The Old Fashioned is one of the oldest cocktails, developed during the 19th century. Originally, an "old fashioned" cocktail was a standard cocktail created by combining spirits, bitters, water, and sugar. This recipe is simple and makes for a classic cocktail that can be enjoyed by many - don’t forget to add that garnish for a hint of citrus.
Although the Old Fashioned might be one of the oldest cocktails in existence, for millions it will always be linked to Don Draper and Mad Men.
The Best Old Fashioned Ingredients:
- Need the right whiskey? See our picks for the best whiskeys for an Old Fashioned!
- Need the right cocktail cherry? See our picks for the best cocktail sherries for an Old Fashioned!
Want to mix things up? Don't miss our most popular Old Fashioned riffs below.
Table Of Contents
Old Fashioned Ingredients
- 2 ½ oz Bourbon (or Rye Whiskey)
- 1/2 oz simple syrup
- 3 dash Angostura Bitters
- 1 each Lemon and orange twist
Old Fashioned Directions
- Combine first three ingredients in a rocks glass.
- Stir ingredients.
- Add ice.
- Garnish with a lemon and orange twist and enjoy.
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Yield: 1 Cocktail
Old Fashioned Recipe Video
Old Fashioned FAQ
Why is it called an Old Fashioned?
In 1806, a cocktail known as the Whiskey Cocktail, a combination of sugar, bitters, and whiskey, was extremely popular amongst drinkers for its curative properties when nursing a hangover. However, the simple mixture of ingredients led to many bartenders taking creative liberties over the cocktail, changing the ingredients so much so that the cocktail would be completely different at each place it was ordered. As such, many started ordering the Whiskey Cocktail “the old-fashioned way,” with its original composition.
The method of ordering the Whiskey Cocktail eventually took over as the official name of the Old Fashioned, and the cocktail was mentioned for the first time in the 1895 book by George Kappeler, Modern American Drinks.
How was the original Old Fashioned made?
The original version of the Old Fashioned was called the whiskey cocktail, and was made with a mixture of whiskey, bitters, and sugar served over ice with a lemon peel to garnish.
Best Practices: Handle Old Fashioneds With Care
“The Old Fashioned is beautiful in its simplicity,” Aren Bellando, the lead bartender at SideDoor and Lawry’s the Prime Rib in Chicago, says. “It can be taught to a layman in less than a minute, but it’s consistently botched by some bartenders who have been behind the stick for years.”
The trick is to treat Old Fashioneds with care. The drink seems straightforward, since there are only three ingredients (four if we count the garnish, and we actually really should).
But if you want to make a truly great Old Fashioned at home, you’re going to have to mind the details. Think of the garnish and even ice as equally important as your whiskey, bourbon, or rye. Measure all your ingredients, and be deliberate with each step.
We polled five bartenders for their tips and tricks for making excellent Old Fashioneds. Here is everything you need to know.
How To Make An Old Fashioned
1. Be Choosy About Your Garnish.
In a drink this carefully composed, the garnish isn’t decorative. It will absolutely affect the taste of your finished product.
“As pretentious as it may sound, if I ever notice a bartender muddling old orange slices and fake candy-red cherries into a glass, I know I'll be drinking beer that evening,” Bellando says of the importance of Old Fashioned garnishes.
Cocktail cherries, a popular Old Fashioned garnish, are only advisable if you like your drinks on the sweeter side. Jarred fruit, especially those bright red, artificial cherries that come packed in syrup, will quickly throw off your sweet-bitter balance, especially if you muddle them.
Opt for a lemon and orange twist instead — but choose your citrus carefully.
“Select citrus with large dimples in its skin,” Jim Kearns, bar director and managing partner at The Happiest Hour and Slowly Shirley, says. Those dimples are a surefire sign your produce is rich with aromatic oils that will scent your drink when you express them over the surface.
It’s a quick, easy, and extremely affordable way to elevate your cocktail.
2. Use One Big Ice Cube.
Those oversized cubes you see at fancy cocktail bars aren’t just for show. They actually preserve the caliber of your Old Fashioned.
Any drink served with ice will dilute as the cubes melt. The trick with a spirit-forward cocktail like the Old Fashioned is managing dilution.
“Lots of people don't realize the importance of proper dilution,” Stefan Gagliano, assistant food & beverage director, The Restaurant at Mr. C Beverly Hills, says. He recommends using one solid, two-inch ice cube in order to create “a more balanced cocktail with the right viscosity.”
