Finally something that you regularly see at the bar is older than Joan Rivers. It has been around bars for a pretty good couple hundreds of years (the cocktail, Miss Rivers might've been around back then too, and probably both were on the menu, but while the cocktail gained poise Mrs. Rivers gained experience).
In the early Eighteen hundreds this bar drink made of spirits, water, sweetener, and other flavoring agents was called a Sling.
A sling is a type of alcoholic drink that at first was not considered a cocktail. In fact there were multiple types of drinks, like flips and toddies that initially do not fall under the heading of cocktail. The term cocktail was at first reserved in the 19th century for those drinks that contain bitters. This distinction is no longer made, and all alcoholic mixed drinks are now essentially considered cocktails, including the sling. However the first cocktails may have been called bittered slings.
According to wikepedia, The Balance and Columbia Repository in Hudson, New York defined what a "cocktail" was, as a response to a question of one of their readers. Around the same time "whiskey cocktails" had already been asked for at the local bars. Whiskey cocktails were pretty similar to what is now know as an Old-fashioned, with a few little adaptations.
The Old Fashioned is a cocktail, possibly the first drink to be called a cocktail. It is traditionally served in a short, round, 8–12 ounce tumbler-like glass, called an Old-Fashioned glass, named after the drink.
The Old Fashioned is one of six basic drinks listed in David A. Embury's classic The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks.
The first documented definition of the word "cocktail" was in response to a reader's letter asking to define the word in the May 6, 1806, issue of The Balance and Columbia Repository in Hudson, New York. In the May 13, 1806, issue, the paper's editor wrote that it was a potent concoction of spirits, bitters, water, and sugar: a kind of bittered sling.
The first use of the specific name "Old Fashioned" was for a Bourbon whiskey cocktail in the 1880s, at the Pendennis Club, a gentlemen’s club in Louisville, Kentucky. The recipe is said to have been invented by a bartender at that club, and popularized by a club member and bourbon distiller, Colonel James E. Pepper, who brought it to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel bar in New York City.
There is great contention on the proper way to make an Old Fashioned. The apparently earliest written recipe, from 1895, specifies the following: "Dissolve a small lump of sugar with a little water in a whiskey-glass; add two dashes Angostura bitters, a small piece ice, a piece lemon-peel, one jigger [1.5 ounces or 44 mL] whiskey. Mix with small bar-spoon and serve, leaving spoon in glass."
Two recipes from the 1900s vary in the precise ingredients, but continue to omit the cherry expected in a modern Old Fashioned, as well as the top off of soda water contested by cocktail purists. Orange bitters were highly popular at this time and, for the second recipe, the Curaçao appears to have been added to increase the orange flavor
Use old-fashioned cocktail glass. Sugar, 1 lump. Seltzer, 1 dash, and crush sugar with muddler. Ice, one square piece. Orange bitters, 1 dash. Angostura bitters, 1 dash. Lemon peel, 1 piece. Whiskey, 1 jigger. Stir gently and serve with spoon.
1 dash Angostura bitters 1 dash Curaçao Piece of cut loaf sugar Dissolve in two spoonfuls of water 100% liquor as desired 1 piece ice in glass. Stir well and twist a piece of lemon peel on top and serve
In some areas, brandy is substituted for whiskey (sometimes called a Brandy Old Fashioned). Many drinkers prefer to use rye whiskey because of its complexity.
Most modern recipes top off an Old Fashioned cocktail with soda water. Purists decry this practice, and insist that soda water is never permitted in a true Old Fashioned cocktail.
Many bartenders add fruit, typically an orange slice, and muddle it with the sugar before adding the whiskey. This practice likely began during the Prohibition as a means of covering the bitter taste. Another explanation for the practice is that citrus is often used in place of bitters in areas where citrus fruit grows (such as Florida and California). Hence, the fresh San Diego old fashioned uses limes, lemons, oranges, and soda water rather than bitters and simple syrup. The drink may have been imported to California during WWII, when many Midwestern and Southern boys moved to San Diego for the Navy.
Purists advocate using just enough plain water (called "branch" water) to fully dissolve the sugar without diluting the whiskey.
Bartenders often use a dissolved sugar-water premix called simple syrup, which is faster to use and eliminates the risk of leaving undissolved sugar in the drink, which can spoil a drinker's final sip. Others use only the juice of a maraschino cherry, along with the muddled and mangled cherry left at the bottom of the glass.
One popular garnish is a maraschino cherry fastened to the back of an orange wedge using a toothpick. Others prefer to use orange zest with the maraschino cherry.
This is the London Method of preparing an Old Fashioned, which was adapted
from the De Luxe recipe of David Embury (1948).
In a glass put 5ml of sugar syrup & 2 dashes of angostura bitters.
Add an 2 ice cubes and stir.
Add 25 mls bourbon and stir
2 ice cubes and stir
Add 25 mls bourbon and stir
2 ice cubes and stir
Squeeze Orange twist over surface of drink.