Cocktails: The Old Fashioned

Take a look at the cocktail menu at any decent bar today and I’m willing to bet that the first drink listed is an Old Fashioned. And if it isn’t, it certainly should – a drink with as much history as the rest of the menu combined deserves a place at the top. Appearing in writing as far back as the late 19th century, the Old Fashioned has endured countless twists and turns as bartenders throughout history modified the drink to please each new generation of whiskey drinkers.

Originally known as a Whiskey Cocktail, the Old Fashioned is one of the few drinks conforming to the technical definition of a cocktail – a drink composed of spirits, sugar, bitters, and water. Variations started to appear around the end of the 19th century calling for additions of absinthe, Curaçao, and maraschino liqueur among other things. During and immediately after prohibition, adding fruit to the drink became quite common – likely an attempt to mask the taste of awful prohibition era liquor. And although it didn’t become a standard part of the process until the 60s and 70s, Old Fashioned recipes with instructions to muddle fruit in the bottom of the glass were seen as early as the 30s.

Over the course of the 70s and 80s, whiskey took a pretty big hit as the world of flavored vodka exploded. The Old Fashioned somewhat faded out of many bars and those who continued to drink them were all but forced to make them at home where they could ensure their drink was exactly what they expected. Fast forward a couple decades to today, thanks in part to Don Draper, you can find an Old Fashioned in just about any decent cocktail bar. The Old Fashioned is one of my go-to drinks and it has become the means by which I judge every new bar I visit. If your bar passes the Old Fashioned test, you can bet on seeing me again.

The Old Fashioned is such a simple, straightforward drink, and yet it’s easy to personalize with variations in ingredients and methods of preparation. With countless high-quality whiskeys and the array of specialty bitters available today, you can explore countless twists on a classic without threatening the integrity of the drink. Keep in mind, however, the Old Fashioned is a very whiskey-forward drink so you’ll want to start with a quality base. Bourbon and Rye both work well, and I usually go with something around 100-110 proof. As a general rule, if you’ve got a bottle of whiskey that you enjoy sipping neat, it’ll probably make a good Old Fashioned. I’ll walk you through my method of preparing the drink; however, I don’t claim this to be the right way or the best way, but it is my way of making an Old Fashioned.

Making the Drink


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  • 2 oz Whiskey
  • 2-3 dashes Angostura Bitters
  • 1 Sugar Cube (Demerara sugar will give you a slightly richer molasses flavor, but regular old sugar will work just fine if that’s what you’ve got)
  • Orange for zest and garnish
  • Luxardo Cherry



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  1. Start with a sugar cube in the bottom of an old-fashioned glass.

  2. Saturate the sugar cube with 2-3 dashes of Angostura bitters and add just a splash of water. Muddle until fully dissolved into a syrup.
  3. Cut a small piece of orange zest, about the size of a quarter, leaving as much of the white pitch behind as possible. Muddle in the bottom of the glass with the sugar/bitters mixture to release the oils into the glass. Roll the glass in your hand until the inside is fully coated.
  4. Add a large chunk of ice and 2 oz of your whiskey of choice.
  5. Garnish with an orange slice/twist and a Luxardo cherry.

If you’re interested in a more in-depth history of the drink, check out The Old Fashioned by Robert Simonson. Pretty quick read, and includes about 60 pages of recipes and variations on the drink to keep you busy for a little while. Have a favorite Old Fashioned recipe or variation? Leave a comment and let us know, I’m always up for trying something new! Unless it calls for club soda that is…


Blake Smith


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