Large cubes have less surface area than small or crushed ice, so they melt slower and more evenly. Your drink, therefore, mellows gently and elegantly as you sip.
3. Stir Once Or Twice. Then Stop.
Speaking of dilution, over-stirring your cocktail is another surefire way to water it down.
Amanda Swanson of NYC’s Añejo suggests building the drink in the glass you plan to serve it in. That way, you don’t slosh the cocktail and its ice cube around while transferring it from one vessel to another (this is effectively the same as stirring).
“An Old Fashioned by nature is designed to change over the course of its drink,” Swanson says. The cube will melt as you’re drinking it, so you want to start out sipping something potent and pristine.
What To Avoid When Making Old Fashioneds
1. Save Your Best Whiskey.
The Old Fashioned is a spirit-forward cocktail, so you might think it’s the ideal showcase for your most prized whiskey, bourbon, or rye. Not so, bartenders say. The flavors of the sugar and bitters are strong enough here that a truly top-of-the-line spirit isn’t necessary.
"You'll lose the nuances and complexity of a high-quality bourbon,” Gagliano says. “Go for a mid-level quality bottle.”
“My personal preference for a good, all-purpose Old Fashioned is Wild Turkey 101º Rye,” Kearns says.
(That said, if you’re making this cocktail on your wedding night, or you generally live large, you certainly won’t hate a top-shelf version. “For a special occasion, or my eventual exile to a desert island, I’d go with Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Rye,” Kearns says.)
2. No Floats Allowed.
“Don’t ever use soda water as a topper,” Kenneth McCoy, chief creative office, Public House Collective in NYC, says. “I’ve seen this at a very reputable bar and I almost had a heart attack — you just made me whiskey soup!”
Garnish notwithstanding, there are exactly three ingredients in an Old Fashioned: whiskey, sugar, and Angostura bitters. If you want to add soda water to your drink, that’s absolutely your prerogative! Just know that a bubbly water float means it’s technically no longer an Old Fashioned. That’s more of a flavor-infused whiskey soda.
Are we being fussy? Of course we are. That’s how good drinks become great.
The History Of The Old Fashioned
When it comes to cocktails, there are few more traditional than the Old Fashioned. True to its name, the Old Fashioned cocktail is one of the oldest recorded recipes in the history of mixed drinks, developed in the late 19th century (this is way before the days of Don Draper and “Mad Men,” believe it or not).
The Old Fashioned is one of the world’s first cocktails, dating back to around 1880. As the legend goes, James E. Pepper, master distiller of his namesake bourbon, introduced the world to the drink during a visit to the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York, where he often met with other American businessmen, such as John D. Rockefeller, Theodore Roosevelt, and Fred Pabst.
Although evidence points to Pepper introducing the Old Fashioned to the Waldorf Astoria in NYC, others believe it originated in his hometown of Louisville, Ky. According to Louisville lore, the cocktail was invented in Pepper's honor by a bartender at the Pendennis Club in Louisville. Louisville has gone a step further to claim the Old Fashioned as its own, naming it as the city’s official cocktail in 2015.
Old Fashioned Variations To Try:
- The Oaxaca Old Fashioned - A little smoky and a little sweet, the Oaxaca Old Fashioned helped solidify agave spirits as a mainstay of modern cocktail culture.
- The Scotch Old Fashioned - This riff on the original highlights smoke and oak in the flavor profile.
- The Calvados Old Fashioned - Calvados, a French brandy that can be made with apples or pears, stars in this twist on an Old Fashioned cocktail.
- The Caribbean Old Fashioned Recipe - This Old Fashioned tastes like vacation in a glass, with subtle sweetness added by equal parts white and dark rum. A dash of tropical bitters brings nuance and interesting notes of mango and passionfruit.
- The Toasted Marshmallow Old Fashioned Recipe - Calling all s’mores lovers! This smoky Old Fashioned is the perfect campfire cocktail. Combine Scotch, aromatic bitters, and homemade marshmallow syrup, and top with a toasted marshmallow.
- The Old-Fashioned Summer Recipe - This riff is perfect for summertime sipping. Rather than whiskey, this version swaps in port as the base, resulting in a lower-ABV, sessionable Old Fashioned.
- The Orange Old Fashioned Recipe - This citrus-forward Old Fashioned is all about the orange: Orange bitters, Grand Marnier, and an orange twist garnish.