The Original Recipe for the Old Fashioned Cocktail?

The New York Times has a February 22, 2012 post that is a  real head-scratcher. And teeth-gritter.

It involves a fellow (Martin Doudoroff) who has put up this website,, which claims to provide the original and correct recipe for the Old Fashioned.

During the 20th Century, various bad ideas encrusted the Old Fashioned. Here we will strip off those barnacles to expose the amazingly simple and sublime drink beneath…. There is no slice of orange in an Old Fashioned. There is no cherry in an Old Fashioned. You do not mash up fruit of any kind in an Old Fashioned. There is no seltzer, soda water, ginger ale, or lemon soda in an Old Fashioned.

Where to begin with all this cocktail fire and brimstone?

(1) What is the basis for Doudoroff’s contention that he has the original recipe?  We searched his website looking for his evidence and found nothing beyond a citation of one of Dave Wondrich’s books.

(2) Supposing Doudoroff’s is the very first version of the Old Fashioned, so what?  The notion that a recipe as initially composed is TRUE and THE BEST and not to be changed is just a contention.  This conflates the notions of “original” and “correct.”  The proof is in the taste.  Which leads to point (3).

(3) Dale DeGroff, aka King Cocktail, provides the Old Fashioned recipe at  Dale says the ingredients include orange and cherry and possibly soda water.  Are we to believe Doudoroff knows more about making a tasty drink than Dale?  Doudoroff, by the way, is a cocktail enthusiast who works in IT.  He is not a bartender.

(4) Millions of Old Fashioneds have been served with cherry/orange/etc. and pleased many customers.  Who is Doudoroff to heap scorn on their preferences by trashing their recipe and declaring that his bare bones recipe will “elevate” one’s taste?  His recipe, mind you, is nothing more than whiskey mixed with sugar and a twist.  (Yawn.)

(5) Anyone who claims there are RIGHT recipes (and that all others are decadent) is engaging in a bit of historical culinary sophistry. All recipes, be they drink or food, evolve over time, especially because the ingredients themselves change.  For example, the whiskey made today isn’t the same as the whiskey made a century ago.  Similarly, few 19th century bars stocked cherries and oranges—they just were not available.  Rcipes can be improved and should take account of the changing raw materials.

In short, it strikes us that the New York Times uncritically has given a nice bit of publicity to a zealot with some highly debatable notions.




Johnny Michaels, Northstar Cocktails

This is a handsome, no nonsense guide to making cocktails. It provides lessons on the tools of barmen, basic information on spirits, and an eclectic collection of classic and cutting edge recipes.

It is a handsome book–sturdy hardback binding with a  slick leather feel to it.

Those who like to give gifts with a charitable tie-in will especially be pleased to learn that proceeds of sales of the Northstar Cocktails book (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2011) will benefit SPCA International, an animal welfare organization.

You can peek inside the book or buy a copy here.