Whiskey is a spirit that lends itself exceptionally well to mixing. A common ingredient in many popular cocktails, this well-loved amber beverage always enhances and complements anything you add it to.
Of all the many cocktails that contain whiskey, the old fashioned is arguably the most intriguing. It is certainly one of the most enticing from a taste standpoint, with its enigmatic-yet-familiar blend of sweet and sour flavors. When it comes to whiskey-based cocktails, the venerable old fashioned comes at the top of the list for many drinkers.
What is an old fashioned?
The recipes for many whiskey cocktails are pretty flexible, allowing you to substitute certain ingredients according to your preferences. In contrast, recipes for old fashioneds stay pretty close to the traditional, with little room to stray.
The main ingredients are soda, bourbon, sugar, bitters, and whiskey, of course. For garnishing, most people add orange zest or a cocktail cherry. You could serve these drinks in a rocks glass or an old fashioned glass.
Why is it called old fashioned?
The old fashioned originated in 1806, when a drink called “whiskey cocktail” became a popular morning beverage. Made with bitters, sugar, ice, whiskey, and lemon garnish, the concoction supposedly eased ailments such as nausea, headaches, and hangovers.
Over time, bartenders expanded on the relatively simple whiskey cocktail recipe, adding new ingredients and flavors to the mix. Unfortunately, not all these innovations were well-received. Many patrons were dismayed that the whisky cocktail they enjoyed previously was markedly different the next time they dropped in at their favorite bar.
The clamor grew steadily for a standardized formula for the whiskey cocktail. Giving in to public pressure and probably realizing that they had a classic on their hands, some enterprising bartenders settled on the recipe that is still the basis of the old fashioned today.
In another twist to the old fashioned’s tale, the drink was almost forgotten due to Prohibition. Thankfully, the recipe‒then known as “Old Fashioned Holland Gin Cocktail”‒was chronicled in “Jerry Thomas’ Bartender Guide: How to Mix Drinks”. Replacing the gin with whiskey resulted in the classic old fashioned recipe, which has since been preserved for future generations.
Also responsible for preserving the modern version of the cocktail was James E. Pepper, a well-known bartender in the 1880s. Pepper served the drink at a private social club in Kentucky known as the “Pendennis”, where he specialized mainly in whiskey drinks. When he started tending bar at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York, he brought the recipe with him, and it became a huge hit.
How do I order an Old Fashioned?
By now, you’re probably craving a sip or two of an old fashioned yourself‒and who could blame you? If you don’t want to miss out any longer, here’s how to order this classic drink:
Step 1: Check the menu
Most upscale bars and those that cater to the older crowd will probably have old fashioneds on the menu. But don’t assume that all bartenders know how to make one. If necessary, you might have to spell out the ingredients and provide instructions, especially if you’re particular about how the drink is made.
Step 2: Customize your liquor
Decide whether you want your old fashioned on the bitter or sweet side. You could then ask to have it mixed with more soda or bitters, depending on your preference.
You could also customize your drink with your choice of spirit. For example, using bourbon will result in a sweeter blend, while brandy will give it a more robust character.
Don’t be shy about specifying specific brands. Otherwise, some bartenders will simply add whatever is cheapest.
You could even get as specific as asking for a Hudson Baby Bourbon Whiskey Old Fashioned, extra sweet with a lemon twist depending on the bar and bartender. But do be prepared to tip well if you are particular about your cocktail.
You could also ask the bartender for recommendations. Who knows‒you might get an interesting variation that will become your new favorite drink!
How to make your own old fashioned
Of course, you could always distill your own whisky to make your own old fashioned. Like many cocktails, it’s surprisingly easy to make and uses only a few ingredients that you probably already have. Best of all, you can customize your drink to be precisely how you want it or even depending on your preferences on a particular day.
You will need the following to make an old fashioned like a pro:
- Cocktail picks
- Whiskey or brandy
- An old fashioned glass
The basic steps for mixing the cocktail are as follows:
First, mix the maraschino cherry, an orange slice, a bit of grenadine, Angostura bitters, and sugar cubes.
Next, add a jigger of whiskey or brandy. Stir it a bit before adding ice to the glass.
Then, top up the drink with lemon-lime soda, such as 7-Up. You could also use grapefruit soda for more tartness.
Finally, add the garnish of your choice. Cherries are the traditional choice, but you could also use olives, pickled mushrooms, or even pickled Brussels sprouts.
Old fashioned recipes
Now that you know the basic steps to make an old fashioned, you might want to try some specific recipes. Here are two variations of the cocktail that have proven to be perennial favorites among bar patrons.
Bourbon Old Fashioned Recipe
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- 3 dashes Angostura bitters
- 2 ounces bourbon
- 1 teaspoon water
- Orange peel as garnish
In a rock glass, combine the sugar and bitters. Add the water and swirl the mixture until the sugar is nearly dissolved. Fill the glass halfway with ice cubes, then pour in the bourbon and stir gently to blend. Rub the orange peel against the inside of the glass, and then add it to the mix.
Wisconsin Old Fashioned Recipe
- 3 dashes Angostura bitters
- 2 orange slices
- 2 cherries soaked in brandy
- 2 ounces brandy
- 1 sugar cube
- 1 dash 7-UP, Sprite, or club soda
- Brandied cherry as a garnish
- Orange slice as garnish
In an Old Fashioned glass, mix the Angostura bitters, orange slices, brandied cherries, and sugar cubes. Fill the glass with ice, and then pour in the brandy. Add 7-Up, Sprite, or club soda and mix well. Serve with a skewered cherry and an orange slice.
There you have it: two classic variations on the old fashioned. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different brands of bourbon or whiskey and even with other mixers. Who knows? You could come up with a future classic that is uniquely your own!