How to Make an Old Fashioned

Introduction to the Classic Old Fashioned

The Old Fashioned is more than just a cocktail; it’s a testament to timeless elegance and simplicity. Originating from the early 19th century, this drink has stood the test of time, captivating drinkers with its robust flavors and simple, yet sophisticated crafting. In this guide, we’ll explore everything from the cocktail’s rich history to how you can perfect this classic at home.

History of the Old Fashioned

The Old-Fashioned has its roots deep in the history of American cocktails. Originally called a “whiskey cocktail,” this drink was designed to be a straightforward combination of spirits, sugar, water, and bitters. Over time, it evolved into the Old Fashioned we know today, reflecting a return to classic cocktail-making practices after the advent of more complex concoctions during the cocktail boom.

Key Ingredients for an Old Fashioned

An authentic Old-Fashioned is built on a foundation of few, crucial ingredients:

  • Whiskey: Typically, a high-quality bourbon or rye whiskey.
  • Sugar: A sugar cube or simple syrup to balance the bitterness.
  • Bitters: Aromatic bitters add depth and complexity.
  • Water: Just a splash to dissolve the sugar.
  • Ice: Large ice cubes are preferred to minimize dilution.
  • Garnish: Typically an orange peel and sometimes a cocktail cherry.

Essential Tools Needed

To craft a perfect Old-Fashioned, you’ll need some basic bar tools:

  • Glass: A sturdy lowball glass.
  • Muddler: For crushing the sugar with bitters and water.
  • Spoon: A bar spoon for stirring.
  • Jigger: For measuring the ingredients accurately.
  • Ice scoop: To handle ice hygienically.

Step-by-Step Guide to Making an Old Fashioned

Creating an Old-Fashioned is an art that requires attention to detail. Here’s how you can make one:

  1. Prep Your Glass: Place a sugar cube in a lowball glass and saturate it with bitters, add a splash of water.
  2. Muddle: Use a muddler to break the sugar cube and mix the ingredients.
  3. Add Whiskey: Measure out the whiskey and pour it over the muddled mixture.
  4. Stir: Carefully stir the cocktail to ensure it’s well-mixed and the sugar is fully dissolved.
  5. Ice: Add a couple of large ice cubes.
  6. Garnish: Twist an orange peel over the glass to release its oils and place it in the drink along with a cocktail cherry if desired.

Variations of the Old Fashioned

While the traditional Old-Fashioned is beloved by many, there are numerous variations that have emerged:

  • The Modern Old-Fashioned: Incorporates new ingredients like maple syrup or bacon-infused bourbon.
  • Regional Variations: Some versions use local spirits or add local flavors.
  • Non-Alcoholic Versions: Use non-alcoholic spirits or bitters for a sober version.

The Science Behind the Perfect Old Fashioned

Understanding the chemistry can help you make a better Old-Fashioned. Factors like the type of bitters, the dissolution of sugar, and the dilution from ice all play crucial roles in the flavor profile and balance of your drink.


Pairing Foods with an Old Fashioned

An Old Fashioned pairs wonderfully with a variety of foods. Rich, smoky meats like brisket or pulled pork, or even dark chocolate desserts, can complement the deep flavors of the cocktail.

Hosting an Old Fashioned Cocktail Party

Throwing an old-fashioned cocktail party can be a delightful way to share this classic drink with friends. Setting the right ambiance with vintage decorations and a menu of various Old Fashioned variations can make for a memorable evening.

Common Mistakes When Making an Old Fashioned

Common pitfalls include using too much sugar, overly diluting the cocktail, or choosing the wrong type of bitters. Knowing these mistakes can help you avoid them and craft a perfect cocktail.

Expert Tips from Renowned Mixologists

Some of the best mixologists suggest:

  • Using a single large ice cube to reduce dilution.
  • Experimenting with different types of bitters like orange or chocolate for a unique twist.
  • Stirring adequately to ensure the sugar is completely dissolved without over-diluting the drink.

The Cultural Impact of the Old Fashioned

The Old Fashioned is not just a drink; it’s a cultural icon. It’s featured in films, literature, and is often associated with the image of the classic American gentleman. Its resurgence in popular culture speaks to its enduring appeal.

How to Make an Old Fashioned for a Crowd

Making Old Fashioneds in large quantities involves careful preparation and scaling of ingredients. Pre-mixing a large batch without ice, then stirring individual servings with ice as needed, can save time and maintain quality.

The Best Whiskeys for an Old Fashioned

Choosing the right whiskey is crucial. Options like Buffalo Trace, Knob Creek, and Rittenhouse Rye are popular choices that provide the right balance of sweetness and spice.

Sustainability in Cocktail Making

Discussing the importance of sustainable practices in cocktail making, from choosing ethically sourced ingredients to minimizing waste.

Old Fashioned Inspired Desserts and Snacks

Recipes for desserts and snacks that capture the essence of the Old Fashioned’s flavors, such as bourbon-infused chocolates or bitters-flavored ice cream.


Mastering the Old Fashioned is about respecting its classic roots while also embracing the potential for innovation. Whether you stick to the traditional recipe or experiment with modern twists, the key is to balance all the components to create a cocktail that’s both refreshing and complex. Enjoy the process of crafting this iconic drink and share it with friends to truly appreciate its timeless appeal.


  1. What is the best type of sugar for an Old Fashioned? The best type of sugar for an Old Fashioned is typically a sugar cube because it dissolves at the right pace and provides a slight texture that helps to muddle the bitters and water effectively. However, using simple syrup (a solution of sugar dissolved in water) can also be a great alternative, as it blends smoothly and ensures that no undissolved sugar granules remain in the drink.
  2. How long should I stir my Old Fashioned? An Old Fashioned should be stirred gently but thoroughly for about 30 to 45 seconds. This duration helps to chill the drink adequately while ensuring that the sugar is fully dissolved and the ingredients are well integrated. The goal is to cool the cocktail without overly diluting it, maintaining the strong flavors of the whiskey.
  3. Can I use Scotch instead of bourbon or rye? While traditional Old Fashioneds are made with bourbon or rye whiskey, using Scotch can introduce a unique twist. Scotch tends to have a smokier flavor profile compared to bourbon or rye, which can add a different dimension to the cocktail. However, it’s important to choose a Scotch that isn’t overly peaty or smoky, as it might overpower the other flavors in the drink.
  4. What are the best bitters for an Old Fashioned? Aromatic bitters are typically used in an Old Fashioned, with Angostura bitters being the most traditional choice. These bitters provide a complex flavor profile that complements the whiskey. For those looking to experiment, orange bitters or chocolate bitters can also be great alternatives, offering a slightly different flavor while still maintaining the spirit of the classic cocktail.
  5. How can I make a non-alcoholic Old Fashioned taste authentic? To make a non-alcoholic Old Fashioned that tastes authentic, use a non-alcoholic spirit that mimics the flavor profile of whiskey. Brands like Seedlip or Lyre’s offer alternatives that can substitute for bourbon or rye. Combine this with the usual ingredients—sugar, bitters, and water—and follow the traditional method to achieve a drink that feels close to the original in both taste and appearance.
  6. What are some creative garnishes for an Old Fashioned? Beyond the traditional orange peel and maraschino cherry, consider garnishing your Old Fashioned with a lemon twist, a sprig of rosemary, or a slice of smoked bacon for a savory note. You can also experiment with a flamed orange peel to add a slightly caramelized flavor, or a cinnamon stick for a hint of spice, enhancing the drink’s aroma and complexity.

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