Old Fashioned Cocktail

DrinkBourbonCocktailWhiskey

An Old Fashioned is a true classic. Made with whiskey, sugar, Angostura bitters, and an orange peel (or cherry) for garnish, it's a cocktail made for whiskey lovers!

Photography Credit: Alison Bickel

What did the trendy cocktail say to the classic cocktail? “I’m glad that you’re Old Fashioned.” And … thank you, folks, that’s all for tonight!

Even if you know nothing about cocktails, chances are you’ve at least heard of an Old Fashioned. Made with just four ingredients – whiskey, sugar, Angostura bitters, and an optional (but recommended) orange peel or Luxardo cherry garnish – the Old Fashioned is up there with other cocktail greats like the Manhattan, Negroni, and Sazerac.

It’s super simple to make, too, as is appropriate for a cocktail designed to highlight its main ingredient – whiskey!

Old fashioned cocktail ingredients

THE BEST WHISKEY FOR AN OLD FASHIONED

The best whiskey for an Old Fashioned is … the whiskey you like! Many reputable mixologists and cocktail enthusiasts have opined on whether you should use rye or bourbon, but honestly, you can use either. Which do you prefer? There – that’s your whiskey for an Old Fashioned!

I like this drink with bourbon. I used Buffalo Trace most recently, but other mid-tier bourbons like Maker’s Mark, Bulleit, or Knob Creek would all be excellent choices.

SUGAR CUBE OR SIMPLE SYRUP?

Old Fashioned purists say the proper thing to do is to muddle a sugar cube with the bitters (and either a little club soda or water) in the bottom of the rocks glass. Non-purists, like myself, think that’s nice but the sugar never seems to fully dissolve this way. Either my muddling skills are weak (quite possible), or there might be another way.

I’m in favor of using simple syrup for an Old Fashioned because it’s easy and convenient. Here’s how to make it.

Old Fashioned Cocktail drink

IF YOU WANT TO EXPERIMENT, TRY DIFFERENT BITTERS

Angostura bitters is traditionally used in an Old Fashioned. (Fun fact: Apparently Angostura bitters is kind of like Coca Cola, in that only five people on earth know the recipe, which reportedly consists of over 40 different herbs and spices! That may be true, but I mostly smell nutmeg right off the bat.)

You can’t go wrong with Angostura bitters, but if you’re making an Old Fashioned in the winter or around the holidays, I recommend using a few dashes of Fee Brothers Old Fashioned Bitters instead. You get way more cinnamon and clove on the nose, like a winter holiday in a bottle.

MORE WHISKEY COCKTAILS TO ENJOY THIS WINTER: 

Old Fashioned Recipe

  • Prep time: 2 minutes
  • Yield: 1 cocktail

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces bourbon or rye whiskey
  • 1/4 ounce simple syrup
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • Orange peel or Luxardo cherry, for garnish (optional)

Special equipment:

Method

1 Make the drink: Add simple syrup and bitters to a rocks glass. Fill the glass with ice, and stir to combine. (My favorite stirrer for a single cocktail? This cake tester!) Add bourbon or rye and stir for about 30 seconds to chill and dilute. Garnish with orange peel or Luxardo cherry, if desired.

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Cambria Bold

Cambria Bold is the Product and Lifestyle Director for Simply Recipes. She has almost a decade's worth of online editorial experience and know-how, first as the Managing Editor for Apartment Therapy's green living site Re-Nest (RIP) and later as the Design and Lifestyle Editor for The Kitchn. She lives in St. Paul, Minnesota with her husband and their two little girls.

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5 Comments / Reviews

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Did you make it? Rate it!

  1. Michael

    Justin is correct that Steve is correct (more or less). The citation from the Chicago Tribune, actually referred to “old-fashioned cocktails”, a description… not yet a name.

    And the proper four ingredients are spirit, sugar, water, bitters. In the early days of the cocktail, the water was added in liquid form by the mixer. Later, when the concept of “old-fashioned” came about, the water was added as a byproduct of the method of stirring on ice.

    Angostura bitters are considered very standard to this drink today, but any bitters of choice can be employed. Angostura bitters weren’t originated until at least a quarter century after the advent of the cocktail.

    And last, but not least, it’s not “purists”, but educated folks who consider the muddling of dry sugar into syrup to be a defining element of this drink. Why? Because the minute you use pre-made syrup in a mixed drink, you are making a modern, not an old fashioned cocktail.

    Show Replies (1)
  2. Justin

    Steve is correct. An Old Fashioned is not a whiskey cocktail. That’s just the most common base spirit. Spirit, sugar, water amd bitters. That’s it. Wide open for playing with flavors.

  3. Steve

    In The Balance and Columbian Repository of May 13, 1806 the “cocktail is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters.” Those four ingredients made a cocktail. It appeared by name in print in The Chicago Tribune in 1880, and it was a reference to the original, the “Old Fashioned” cocktail. A cocktail made in the original, old fashioned way. The true roots.

    So experiment! Spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters. Here’s some inspiration:

    Mother’s Bane
    Old Tom gin was called Mother’s Ruin in mid-eighteenth century England because of its effect on families and the birth rate. So it seemed appropriate that a Mother’s Ruin-based version of an Old Fashioned cocktail would be named based on that old epithet for the spirit itself; thus Mother’s Bane. This Gin Old Fashioned uses Campari as the bitters, with a nod to the Negroni gods.

    2 ounces Old Tom gin
    2 teaspoons simple syrup
    2 teaspoons Campari

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Old fashioned cocktail ingredientsOld Fashioned Cocktail