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In this installment of Tabletop Wrestling, Sarah Lloyd and Hanna Raskin argue over whether muddled fruit belongs in an Old Fashioned.

Sarah Lloyd wants her

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Cocktail or Salad? An Old-Fashioned Fruit Fight

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In this installment of Tabletop Wrestling, Sarah Lloyd and Hanna Raskin argue over whether muddled fruit belongs in an Old Fashioned.

Sarah Lloyd wants her drink free of muddled citrus, please.

The Old Fashioned is a tragically misunderstood drink. A product of the original cocktail (it used to just be called a whiskey cocktail until about 1886), the Old Fashioned goes back even farther than the limp, modern maraschino cherries you so often see at the bottom of your glass. Even if you don't like Old Fashioneds, you can at least appreciate their influence on the cocktail at large--at the very least, enough to not to muddle all your garnishes into it.

When I order an Old Fashioned, I don't expect much: whiskey, a sugar cube, water or club soda, and bitters. Perhaps a twist if you're feeling fancy. What I do expect is to mostly taste whiskey, as opposed to a gross, corn syrup salad hiding in my cocktail. A maraschino cherry is fine as a simple garnish; when muddled into a drink, it is just a miserable, unfortunately-textured sugar substitute. While sometimes fresh oranges are muddled in, they're usually on the lowest rung of the citrus ladder: a simple, yet distracting, token addition to what would have normally been a perfectly good drink on its own.

As a Slate article last year pointed out, the dispute over the true nature of the Old Fashioned in our newfangled times is nothing new; various crankshafts have been complaining about the drink's decline since at least the end of Prohibition. In 1936, a man who only signed off on his letter as "Old Timer" wrote the New York Times in defense of the pre-Prohibition Old Fashioned, denouncing the cheapening of the flavor with the addition of muddled fruit. While I'm not normally one to agree with stubborn folks who hate change, I sympathize with how feverishly Old Timer must be rolling over in his grave right now. That we're still having this very same argument speaks volumes to the timelessness of the old fashioned Old Fashioned.

Now I'm not saying that whiskey, bitters, sugar and fruit isn't potentially delicious, nor am I railing against the modern garnish. I'm just saying, all of these muddled together with the standard syrupy relish tray that occupies most standard bars (a) tastes disgusting, even to someone who considers maraschino cherries a wonderful, guilty pleasure, and (b) is a drink, but it's not a drink that you can accurately call an Old Fashioned. Just ask Rachel Maddow!

Muddling fruit in an Old Fashioned and still calling it an Old Fashioned is a worse offense than slipping 7-Up in a mojito, which still sucks, but ultimately just makes the drink too sweet. It's worse than using disgusting pre-bottled sour mix, usually just produces a gross facsimile of whatever cocktail you were trying to make. Aged bar fruit squished into an Old Fashioned basically defeats the purpose; just order a different fruity drink whose ingredients don't seem horrifically, haphazardly out of place with each other.

Serve me a drink with whiskey, sugar, bitters and fresh fruit, and I will gladly drink it. But I will call it a delicious whiskey fruit salad and not one of the noble cocktail's forefathers: the aptly named Old Fashioned.

Hanna Raskin thinks there's a place for muddled fruit Old Fashioneds.

Drink historians agree the first iterations of the Old Fashioned didn't feature fruit. Yet that's hardly reason to forgo the oranges and cherries today.

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Dinner Series
The oldest Old Fashioned - introduced under a different name in Jerry Thomas' 1862 How to Mix Drinks - was made with whiskey, sugar, bitters and water. But even before 1936, when the first recipe calling for muddling appeared in print, bartenders were tinkering with Thomas' formula.

As cocktail historian David Wondrich writes in Imbibe!, "The Old-Fashioned was a drinker's plea for a saner, quieter, slower life." It was and is a cocktail for curmudgeons. And many of those grumpy drinkers' strong opinions hardened into regional variations, which is why the Old Fashioned is variously made with bourbon, rye or brandy - and why it's garnished with mushrooms, asparagus, tomatoes, Brussels sprouts and pickled eggs in Wisconsin. Fiddling with the Old Fashioned is a grand saloon tradition.

Detractors claim that muddling is messy, and fruit clutter clogs straws and sticks in teeth. But, unlike mushrooms and pickled eggs, orange oil is terrifically compatible with an Old Fashioned's core ingredients. "Even though the orange was not an "original" ingredient in an Old Fashioned, the orange flavor goes really well with bourbon," cocktail writer Robert Hess offered in response to an online question sparked by cocktail wizard Dale DeGroff's vocal support for a muddled cherry and orange.

The fruit salading of the Old Fashioned has aggravated drinkers for decades. In an overview of Old Fashioned recipes, cocktail writer George Sinclair quotes from Crosby Gaige's 1941 Cocktail Guide and Ladies' Companion. Before Gaige knew better - perhaps during Prohibition, when low-quality alcohol was routinely doctored with juicy, sweet fruit - he asked an ancient barkeep to orange up his Old Fashioned.

"Young impudent sir," he screamed, "...Man and boy I've built Old-Fashioned cocktails these 60 years...and I have never yet had the perverted nastiness of mind to put fruit in an Old-Fashioned. Get out, scram, go over to the Palmer House and drink." I was rebuked.

Honestly, I've never asked a bartender to fill my Old Fashioned glass with fruit. I don't associate the practice with fancy bars, where Old Fashioneds are more frequently goosed with bacon fat or pear liqueur. The muddled fruit Old Fashioned is an emblem of home hospitality, a nod to the punches that graceful hostesses once prepared for festive occasions.

In the Slate story Sarah cites, Troy Patterson cataloged the many ways in which contemporary cocktailians have "perverted" the Old Fashioned, citing a Minneapolis bar's "Fashionably Fashioned," made with applejack, cinnamon tincture, and cherry bark-vanilla bitters. In honor of the drink's libertarian heritage, I'll refrain from adding my mock to the chorus. Still, it's worth pointing out that most folks don't stock their home pantries with cinnamon tincture and cherry bark-vanilla bitters. But they very well might have some fruit in the fridge.

Embracing the muddled fruit Old Fashioned is a means of acknowledging the drinking that occurs outside of bars; the cocktails made when there's a personal milestone to celebrate or someone to welcome home. It may not be historically correct or trendy or elegant, but a muddled orange -- in all its pulpy shambles -- stands for the drinking which finally matters most.

Follow Voracious on Facebook & Twitter. Follow me at @hannaraskin

 
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