The classic bourbon cocktail, an Old Fashioned combines smooth whiskey with a touch of sugar and hint of citrus. A favorite for generations, the Old Fashioned has a storied history and has earned a place in American cocktail tradition.
The Classic Old Fashioned Cocktail
If you love bourbon, the Old Fashioned is a drink you can never go wrong with! To make an Old Fashioned, smooth bourbon whiskey is blended with sugar and bitters and finished with a hint of citrus. The result is a subtly sweet drink where the bourbon is the star.
With just a few simple ingredients, this iconic cocktail is easy to make. It’s a great way for beginners to practice their mixology skills. However, this is not necessarily a beginner’s drink! This is a strong cocktail, both in taste and in alcohol content.
Now, bartending for some years I have ran into many “interpretations” of this cocktail. I have seen some that ditched the sugar cube and muddled fruit with simple syrup instead. While this might seem blasphemous to purists, I always feel that the most important thing is whether or not YOU like the drink! So I’ll provide the classic recipe in this post, as well as a few modification and prep tips to make it your own. — Matt
Related: For another strong whiskey drink, try the Three Wise Men shots!
Why is it Called an “Old Fashioned?”
The Old Fashioned has a storied history, but the actual invention is a bit disputed, in a friendly way of course.
In the early 19th century, it was common for bar patrons to order their drinks made “the old-fashioned way.” However, this did not necessarily refer to a specific drink, but rather the style of making it.
The first printed version of the Old Fashioned cocktail, as we know it, was published in 1895 in Modern American Drinks, by George Kappeler. (Source)
But that didn’t settle it! Louisville, Kentucky also claims credit as the founding place of the “modern” Old Fashioned cocktail, even going so far as to declare it their official drink.
No matter where it actually was first mixed, the Old Fashioned bourbon cocktail has stood the test of time and earned its name!
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Optional Garnish Ideas
Helpful Bartending Tools
Note: This recipe contains alcohol and is intended for readers 21+
- Place a sugar cube in the bottom of an empty lowball glass.
- Shake the bitters on top of the sugar cube so that it soaks up the liquid.
- Use your muddler to completely crush the sugar cube into the bitters.
- Add ice to glass, pour in the bourbon, and stir until the sugar dissolves.
- Rub the outside of an orange peel around the rim of the glass, then drop it into your drink.
- Garnish with cherries for a pop of color and flavor. We used Luxardo cherries here, which are maraschino cherries that are soaked in a rich syrup until they are essentially candied. Luxardo cherries are considered the ultimate cocktail cherry and add a luxurious touch to this sophisticated cocktail. However, regular maraschino cherries will also work.
- To help the sugar dissolve, you can also pour in the bourbon before you had the ice. Another trick is to add a teaspoon of water to the sugar and bitters, and then stir.
- An Old Fashioned is traditionally served with an orange rind, but if you enjoy the citrus flavors, you can also add a squeeze of fresh orange juice.
- Some Old Fashioned recipes may call for more (or less) bitters. However, I recommend sticking with just a couple drops to start, until you’re sure that you like the taste. My rule of thumb is to add just enough drops that the sugar can soak up.
Frequently Asked Questions
What kind of whiskey do I use?
An old fashioned is typically made with bourbon, a type of whiskey made primarily from corn. All bourbon is whiskey, but all whiskey is not bourbon, as there are strict rules that determine what whiskey may be labeled and sold as bourbon.
That being said, you don’t have to stick with bourbon for this drink. Any whiskey that you like is totally fine. In fact, rye whiskey is a popular choice for making old fashioned cocktails as well.
What if I don’t have any sugar cubes?
Traditionally, an old fashioned is made with a sugar cube. However, if you don’t keep sugar cubes on hand, you can substitute for granulated sugar or sugar in the raw. A standard sugar cube contains 4 grams of sugar, which equates to about a teaspoon.
If using granulated sugar, the taste will not be affected. Using a sugar cube simply ensures that you’re using the “right” amount of sugar to achieve that classic flavors of the drink. It’s also part of the “show” of making a classic old fashioned cocktail.
What is Angostura Bitters? and why does it smell like that?
Originally marketed as a medicinal tonic in the 19th century, Angostura bitters combines a neutral alcohol with herbs, spices, and botanicals. Angostura bitters are considered the benchmark for aromatic bitters, but you can also try this drink with a different type of bitters to experiment with new flavors. If you like the taste of Bitters try a Manhattan cocktail, which uses Bitters as well.
Old Fashioned Cocktail Recipe
- Bar Spoon
- 2 Ounces Bourbon
- 2-4 Drops Bitters
- 1 Sugar Cube
- Orange Peel or Wedge
- Maraschino Cherries
- Place a sugar cube in the bottom of an empty cocktail glass.
- Shake a couple drops of bitters on top of the sugar cube. Use a muddle to crush the sugar into the bitters.
- Add ice to glass and pour in the bourbon. Stir until the sugar is dissolved.
- Rub the outside of an orange peel around the rim of the glass, then drop it in your drink.
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