We had a fabulous timing when visiting Chengdu, China, earlier this year. We saw a giant buddha, spent time with pandas, and ate some amazing Sichuan cuisine. It is also where we learned how to make an Old Fashioned cocktail.
Now, generally I enjoy receiving a lesson on how to make a good cocktail. We learned how to make a proper gin and tonic at the Four Seasons in Lisbon, as well as at the Ritz-Carlton Macau. We’ve explored cocktails in Brno and drank many a Aperol Spritz in Italy, all in the name of research. This time, though, enjoying a few cocktails at The Bar in Chengdu, China, caused a little bit of a problem.
What kind of problem can an Old Fashioned cause? A little bit of an addiction.
Prior to our visit to Chengdu, the Old Fashioned was not in our repertoire of drinks. Now, we can’t get enough of them.
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Tips On How To Make an Old Fashioned
There was a certain formality to making this particular Old Fashioned. There was a bit of pomp and circumstance. Part of that was because we were at one of the top cocktails bars in Chengdu. Part of it, though, was the bartender, who marched through the steps, with a seriousness not often found in cocktail making. A seriousness that was followed by a generous smile, and a pride in knowing he made a great drink.
Back to that Old Fashioned. A heavy bottomed rocks glass. A large single ice cube, to ensure the ice doesn’t melt too quick. A sugar cube. The bartender slowly dripped just a few drops of bitters onto the sugar cube, allowing it to dissolve. A single drop of water helps complete the dissolution of the sugar. A good quality American bourbon was poured on top. The garnish included just a simple orange twist. That’s it.
One of the most important ingredients in an Old Fashioned is the liquor. Whiskey is a brown liquor made from fermenting grain mash. It is aged in wooden casks. Bourbon is a subset of whiskey. For bourbon, it must contain at least 50% corn, rye, wheat, malted barley, or malted rye grain. Also, instead of being aged in any old wooden cask, it must be stored in a charred oak barrel. This is what makes bourbon taste more sweet and more smoky at the same time. Rye whiskey can also be used in an Old Fashioned. The difference between the two is that normally a bourbon is a little sweeter.
How to Spot a Good Old Fashioned Cocktail
During our more recent road trip around the US, we focused on drinking American craft beer in the South. Otherwise we drank wine because it is hard to find good wine in Bangkok. But, we also enjoyed a few nice cocktails. I assumed that if we visited any decent cocktail bar, they could make a good Old Fashioned. But, I was wrong. Because the Old Fashioned only has 3 main ingredients, it is deceptively difficult to make.
Even if you’re not an Old Fashioned connoisseur, there are a few things to look for to ensure the bartender will deliver a proper drink. First, they should ask you what kind of bourbon, or rye whiskey is preferred. We know nothing about bourbon. But, a good standby is Makers Mark or Woodford Reserve. It’s important to choose something above a simple rail whiskey. Because the Old Fashioned doesn’t have a mixer, quality alcohol is key.
Second, the glass should not be loaded with ice cubes. A single large ice cube is preferred, or only a couple of cubes. Third, there should be no club soda to top it off. Last, and most important, the garnish should only included a single orange twist. No cherry on top, and no pulpy, squeezed orange. The goal in using an orange peel is to release the orange oils into the drink, not to sweeten it with orange juice. If the Old Fashioned is pulpy, send it back.
A proper Old Fashioned cocktail can be a glass of perfection. Strong, a little sweet, and very refreshing. The problem? Yes, a bit of an addiction might ensue. And, my new that addiction, I blame The Bar in Chengdu.
We were supported by Niccolo Chengdu during our time in China, but all opinions are, as always, my own. Chengdu luxury hotel rooms at Niccolo Hotel start at $180. Our room with breakfast for two starts at $210. Niccolo Hotel is part of the Marco Polo Hotel group, and part of the Global Hotel Alliance.
Amber Hoffman, food and travel writer behind With Husband In Tow, is a recovering attorney and professional eater, with a passion for finding new food and drink destinations. She lives with her husband, Eric, in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. Together over the last 20 years, they have traveled to over 70 countries. Amber is the author of the Food Traveler’s Guide to Emilia Romagna.