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Typically made with whiskey or bourbon, this Old Fashioned recipe is one of the most popular drinks in America. An Old-Fashioned should be on every at-home bartender or cocktail lover’s repertoire. Everyone has their recipe, but I have the formula to make your Old-Fashioned an all-time favorite.
An Old-Fashioned has bourbon or rye whiskey, bitters, and simple syrup or sugar. You’ll use an orange slice or an orange peel and a maraschino cherry to garnish. This drink is best chilled, and a large sphere or big cubed-shaped ice cube will make this recipe taste over the top.
Below, I’ll go through all the ways to make your Old-Fashioned stand out from the rest. I’ll go over the ingredients, tools you’ll need, and how to make it. Additionally, I’ll give you the history of this classic American drink and tell you how to wow your friends making it.
What Is the History Behind the Old-Fashioned?
You may be wondering if the first drinkers of this cocktail also, for whatever reason, called it old. It’s hard to believe that if the drink is Old-Fashioned, it was always called this. The makings of this title are more conversational than anything.
In 1806 makings of an Old-Fashioned were one of the first cocktails ever documented or defined, as early definitions included liquor, bitters, water, and sugar. As cocktails become more complex, bar patrons sometimes request an “Old-Fashioned” drink, which is how we know this cocktail today.
The first recipe printed for something similar to the Old-Fashioned was in the Jerry Thomas’ Bartenders Guide: How To Mix Drinks. This book claims the recipe originated in Holland, but this version uses gin.
Many bars across America claim that they invented the cocktails usage of whiskey, especially in states that are heavy in bourbon or whiskey making, such as Kentucky.
The term “Old-Fashioned” was also in a Chicago Daily Tribune article in 1880.
If you are interested in the history and evolution of the Old-Fashioned, check out this video from one of my favorite youtube channels, How To Drink:
On TV, the Mad Men protagonist (or antagonist, depending on who you ask), Don Draper, drank Old-Fashioned as his go-to cocktail. Additionally, Star Wars creator George Lucas is known to call Old-fashioned his favorite drink.
The Unique Flavors of an Old-Fashioned
What makes an Old-Fashioned drink different from other drinks is its simplicity.
First off, you have your bourbon or rye whiskey. These are powerful, robust liquors. They are unignorable in this drink, where the angostura bitters and syrup come in. If you leave out your whiskey or bourbon and substitute gin or vodka, you’ll find a lack in the flavor department. Vodka and gin blend with whatever you mix them with, but whiskey and vodka come to the forefront.
Bitters help add a little flavor, where you can get creative with your recipe. You can experiment with different bitters to set your Old-Fashioned ones apart from basic ones. Bitters, as the name implies, are somewhat bitter.
However, with the rich taste of whiskey, bitters help to bring the flavor up to a less robust plane. When you leave out the bitters, your drink may end up one-dimensional.
Depending on your preference, the last essential ingredient will be your sweetener. You can achieve it via the simple syrup or a sugar and water blend, which would make it consistent with the Old-Fashioneds served in the 1900s.
The syrup or sugar converts this from a stiff drink to a cocktail. With the sweetness, you can get a little more precise with your taste buds, but you won’t want to leave it out altogether (especially if you’re going for the classic Old-Fashioned taste).
Lastly, the orange and cherry are more for garnish, but you can use them to spice up your drink and make it prettier. Additionally, those who like things less stiff can utilize their garnish in their drink. Oranges are the first choice for an Old-Fashioned because that’s how they’re traditionally served. However, other citrus fruits make for a suitable substitute.
You can skip the cherries altogether if you’re fresh out, but the juice also makes for an excellent simple syrup in a pinch. When you leave out the garnish, you leave out the aesthetic appeal of the drink and the history behind what you’re making, so if you want the authentic experience, don’t skimp on the garnish.
Meal and Dessert Pairings for an Old-Fashioned
An Old-Fashioned gives us feelings of nostalgia and takes us up to a cocktail party in the 1940s or 1950s, where the food is decadent, and the company is lively. If you want an immersive experience for your guests, you might be looking for some fitting pairings.
Try to find appetizers that have lots of aromatic seasonings. Spiced pecans or nuts will complement the complexity of your cocktails. Look for things (or find a recipe) coated in brown sugar or something spicy.
Southern Living also suggests a bacon-wrapped goat cheese-stuffed fig recipe to wow your guests and complement the whiskey flavor in the drink.
Regarding main dishes, pork and beef typically pair best with the flavors of an Old-Fashioned. The pairing experts at Food and Wine suggest adding a smokiness element to your main course to compliment the smokiness of the whiskey or bourbon.
For dessert, you can’t go wrong with something dark chocolate. The whiskey and bourbon are so tasty and smoky that an equally complex but even sweeter dessert would pair great!
