Our Editors Share Their Favorite Old-Fashioned Recipes
If you are at all intrigued by whiskey cocktails, but haven’t much experience with them, a good place to start might be the venerable Old-Fashioned. First off, the name, why is it an old-fashioned?
Well, about the mid-19th century it was popular to add a sugar cube to a glass of whiskey and maybe a couple dashes of bitters as well. This became a pretty standard cocktail, and was often just called the cocktail.
By the late 19th century cocktails became quite complex with lots of ingredients and people began ordering a cocktail, “the old way” or “old-fashioned way” without all the newer ingredients. So, a basic Old-Fashioned is whiskey, sugar, and bitters. However, even with those few ingredients, we can still play around a bit.
Here are some of our editor’s favorite versions.
There was a time about a decade and change ago when craft cocktail culture was burgeoning that I spent a good amount of time (and money) mixing up all manner of pleasantly potent potables. But those days are now just a spirit-soaked memory. Nowadays, I like my cocktails like I like my clothing — simple and classic. And here’s my favorite Old-Fashioned recipe along with some quite particular instructions and explanations:
- 1 sugar cube
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
- 1 dash Regan’s orange bitters
- 2.5 ounces Maker’s Mark
- 1 Luxardo maraschino cherry
- Orange peel
One thing I am adamant about with regards to my Old-Fashioned cocktails is that they are built directly in the glass you plan to drink from. For me, recently, that’s been a lovely Ralph Lauren Hudson Plaid tumbler. Place the sugar cube in the glass, soak with the bitters, and muddle until the sugar is as dissolved as it’s going to get.
There are some who advocate for simple syrup in place of a sugar cube because as you’ll find if you try my method, you will not be able to get the sugar cube to dissolve completely. Personally, I don’t mind as it forces a lot of the sweetness to remain at the bottom of the glass, which results in an almost dessert-like final few sips. I quite like that.
Next, measure out the Maker’s Mark bourbon with your jigger and pour into the glass. Take a large ice cube — I love the Tovolo large ice molds — and use your bar spoon to place it in the glass. Stir for 30 seconds and garnish with the maraschino cherry and orange peel after expressing the oils over the drink.
Depending on the season, I have two go-to Old-Fashioned recipes that never fail. The first is great for when the sun is hot. Smooth and sweet bourbon is balanced with fruit and citrus notes fit for any spring or summer day.
Muddle a bar spoon of white sugar with:
- 2 dashes of Fee Brothers Orange Bitters
- 2 dashes of Homegrown Flavor Company’s Pear Bitters
- 1 splash of soda water
- 2 ounces of your favorite bourbon
Add a large ice cube. Then, garnish with a lemon twist.
During the winter, I prefer a more complex spicy-sweet blend that develops as you sip.
This time, mix:
- 1 spoonful of demerara sugar
- 3 dashes of Fee Brothers Aztec Chocolate Bitters
- 2 ounces of your favorite rye (mine has been Eight Oaks Pennsylvania Rye, a local favorite)
Then stir over ice to chill. For your garnish, choose between a Luxardo cherry or an orange peel, or both if the mood is right. Lastly, enjoy!
My favorite Old-Fashioned combines a couple of spirits to get the flavors just right:
- 1.5 ounce bourbon (I like Family Jones for this application, plus they’re local to me)
- 0.5 ounce rye (Rittenhouse works great)
- 2 teaspoons demerara syrup (you can buy it or make it yourself, one part demerara sugar one part water heated on the stove, stir until mixed fully and then cool and store in squirt bottle)
- 3 dashes angostura bitters
- 1 dash orange bitters
Mix all ingredients in a tall mixing glass and top with ice. Stir for about 10-15 seconds and then strain into a rocks glass over one large cube (I love using the Wintersmiths clear ice maker). Garnish with orange peel, lemon peel, and Amarena Fabbri wild cherry or some other version of an amaro cherry (not a maraschino). Enjoy!
When it comes to the whiskey, some swear by rye and others bourbon. I readily admit I don’t think my palette is sophisticated enough to tell the difference, especially in a cocktail, but I always use bourbon. For the sugar, a syrup is best as sugar does nor readily dissolve in a cocktail, particularly when served over ice, as this should be. A plain, simple syrup works well here, but demerara syrup works even better, and during Christmas, maple syrup adds just the right hint of the flavors of the season.
Here is my basic Old-Fashioned recipe:
- 2 oz whiskey (your choice)
- .25 to 1 ounce of syrup (this depends largely on taste)
- 2 dashes bitters (Angostura are the most common, but again use your favorite)
- Twist of orange or lemon peel for garnish (optional but desirable)
Put the whiskey and syrup together in a glass and stir until well combined, add ice and a couple dashes of bitters, and finish with your citrus twist.
I prefer my drinks a little less sweet, but for the holidays I really appreciate the maple flavor, so I use Knob Creek Smoked Maple Bourbon. As a side note, it’s also excellent in your favorite eggnog recipe). This way I can use less simple syrup, around ¼ oz.
So, mix yourself an Old-Fashioned, then sit by the fire and relax.
I have a love-love relationship with Old-Fashioned cocktails in that I love to love them. They were my first cocktail love and I learned to mix them at home before sampling them at the bar. So, having examined and made enough of them, I feel like I know what makes a good one. It’s called an Old-Fashioned because it’s the beginning of cocktails entirely — something sweet and something bitter with a strong drink and garnish. Best to keep it that way.
Therefore, I recommend the following recipe:
- 1 sugar cube (white or brown)
- 3-4 dashes of Angostura Bitters
- A drop of soda water
- 1 large ice cube (slower dilution preserves the flavor unlike small cubes)
- 50ml of Johnnie Walker Black Label (for the honey aroma)
- Garnished with a slice of orange (spritzed over the glass)
The older I get, the less interested I am in “craft” cocktails. It seems like they’ve gotten more fussy, sugary, and complicated to make. Give me the classics! Martini. Negroni. And, an Old-Fashioned. Here’s my go-to recipe.
- 2.5 ounces rye whiskey (I like Whistle Pig’s Piggyback or Knob Creek)
- 3 dashes of Angostura bitters
- 1 bar spoon simple syrup
- One large, round ice cube made with filtered water
- Thin strip flamed of orange and Luxardo cherry to garnish
Combine whiskey and bitters in a mixing glass over a few ice cubes. Pour out the bar spoon and, using that spoon, stir for 15 seconds or so. It gets the drink cold, but no need to dilute it. Strain over the ice cube and give a few more stirs.
Wipe the rim of the glass with the flamed orange peel, then skewer the peel and cherry with a cocktail pick and drop in the glass. Salut!
Whatever version of an Old-Fashioned you choose, we hope you enjoy it with friends this holiday season. But, please, let us know your favorite recipe in the comments! Cheers!