The Old Fashioned is a whiskey-based cocktail created at some point in the 19th century. Presumably the first argument over how to make one properly followed immediately afterward.
Though its definitive origins remain unknown, it’s likely the Old Fashioned in some form was born from the practice of combining spirits with aromatics and sweetening with sugar in the early 1800s. The 1880s saw a resurgence of this style of concoction, referred to as “old fashioned cocktails,” which likely led to the whiskey-based drink receiving its name.
Through the decades the Old Fashioned managed to endure countless fads and fashions before exploding in popularity in the late 2000s, thanks to the television series Mad Men. As the preferred drink of the charming, shockingly handsome lead character Don Draper, the cocktail reintroduced a new generation to classic cocktails. Not that this venerable cocktail was in any danger of fading away, mind you. Let’s put it this way: the short, wide, glass tumbler likely sitting in in your kitchen cabinet right now is literally called an Old Fashioned glass. That’s like being so baller the style of shoe you wear gets named after you.
An Old Fashioned is smooth, rich, bold, and aromatic, with a warm, spicy sweetness.
2 ounces bourbon or rye whiskey:Pro tip: Try to use the good stuff. No need to break the bank, but stick with whiskey you would also enjoy sipping straight.
1 ounce simple syrup:Mix equal parts sugar and water
3 dashes aromatic bitters: Angostura Bitters is our go-to
Orange peel: as a garnish.
Add a large ice cube to a rocks or Old Fashioned glass
Pour 2 oz Bourbon or rye whiskey
Pour 1 oz Simple syrup
Add 3 dashes of aromatic bitters
Stir gently—enough to mix and chill the ingredients without overly diluting the cocktail
Express an orange peel over the glass and rub the oil around the rim. Note: “Express” is a fancy way of saying “squeeze.”
Garnish with the orange peel.
The Old Fashioned is the subject of heated debate regarding its preparation, with some calling for muddling, others cherry. We’re not here to argue authenticity. Try a few and decide for yourself!
A Brandy Old Fashioned is made by substituting whiskey with brandy. Shocker, right?
Some cocktail traditionalists prefer using cane sugar instead of simple syrup for added depth and texture.
Some recipes call for muddling an orange and even a cherry with bitters and sugar at the bottom of the glass before adding the ice and whiskey.
Different varieties of bitters impart interesting new flavors. Try Peychaud’s or Fee Brothers, the latter of which also offers different flavored bitters, such as black walnut bitters, chocolate bitters, and cherry bitters.
Other whiskeys such as Scotch, Irish, or Canadian whisky may be substituted if preferred, or if bourbon and/or rye are unavailable.
If simple syrup is unavailable or impractical feel free to use regular granulated sugar or cane sugar. Many enthusiasts even prefer this! (See “Variations” above.)
If sugar is out of the question, stevia or other artificial sweeteners may be substituted.
Not a fan of whiskey? Try using dark rum or brandy (see “Variations” above).
When to Serve an Old Fashioned
The Old Fashioned is classy enough for formal events, yet casual enough for an every day cocktail. Below are a few suggestions, but really there’s no wrong time for an Old Fashioned.
Cocktail Parties: The Manhattan is appropriate for both casual and formal parties. They’re also pretty impressive.
Formal events: Wedding receptions, New Year’s Eve Parties, or any formal events.
Dinner parties: The slightly bitter spiciness works well as an aperitif, served before the meal.
What to Serve with an Old Fashioned
Barbecue, especially if making an Old Fashioned with bourbon
Salty snacks, like charcuterie, antipasti, and cheese
Medium to heavy bodied meats, such as pork chops, duck, and steak
Remember to always enjoy the Old Fashioned responsibly! It’s okay to emulate Don Draper’s taste and charisma and not, you know, the other stuff.