It's not much as controversies go, but a kerfuffle erupted earlier this week about the correct way to make an Old Fashioned, a classic cocktail, perhaps the classic whiskey cocktail.
It began when cocktails enthusiast Martin Doudoroff launched an elegant web site called Old Fashioned 101. At the end, he cites in a general way Dale DeGroff, Ted 'Dr. Cocktail' Haigh, Gaz Regan, Robert Hess, and David Wondrich.
Robert Simonson lit the powder keg with a favorable piece in the New York Times, exception to which was taken by Kevin Kosar.
Kosar challenges Doudoroff's claim that his recipe is the original. He points out that DeGroff offers a different recipe, as does Regan. They, with backgrounds as working bartenders, make the version most people expect, where a sugar cube is muddled with bitters and water, and the drink is garnished with an orange slice and maraschino cherry.
In his critique, Kosar correctly observes that 'original' does not automatically mean 'best.' He calls conflating the two "historical culinary sophistry."
The Old Fashioned comes with an appealing mythology, which itself goes back at least 80 years. Supposedly, the drink was invented more than a century ago by a bartender at Louisville's Pendennis Club, which boasted as members all of the local whiskey barons. It was subsequently introduced to the world by one of them, James E. Pepper, at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel's bar in New York.
Doudoroff, however, convincingly argues that 'old-fashioned' was just a way for bar patrons to order a whiskey cocktail made the 'old-fashioned' way, with whiskey, simple syrup (i.e., sugar), bitters, water, and a twist of lemon. It would be ironic indeed if the original meaning of 'old-fashioned' had evolved into something new-fashioned.
Drinking whiskey with a little sugar is a tradition almost as old as granulated sugar itself, which became wildly popular in Europe and the Americas in the 18th century. As barrel aging became common and whiskey became naturally sweetened with wood sugar, adding cane or beet sugar became less common, but the custom could certainly be called old-fashioned.
The commonly accepted recipe Doudoroff eschews does incorporate superfluous showmanship with the ceremonial dissolving of the sugar cube, which becomes in the drink exactly what you get Doudoroff's way.
Then there's the garnish, which is very much out of fashion here in Chicago if used strictly for decorative purposes. Yet, and this is Haigh and Wondrich territory, the cocktail as it evolved from punch was always five ingredients: spirit, water, sugar, spice, and fruit. Doudoroff's lemon twist is in keeping with modern practice since it flavors the drink with lemon oil.
Although Kosar seems a little cranky about it, this is the kind of argument everyone should have with a smile on their face and a drink in their hand.