The classic old-fashioned drink recipe has slowly evolved over time, but its core essence has always remained the same: whiskey, sugar, and bitters. The approach to each ingredient and how to make an old-fashioned drink has become a personal preference, some choosing to use an older approach, some from the 1990s, and others a modern spin. Fortunately, there is no wrong way to make this classic.
- In a mixing glass, add ice, whiskey, simple syrup, orange bitters, and aromatic bitters.
- Stir rapidly to chill.
- Strain into rocks glass over fresh ice or king cube.
- Express orange peel over the drink by twisting the peel between your fingers, then run outside of peel along rim. Discard.
- Garnish with orange wheel and cherry.
Variations and Substitutions
The classic old-fashioned has gone through innumerable changes. There are enough variations and substitutions to make any imbiber happy. However, as it is a spirit-forward cocktail with few ingredients, there's no place to hide a poor ingredient, so choose high quality when you can.
- Consider using a specific style of whiskey: rye whiskey for an old-fashioned with a bite, Scotch for a smokier taste, Irish whiskey for caramel notes, bourbon for a sweeter profile, or Canadian whisky for a milder, smoother drink
- A flavored bourbon, even just a gentle flavor, can alter the core profile of any old-fashioned. Consider an oaky or honey whiskey
- Instead of simple syrup, consider the traditional route of a finely muddled sugar cube with a few dashes of bitters
- For a fruitier old-fashioned, muddle an orange peel and cherry with the sugar cube
- Play around with different combinations of bitters: cherry + walnut, cranberry + molasses, cardamom + aromatic, toasted almond + smoked
- The traditional recipe calls for a splash of water, this is to allow some of the flavors to dilute for a milder drink
Garnishes shouldn't be approached as an afterthought. They're a key part of a cocktail: they add a visual experience to as well as impart both a nose and flavor that would otherwise be missing. They're an extension of the drink experience.
- Use a cocktail cherry for a more luxurious old-fashioned.
- Flame an orange peel for a toasty experience.
- Consider a dehydrated citrus wheel, such as an orange or lemon, for an elevated look.
- Candied ginger adds a spicy yet sweet flavor.
About the Classic Old-Fashioned
The classic old-fashioned has evolved over the years. After first making an appearance in the 1800s, it contained a spirit (often bourbon or sometimes brandy), bitters, water, and sugar. Soon, bartenders began to change the recipe. Some added orange liqueur or absinthe in varying proportions.
There was no set garnish until the early 1900s, before the traditional orange slice and cherry (or together in combination) began to be considered. Still, each bar dictated its own individual garnish. Some would muddle the fruits with a sugar cube and bitters for a slightly fruitier flavor.
A Classic for Everyone
The beauty of a classic old-fashioned recipe is there's one for everyone. Each subtle little twist creates the perfect cocktail. So whether you go back to the beginning with a sugar cube and splash of water or stick to the modern simple syrup and bitters, it's well worth learning your way around this classic.