The Old Fashioned Cocktail refers to a simpler mode of cocktails, for a simpler time, that mixed Spirits, Sugar, and Bitters together. This was circa 1860’s. The use of bitters, particularly Angostura, was intended for medicinal purposes- to settle the stomach or as an aperitif; to open the appetite before eating.
The Bartender’s Guide 1862 published the first version of the recipe, in it The Whiskey Cocktail recipe showed Whiskey as it’s spirit, not Bourbon and a slice of lemon peel instead of orange. From there the recipe changed, as bartenders started adding fruits and carbonation to drinks. In 1880 purists were calling for a more simplified cocktail, done the old-fashioned way. By 1882 Harry Johnson’s New and Improved Illustrated Bartender’s Manual was still calling it the Whiskey Cocktail.
By 1888 Theodore Proulx’s published the first Cocktail book listing that recipe as The Old Fashioned. There’s very little reference on Proulx’s book online, and the only other reference I could find is in Robert Simonson and Daniel Krieger’s The Old-Fashioned: The Story of the World’s First Classic Cocktail
Its closest cousin is the Manhattan, which follows a similar recipe: Whiskey, Bitters, and sweetened with Sweet Vermouth instead of sugar or simple syrup. Both are whiskey forward cocktails.
But the Old Fashioned wins. It’s my go to, all time, favorite cocktail.
Years ago, when I was reading Esquire building an archetype of what it means to be a man, I read in an article how a man should have a drink of choice. Knowing how to make a good cocktail, it seemed, was as important as tying a tie or toasting a friend (keep it short and sweet).
I fell in love with it for its simplicity. An Old Fashioned is easy to make, fast, and lasts a while to go down. Because the whiskey is balanced by the bitters and sugars, each sip is complex and has a long finish. It’s one of those drinks you can make after work, wind down, and relax.
You can expect:
- Very balanced, just sweet enough.
- Citrus aroma and an appetite opener
- Strong, but not overpowering. You wont need more than a drink or two to start feeling a buzz.
Making the Best Old Fashioned
Use good whiskey or Bourbon. It makes a difference. I’m much more partial to small batch bourbon distilleries than the big makers. in my experience, they tend to have more character. If you have Buffalo Trace or Pappy Van Winkle, use them. But my favorite bourbon comes from St. Augustine FL, the St. Augustine Distillery makes an aged bourbon finished in Port Wine Barrels; and it makes for the best bourbon for an Old Fashioned.
Traditionally, you make the old fashioned with sugar, dissolving it in water and 2 dashes of Angostura Bitters before adding Ice and the Bourbon. However, simple syrup is also a good alternative. The water and sugars come already dissolved and if you have it on hand, it can help speed up the process. This is normally what bartenders do to save time.
- 1 Part Sugar
- 1 Part water
Combine in a pot over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Chill and save for later. You can keep it up to a week in the fridge without it going bad.
This is also useful to infuse a particular flavor and add another variety to the drink. ie: Rosemary Old Fashioned etc.
Ultimately the point is to have a go to drink that can serve you a lifetime.
Tools you might need
BTW! A HUGE shoutout to our very talented resident artist, Carlos Gallostra for his resources and fact checking. He knows Art History and Cocktails are an art.Print
This Old Fashioned Recipe is the traditional drink without fuss. It’s simple, elegant, and wonderfully balanced, perfect for the start of a meal, or to relax.
1 tbsp Sugar or Simple Syrup
2 Dashes of Angostura Bitters
2 oz of Whiskey or Bourbon
Citrus Peel Twist
Add simple syrup, Angostura bitters, and Bourbon together. Add the ice and stir.
If using sugar instead of simple syrup, add the sugar and water together. Stir until the sugar is dissolved, and add the bitters and Bourbon. Finalize with the ice and stir.
Using a channel knife for a twist, or a vegetable peeler, cut the peel of an orange , twist it, and run it along the rim of the glass. Adding it to the drink as a garnish.
Garnish with a cherry (optional: not orthodox traditional, but at this point, do what makes you happy)
Add more sugar or simple syrup to taste. It should taste sweet to your comfort level.
A good sphere of clear ice adds a dimension of elegance to this cocktail.
Don’t muddle a citrus slice into the drink.