Irish whiskey, even Scotch and tequila) and cover the ‘bittered sling’ style through many of the modern ‘New Old Fashioneds’ with ingredients like blackberries and honey. There’s plenty there to play with and he even concludes the book with a fill-in-the-blanks page for ‘Your Own Old Fashioned’ recipe.

The book is an excellent condensed reference for the professional mixologist and it’s a great starting point for the amateur.

Albert Schmid will be signing his book at a joint signing with Michael Veach at Lexington’s Joseph-Beth Booksellers on March 30.

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