Old-Fashioned or Newfangled, the Old-Fashioned Is Back

AS is his habit, Matthew Weiner, the creator of “Mad Men,” is revealing few details about the fifth season of the hit series, which will return to AMC on Sunday after a 17-month absence. We don’t know if the charismatic sphinx Don Draper has married his secretary or pulled his flailing advertising firm out of the fire. But one prediction is a safe bet: Mr. Draper will dip his beak into an old-fashioned or three....

As visible as the cocktail has become, [its renewed popularity] doesn’t approach its glory days. “Its heyday was in the late 1800s, early 1900s,” Mr. Hess said. That’s also the period when the drink acquired the so-square-it’s-hip handle by which we now know it. For decades before that, it was simply called a whiskey cocktail. But when the whiz-bang bartenders of the post-Civil War days started getting too fancy with their add-ons, cocktail purists began calling for a return to sanity. (Cocktail purists seem always to be upset about the current state of the old-fashioned.)

Mr. Wondrich points to an 1886 edition of the publication Comment and Dramatic Times as the earliest known print description of the newly christened “Old Fashioned.”

“The modern cocktail has come to be so complex a beverage that people are beginning to desert it,” said the editor, Leander Richardson. “A bartender in one of the most widely known New York establishments for the dispensation of drinks was telling me the other day that there had set in an unmistakable stampede in favor of old-fashioned cocktails.” Mr. Richardson then defined what the standard-bearers were after: a drink “nearly everywhere recognized as being made with a little sugar, a little bitters, a lump of ice, a piece of twisted lemon peel and a good deal of whiskey. It has no absinthe, no chartreuse and no other flavoring extract injected into it.”...

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