The Best Old Fashioned is The Champagne Cocktail
Old Fashioned are great. You can get a decent one in any bar now and it'll always be balanced, boozy, and bittersweet. From high-end restaurants on the top of sky scrappers to a local dive bar, if you order an Old Fashioned, you'll be in decent hands.
However, I often find myself wanting a lighter drink that has a bit of complexity along with the balance and bittersweetness. Enter the Champagne Cocktail, first introduced in 'Panama in 1855 : an account of the Panama rail-road, of the cities of Panama and Aspinwall, with sketches of life and character on the Isthmus' by Robert Tomes, published in 1885. Made for the protagonist by his friend to soothe a previously rough night, Tomes claims "they are so supremely good that if he once takes them, he will continue to take them." I have to agree.
Recipes slightly vary, but most all call for sugar, Angostura Bitters, and Sparkling Wine. Champagne was the previous go to, but now other sparkling wines substitute just fine. In 'The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks' published in 1948, David A. Embury states, "no true Champagne lover would ever commit the sacrilege of polluting a real vintage Champagne by dunking even plain sugar, much less bitters in it." I think Mr. Embury would be fine using a decent Blanc de Blanc or even a modest Prosecco from Costco, my personal choice for home use.
Assembly is easy.
Soak a sugar cube in Angostura Bitters, place in a Champagne Flute or Coupe, top with Sparkling Wine. Express and Garnish a Lemon peel on the glass. Enjoy.
The last time I ordered a Champagne Cocktail, I was burned pretty bad. I was in a bar in the basement of a fancy hotel that specialized in classic cocktails. The Champagne Cocktail was prominently featured on the menu of 50 drinks. Everyone else got great drinks. For $15, I got some terrible low bubble wine where the main aromatic note was rotten dirt. No amount of sugar or bitters could save this drink. A well made Champagne cocktail is a thing of beauty showcasing the bars commitment to ingredients, a poor one is just page filler. I should have ordered an Old Fashioned.