Amid the antics of the epic comedy It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Mickey Rooney and Buddy Hackett hitch a ride on Jim Backus’ private plane. The dipsomaniacal pilot asks Rooney to fix him an Old-Fashioned midflight, but judges the result too sweet and decides if he wants an “Old-Fashioned made the old-fashioned way,” he’ll have to mix it himself. He hands the controls over to a stressed out Hackett, who blurts out, “What if something happens?” Unperturbed, Backus replies, “What can happen to an Old-Fashioned?”
Actually, a number of things. The drink began life as the basic cocktail as it was originally defined in 1806: spirits, sugar, bitters and water. In the Golden Age of bartending (late 19th centuries) mixologists began adding all manor of sweeteners and fruit adornment, as well as ice. When drinkers wanted the elementary version, they asked for an old-fashioned cocktail and the drink got its name. But it didn’t stay old-fashioned very long. The mix was described early on as having a small amount of ice and a lemon twist with no specified spirit. Today, it typically comes with plenty of ice (or a large ball), a Maraschino cherry and an orange wedge with Bourbon as the base spirit, if you order it at a bar.
Suffice it to say that it’s a rudimentary drink that can be made more complex. Switch out Bourbon for another whiskey if you like. All manner of citrus fruit garnishes are applicable. Sweeten with simple syrup or a sugar cube. Ice can be piled on or more limited. But please don’t drink and fly.