The Old Fashioned is a timeless cocktail. A few ingredients —a sugar cube, angostura bitters, and whiskey — marry over a large ice cube with an orange twist for a delicious sipping experience.
When perfected, the three-ingredient drink is strong, but flavorful. When not, it’s overly sweet or far too bitter to be enjoyed. Here’s your recipe on how to make the perfect Old Fashioned cocktail, plus a brief history tour. Please keep your hands and feet inside at all times.
What Is an Old Fashioned?
The Old Fashioned’s roots date back to the 18th century when it was just known as the Whiskey Cocktail and was made with bitters and whiskey, no ice.
As bartenders started to tinker with different variations on whiskey cocktails, it acquired the name the Old Fashioned so patrons could let the bartender know exactly what drink it was that they wanted.
The drink lost some popularity when the apple martini and other candylike concoctions took over, it regained its popularity in the 1990s and now it’s nearly impossible to go into a cocktail bar and not find a variation of it on the menu.
While there’s some dispute as to who created the Old Fashioned we drink today, one popular rendition attributes the cocktail’s inception to bourbon distillery owner Colonel James E. Pepper. In the late 1800s, Pepper frequently drank at the private Pendennis Club in Louisville, Kentucky. Legend has it, whether it was his own invention or made in his honor, Pepper popularized the Old Fashioned and took the recipe to New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel.
How to Make the Perfect Old Fashioned
Making an Old Fashioned in theory is as easy as one-two-three. The cocktail is built in the glass, so you don’t even have to dirty a shaker. However, with such a short list of ingredients, the key to a perfect Old Fashioned comes down to technique:
- Saturate the sugar with bitters.
- Pour a high-quality spirit.
- Use one large ice cube.
The bitters-soaked sugar will dissolve easily with a just little stirring. For any spirit-forward cocktail, using your favorite bourbon or rye (or the best you can afford) is key.
And, since this is a sipping cocktail, using one large ice cube (as opposed to a few smaller ones) will allow the ice to melt slowly and evenly over time.
Old Fashioned Cocktail Recipe
- 1 sugar cube
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
- 2 oz. bourbon or rye of choice
- Orange twist and brandied cherry for garnish
- Place the sugar cube in a rocks glass and add bitters, allowing the bitters to soak into the sugar.
- Muddle the bitters and sugar together.
- Add bourbon or rye and stir.
- Add one large ice cube or two to three smaller cubes. Stir until thoroughly chilled, about 20-30 seconds.
- Garnish with an orange twist and a brandied cherry.
Old Fashioned Variations
- Use different flavored bitters, such as Crude’s Pooter bitters for a salty, smoky undertone or orange bitters to complement the garnish
- Swap the whiskey for barrel-rested gin, which lends more botanical and vanilla flavors
- Try smoky mezcal in place of whiskey for a cocktail that’s reminiscent of a campfire
- Brown-butter wash the bourbon for a rich, nutty drink that’s perfect for the holidays
- Transport yourself to New Orleans by whipping up a Sazerac, an absinthe-accented cocktail that’s a close relative to the Old Fashioned
- Use honey in place of a sugar cube or simple syrup
- Forget the ice and instead use hot water for a Hot Toddy/Old Fashioned mash-up
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