I’ve found that an important life skill is choosing a favorite cocktail. If you’re out with friends in a new city, trying out a new bar, or simply need to fall back on an old favorite, it’s helpful to have a beloved cocktail in your back pocket. For many people, myself included, that tried and true classic is an Old Fashioned.

For one, it’s hard to royally screw up. Sure, an Old Fashioned could be made with a substandard whiskey. But, even then, you’ll likely end up with a half-decent drink. Also, because it’s such an easy drink, most bars will have the necessary ingredients and can make one pretty quickly. Plus, it’s arguably the easiest cocktail to make at home (and makes for a high-quality bottled cocktail, too). Lastly, and this might be the most important part, it’s a great cocktail to remix.

The original Old Fashioned drink recipe is simple by design. But, it serves as a great base for further experimentation and exploration. Many bars offer fantastic riffs on the Old Fashioned cocktail recipe, and no matter your favorite way to drink whiskey, you might stumble upon a great concoction with unique ingredients that you can replicate at home.

The History of the Old Fashioned

The legacy of the Old Fashioned is in many ways the history of cocktails themselves. The Old Fashioned is considered one of the oldest cocktails of the Western world. Dating back to the late 1800s, the original Old Fashioned cocktail recipe was said to have been invented by master distiller James E. Pepper. In truth, the classic recipe that we know today lines up with what was considered to be the original definition of a cocktail as written in 1806: “spirits, sugar, water, and bitters.”

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Old Fashioned earned quite a bit of popularity with new riffs and remixes featuring a wide range of spirits. In the post-Prohibition era, the Old Fashioned resurfaced and regained popularity until the 1970s when non-whiskey drinks dominated the bar scene. It wasn’t until the 2000s when a fascination with classic cocktails took hold that the Old Fashioned regained its popularity (and Don Draper may have had a hand in that).

How to Make an Old Fashioned Cocktail

There are a few golden rules when it comes to the Old Fashioned recipe:

  • Number one: Old Fashioneds are never shaken. Stirring allows proper dilution and incorporation of your ingredients. As a general guideline, if your cocktail drink involves fruit, you shake. If it’s just spirit-based, you stir.
  • Number two: Old Fashioneds use four ingredients – whiskey, bitters, sugar, and water. The type of whiskey can vary, you can use simple syrup, maple syrup or a sugar cube, the bitters can change. But, the essence of the cocktail remains the same.
  • Number three: Old Fashioneds are served in Old Fashioned glasses. The Old Fashioned glass, which actually predates the cocktail, is ideal for serving this cocktail. Stemless, flat base, and properly sized to hold a single ice cube and the cocktail within.

Before diving into any Old Fashioned recipe variations, it’s important to know how to make a classic Old Fashioned. After all, it is one of the 35 classic cocktails that every guy should know how to make.

Simple Old Fashioned Recipe

  • Step 1: Place a single sugar cube in an Old Fashioned glass.
  • Step 2: Add 2 to 3 dashes of Angostura Bitters onto the cube and muddle.
  • Step 3: Pour two ounces of whiskey, add a large ice cube, and stir until the glass is chilled.
  • Step 4: Garnish with an orange peel.
  • Step 5: Enjoy!

Slightly Less Simple Old Fashioned Recipe

  • Step 1: Combine two ounces of whiskey, 2 to 3 dashes of Angostura Bitters, and half an ounce of simple syrup in a mixing glass.
  • Step 2: Add several ice cubes and stir 10 to 15 seconds.
  • Step 3: Strain into an Old Fashioned glass over one large cube.
  • Step 4: Garnish with an orange slice and Luxardo cherry on a cocktail pick.
  • Step 5: Enjoy!

The Best Whiskey for an Old Fashioned

While some folks have their preferences, there isn’t a hard and fast rule when it comes to the whiskey used in an Old-Fashioned. The stand-by best whiskeys that you can find just about anywhere will do the trick. Rye is traditional, but bourbon is often used today (and with good results when using the best bourbons for an Old Fashioned). Whatever you enjoy will likely work just fine in an Old Fashioned, but the best test is to try it out yourself. Try starting with the below suggestions, whether you’re making a classic Old Fashioned or an Old Fashioned variation.


Rye Whiskey

I prefer my Old Fashioneds with rye whiskey and given the choice, I’d choose WhistlePig Rye 10 Year every day. Some other solid options include Wild Turkey 101 Rye Whiskey and Old Overholt Straight Rye Whiskey, which is a stellar budget option.



Again my preferences for rye are showing, but I love to use Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon, a high rye bourbon, in my Old Fashioneds. Another great option is Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey as well as Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select.

Sugar Cube or Simple Syrup?

Ultimately whether you choose to go with a single sugar cube or simple syrup is up to you. The muddled sugar cube tends to be easier though you’ll want to make sure you’re able to fully incorporate the sugar in the Old Fashioned so you don’t end up with weird clumps. The plus side of simple syrup is that you basically guarantee an even sweet flavor throughout. You can also try using flavored simple syrup in your Old Fashioned for a unique twist on the classic cocktail drink.