Tools for Your Old-Fashioned
There are ways you can elevate your drink and add other flavors or add a modern spin, but the below recipe is an all-time favorite. The measurements are perfectly balanced for a buzzy and tasty cocktail. However, it’s not all about the ingredients. The things you use are an essential piece of the puzzle, too. Your tools are just as necessary as what you put into your drink. You’ll need:
- Rocks glass
- Bar spoon
- Whiskey ice maker (optional)
- Bartender measuring set (optional)
A rocks glass is what you’d traditionally serve a sipping whiskey or bourbon in. They’re your short, round glass, and they can usually hold about 10 oz of liquid comfortably. If you don’t have a bar spoon and don’t want to buy one, you can just use a regular spoon. The difference is that bar spoons have a more extended handle and a smaller head, so you can mix without splashing anything or getting your hand in the drink.
A whiskey ice maker and bartender measuring set are optional, but they elevate the drink significantly and aren’t expensive online.
Whiskey ice makers typically come in cube or sphere form. You could use regular ice, but a large cube melts slower and keeps the drink cooler without diluting the drink.
Measuring kits can usually be found in liquor stores, grocery stores, or even corner stores. They’ll come with a few things you don’t need for this drink, but the simple syrup pourers that come with most and the oz measuring cup would come in handy.
Ingredients and tools are your bread and butter, but you can elevate your drink by learning why all the ingredients work together. Below, I’ll go over some tools and tricks for making the best Old-Fashioned ever.
How To Make the Best Old-Fashioned
Now that we’ve got the extra’s out of the way, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty –you need to think about the entire experience to make the best Old-Fashioned!
When making the best Old-Fashioned, be sure to:
- Freeze your ice at least 24 hours before, especially you are using a spherical cube tray or whiskey rocks
- Chill a rocks glass in the fridge overnight or while you’re at work
A fantastic Old-Fashioned begins with using the best ingredients. Not all of us can afford that hundred-dollar bottle of imported whiskey or bourbon, but try to avoid the cheapest bourbons and whiskeys. If you can opt for a medium-shelf brand, it’ll elevate your drink significantly.
If you don’t have any syrup, you can use sugar and water to make your own. The sugar muddling technique makes this even more authentic to the Old-Fashioned experience.
This video shows you how to muddle your sugar, bitter, and water mixture:
Lastly, don’t forget your friends who have opted to go alcohol-free! There are dozens of companies that now make whiskeys or bourbons without any alcohol. You could also add flavorless soda water (which already has a bitter taste) and a splash of dark cola (for coloring) to make them a soda version – just remember to skip the bitters!
Classic Old Fashioned Recipe
Best Classic Old Fashioned
- Rocks Glass
- Bar Spoon
- 2 oz Bourbon or Rye Whiskey
- 3 dashes Angostura Bitters
- 1/4 oz Simple Syrup
- Ice Cubes (Recommend a large sphere or cube shaped ice cube)
- Maraschino Cherry (garnish)
- Orange Peel (garnish)
- Add Bourbon or Rye Whiskey, Simple Syrup, and bitters to a chilled rocks glass.
- Stir until all ingredients are combined.
- Add Ice to the cocktail and stir until chilled. (This will also allow the ice to melt slightly, which will release the amazing flavors in the drink)
- Garnish with Maraschino Cherry and Orange Slice or Peel. (If using an orange peel, twist it above the cocktail to release the zest and then rub it lightly around the rim of the glass before placing it in the drink)
- Try also adding Citrus Bitters to your Old Fashioned for a stronger citrus taste.
- For a sweeter taste, instead of adding more simple syrup try adding a bar spoon of Maraschino Cherry juice.
- If using table sugar or a sugar cube muddle the sugar first with the bitters and then stir until dissolved with the whiskey.
- A lot of recipes will tell you to add water to your Old Fashioned cocktail, but this is not necessary and will water down the taste. Instead let your Old Fashioned sit for a little bit before drinking, this will allow the ice to naturally melt into your drink and slowly release the flavors of cocktail.
Final Cocktail Thoughts
The Old-Fashioned is an American classic, but being “classic” doesn’t mean you can’t put your unique spin on things. Mixology is all about adding your preferences to the recipe and thinking about what you can offer to the people you are serving.
Like cooking, it’s about a lot more than just slapping together the ingredients and calling it good. Look for the best quality ingredients, pair the drink correctly, and think of everyone you’re serving.
Classic Cocktail Recipes That You Must Try
If you liked this Old Fashioned recipe then you must try these cocktails:
Like the Old Fashioned, the Whiskey Sour is a highly popular cocktail that has been enjoyed by generations.
The Sidecar is a timeless cocktail made with tastes of lemon and orange. This is a must try cocktail for anyone.