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Old Fashioned Cocktail Guide

Sip tradition, craft perfection.

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Words: Liam Chapman

As far as old-time cocktails are concerned, the Old Fashioned is unmatched. For over a century, this iconic drink has been part of cocktail cultureit may be old-fashioned but it’s certainly not out of fashion. The Old Fashioned is famous for its simplicity and depth of flavor that bring you back to the golden age of mixology.

In today’s cocktail guide, we will share our all-time favorite Old-Fashioned recipe, while also diving into its storied history and what makes it so special. 

(Jump straight to the recipe).

The History

The roots of the Old Fashioned are buried deep in the 19th century—evolving from the “whiskey cocktail” that was so popular in the early days of cocktail culture. But as bartenders got more creative with their ingredients and techniques, the Old Fashioned emerged as a way to celebrate the true essence of the spirit.

It wasn’t known as the Old Fashioned right away. In fact, it didn’t receive its iconic title until the end of the 19th century. The name is meant to signify cocktails made the traditional way—before all of these fancy mixers and garnishes arrived on the scene.

We have noticed people are starting to come around again when it comes to classic cocktails and we couldn’t be happier about it. This newfound love for the Old Fashioned has brought on a revival for us and many others who’ve been doing this for years.

Craft cocktail bars and enthusiasts alike have begun to embrace the original recipe, showcasing the beauty of simplicity and the level of depth that can be achieved through just a few thoughtfully chosen ingredients.

What Bitters Are Best For The Job?

When crafting the perfect Old Fashioned, selecting the right bitters is paramount. In our experience, Angostura Bitters stands as the traditional choice. With some dashes, it gives such a depth and complexity that harmonizes with the whiskey and sugar perfectly.

If you’re looking to add a touch of lightness to your Old Fashioned, we recommend you consider Regans Orange Bitters (as we use in the recipe below). We find that the vibrant citrus notes offer a refreshing twist to the drink while of course still respecting the essence of the original recipe (which is quite important to us).

So, whether you prefer to stick strictly with tradition or experiment with a little modern twist, these bitters are our go-to choices for a perfect Old Fashioned.

Sugar Cube vs. Simple Syrup?

In the never-ending debate of what type of sugar is best for an Old Fashioned, we staunchly stand by the traditional use of a sugar cube. There’s just something inherently authentic and perhaps nostalgic about watching the sugar cube dissolve slowly into the whiskey—infusing each sip with a hint of sweetness.

That being said, we do understand some have expressed reservations about grittiness and paste when a sugar cube is used. For that reason, we have come up with a simple solution that we believe to be the best of both worlds—a sparing dash of soda water. This makes it easier for the sugar cube to dissolve, resulting in a creamier texture and greater depth of flavor in the final cocktail.

How To Make The Perfect Old Fashioned

Ingredients:

1. Brown Demerara Sugar Cube

2. 1 Dash of Orange Bitters

3. 2 Dashes of Angostura Bitters

4. 2 Ounces of Bourbon or Rye

5. Garnish: Orange & Lemon Twist

6. Ice: Large Cubes or Something Equivalent

Directions

To begin, place the sugar cube at the bottom of your glass. Add 2 dashes of Angostura bitters and 1 dash of orange bitters onto the sugar cube, we prefer Regans Orange Bitters but you are free to use whatever you like. We recommend you sparingly add 1 bar spoon of soda water next to help break down the sugar cube.

Now, muddle the sugar and bitters together until you create a nice paste, then add 2 ounces of your whiskey of choice. Some traditionalists insist that rye is the proper ingredient for an Old Fashioned. However, we believe bourbon to be equally suitable, so the choice is ultimately yours.

Fill the glass with your ice of choice (preferably large cubes). We like to see ice as an ingredient of its own, because when you add any kind of water to a spirit, it changes forever. Once the ice is added, gently stir the cocktail for about 20 to 30 seconds to chill the mixture and allow the sugar to dissolve.

After stirring, express the essential oils from the lemon twist by gently squeezing it over the glass, then drop the twist into the glass (then repeat the same process with the orange twist). 

Now, with every detail carefully attended to, all that’s left is for you to enjoy the culmination of your efforts. Cheers!

Modern Twists On A Classic

While the classic Old Fashioned is a masterpiece on its own. Here are several variations you can explore to add your own twist to the cocktail.

Smoked Old Fashioned

In this variation, the glass is smoked with wood chips before the cocktail is prepared. This gives the drink a smoky flavor and aroma, which adds a layer of complexity to the cocktail.

Maple Old Fashioned

Rather than employing a sugar cube, this kind of Old Fashioned recipe uses maple syrup as a sweetener. Not only does it complement the whisky’s character, it also adds some warmth.

Fruit-Infused Old Fashioned

Some variations include muddled fruit such as oranges, cherries, or even berries. This adds a fruity and slightly tart element to the cocktail.

Spiced Old Fashioned

You can spice up your Old Fashioned by adding cloves, cinnamon or star anise. This will bring out a warm and aromatic dimension to the cocktail.

Barrel-Aged Old Fashioned

This recipe involves aging the cocktail in a small barrel for a period of time. The process allows various flavors to meld and mature, creating a more complex and nuanced experience.

Final Thoughts

The Old Fashioned has truly stood the test of time and the fact that it has remained unchanged after so long is enough evidence of its timeless quality. The secret is in the simplicity. It lets you appreciate the taste of whiskey more vividly.

Whether you’re a cocktail enthusiast or just beginning to enjoy the wonderful world of mixology. The Old Fashioned is without a doubt a must-try classic from a bygone era of elegance and sophistication.

Frequently Asked Questions About The Old Fashioned

What is the difference between an Old Fashioned and a Manhattan?

The main difference lies in their ingredients and preparation. An Old Fashioned consists of whiskey, sugar, bitters, and citrus peel (all served over ice). A Manhattan includes whiskey, vermouth, bitters, and cherry garnish, but is typically served straight up.

Why is the drink called an Old Fashioned?

It’s simply because that’s what it is—the name is meant to signify cocktails made the traditional way—before all of these fancy mixers and garnishes arrived on the scene.

What whiskey is best for an Old Fashioned? 

You should use high-quality bourbon or rye whiskey depending on what you like the most. Bourbons tend to be sweeter with a smoother flavor while ryes provide more spice.

What is the average price of an Old Fashioned?

Prices vary depending on the location and establishment but typically range from $14 to $17 per drink.

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