Simple Syrup Recipe: Add equal parts sugar and water to a saucepan over medium heat. Stir until fully sugar is fully dissolved. Let cool and then pour into an airtight container like a mason jar. Keep refrigerated.

Old Fashioned Upgrade: Try Different Bitters in Your Recipes

Angostura Bitters is more or less the industry standard when it comes to most cocktails, let alone the Old Fashioned. And for good reason. The reliable and historic aromatic bitters is a stellar option and has long been trusted by professional bartenders. But, if you’re looking to mix things up, consider swapping in another brand. Peychaud’s Bitters is another classic option that delivers some great bitter herbal notes like star anise as well as cherry. If you want to increase the citrus profile, toss in a couple dashes of Regans’ Orange Bitters No. 6. Fee Brothers also makes some great cocktail bitters and the Cherry Bitters will add a touch of sweet cherries to your Old Fashioned. Swap this in to replace a Luxardo cherry garnish.

5 Old Fashioned Variations to Try

Once you’ve mastered the basic Old Fashioned cocktail recipe, it’s time to consider some variations. Part of why the Old Fashioned has stuck around so long is because it’s so easily remixable. Bartenders have been swapping in various spirits, ingredients, and garnishes to craft unique and exciting versions of the beloved classic cocktail.


Oaxaca Old Fashioned

The Oaxaca Old Fashioned is one of the most popular riffs on this classic cocktail. Sub in agave-based spirits for your whiskey and you’ll wind up with a smokier, more complex Old Fashioned. Try Santera Tequila Reposado and Madre Mezcal.

  • Step 1: Combine 1.5 ounces of tequila, .5 ounces of mezcal, .5 ounces of agave nectar, and two dashes of Angostura bitters in a mixing glass.
  • Step 2: Fill with ice and stir for about 10 to 15 seconds.
  • Step 3: Strain over a large ice cube in an Old Fashioned glass.
  • Step 4: Garnish with a flamed orange twist.
  • Step 5: Enjoy!


Brandy Old Fashioned

The brandy Old Fashioned first gained popularity nearly a century ago alongside the rise of the original whiskey Old Fashioned. It’s also often called a Wisconsin Old Fashioned, as this variation has been adopted by the Badger State. In truth, it’s quite a departure from the classic Old Fashioned. But, it’s worth trying all the same. Pick a brandy of your choosing, try Bertoux Brandy as a decent budget option.

  • Step 1: Add two orange slices, 2 brandied cherries, 3 dashes of Angostura Bitters, and a sugar cube to an Old Fashioned glass and muddle.
  • Step 2: Add ice, 2 ounces of brandy, and top with Sprite, 7UP, or another citrus soda. Stir lightly.
  • Step 3: Garnish with an orange slice and brandied cherry on a cocktail pick.
  • Step 4: Enjoy!


Full Monte

The Full Monte is a personal favorite of mine as it melds bitter and sweet flavors perfectly. Grab a bottle of Amaro Montenegro (or any of your favorite amari), your favorite rye whiskey, and you’re set.

  • Step 1: Combine 2 ounces of amaro, 1 ounce of whiskey, and 1 to 2 dashes of Angostura Bitters in a mixing glass.
  • Step 2: Add ice and stir for 10 to 15 seconds.
  • Step 3: Strain over a single ice cube in an Old Fashioned glass.
  • Step 4: Express the oil from an orange peel and then garnish with a Luxardo cherry.
  • Step 5: Enjoy!


Rum Old Fashioned

As the name suggests, you’ll be swapping in rum for whiskey in this Old Fashioned variation. Try a rum with a little more character than a bottom-shelf bottle. Consider using Kasama Small Batch Rum or Bacardí Reserva Ocho.

  • Step 1: Combine 2 ounces of rum, .5 ounces of demarara syrup, two dashes of Angostura bitters, and two dashes of orange bitters in an Old Fashioned glass.
  • Step 2: Add a single ice cube and stir about 10 to 15 seconds.
  • Step 3: Garnish with an orange peel.
  • Step 4: Enjoy!


Coffee Old Fashioned

While many Old Fashioned variants could use any spirit in the category of choice, This one is best with Mr Black Cold Brew Liqueur. The Australian-made liqueur pairs perfectly with a quality rye whiskey for a cocktail that’s absolutely delicious.

  • Step 1: Combine 1 ounce of Mr Black Cold Brew Liqueur, 1 ounce of rye whiskey, and two dashes of Angostura bitters in an Old Fashioned glass.
  • Step 2: Add one large ice cube and stir for about 10 to 15 seconds.
  • Step 3: Garnish with an orange peel.
  • Step 4: Enjoy!

Pro tip: Add a splash of sparkling water for a bubbly version of this cocktail!


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