Oh, the Old Fashioned! A real classic. The Old Fashioned, a four-ingredient drink consisting of whiskey, sugar or simple syrup, bitters, and water, is said to be the cocktail that started it all.
It is frequently regarded as the most significant of classic cocktails, if not the most well-known whiskey drink of all time, and now even new generations of boozers are discovering the understated charm of the Old Fashioned, and we believe it will continue to be popular for years to come.
A Brief Background On The Old-Fashioned Cocktail
The classic cocktail dates back to the 19th century, at the time the term "cocktail" was coined. In fact, the earliest printed use of the term "cocktail" was accompanied by this uncomplicated recipe. After 80 years, bars and restaurants began calling the cocktail "Old Fashioned." Yes, even old-timers called this drink Old Fashioned.
Despite the passing of two centuries and the advent of various cocktail varieties, the Old Fashioned has retained its popularity. The hit television show Mad Men, starring Don Draper, a dashing advertising creative, revitalized the Old-Fashioned by showcasing it prominently in multiple episodes.
Now, if you’re looking for the best bourbon to make an Old Fashioned, then keep reading to discover some of the best bourbons to try to give your Old Fashioned the perfect kick. We also included a quick and easy recipe below so you can make your own Old Fashioned cocktail whenever you're in the mood.
What’s the Best Bourbon for Old-Fashioned?
Due to the simplicity of the Old Fashioned cocktail's ingredients, it’s the whiskey or bourbon that can really make a difference. What you want is a bourbon that isn't too sweet, rye that isn't too spicy, and a whiskey that is high proof and dry enough to withstand the sugar cube and ice dilution.
Now, you don't want to spend too much money on either bourbon or rye, get something that’s perfectly decent and not too extravagant so we attempted to provide the best bourbon entry-level options that are also reasonably priced.
- Buffalo Trace ($24.95)
Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is a deep amber whiskey that’s produced at the world's most prestigious distillery. It is matured for years in fresh oak barrels in century-old warehouses until it reaches its peak of maturity.
It’s got a rough yet rich taste complemented by nuanced scents thanks to the high-quality ingredients and extensive maturing technique. Its undertones include vanilla, toffee, and candied fruit and give a smooth, velvety aftertaste that lingers on the tongue, while the aroma is a mix of vanilla, mint, and molasses. This is definitely one of the best bourbons for Old Fashioned.
The mid-priced Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey is a fantastic bourbon choice for an Old Fashioned recipe, with smooth flavors and undertones of caramel and vanilla. The inclusion of Angostura bitters creates a spicy flavor with a bite. The herbaceous concoction not only has over 40 components but also has a 44.7 percent ABV. We truly think that Buffalo Trace has created a work of art and that this has everything you might want in a low-cost, high-quality bourbon for an Old Fashioned cocktail.
- Four Roses Small Batch ($24.95)
This powerful whiskey is a blend of four different Kentucky bourbons produced at the Four Roses Distillery in Lawren ceburg. Two of the bourbons have a rich, spicy flavor with nutmeg and cinnamon undertones from the rye. The remaining two bourbons have a lighter, fruitier flavor that complements the spiciness with maple syrup and caramel overtones.
Because of the high rye content, Four Roses Small Batch packs a punch. It also boasts the spicy, herbaceous, and fruity aromas that make it one of the best bourbon for an Old Fashioned cocktail, thanks to its rye-forward mash bill. This works incredibly well with the lighter and crisper bitters and orange zest. It's definitely a more earthy take on the Old Fashioned, but it's just as tasty and delightful.v Best of all, this is strong enough to "show up strong even after dilution" at 100 proof.
- Woodford Reserve Double Oaked ($37.95)
Woodford Reserve Double Oaked creates a rich and vibrant flavor unlike any other bourbon on the market. This amazing bourbon is made by aging it twice for a smooth, rich, finish.
Because of the minimal rye grain level, the whiskey retains its distinct characteristics while amplifying the spicy and floral flavors. Though Woodford Reserve is a touch bitter, you’ll be able to mitigate it with a little sugar or syrup. Otherwise, it might be a tad too bitter without. Overall, Woodford Reserve will give your Old Fashioned a floral, fruity punch that’s always welcome.
- Maker’s Mark Bourbon Whisky ($29.95)
Easily recognizable thanks to its cognac-inspired bottle and hand-dipped wax neck, the signature bourbon is a fan favorite. It's made from corn, malted barley, and red wheat and has a sweet, delicate flavor attributable to the wheat in the mash bill.
The aroma of creamy and silky caramels, honey, and fruit pervades this delicious bourbon. Its mild sweetness is accented by caramel, vanilla, and molasses aromas.
Maker's Mark whiskey is definitely unlike any other whiskey. The signature flavor is exceptional, and once you’ve tried it yourself, it’ll leave you wanting more.
- Basil Hayden's Bourbon Whiskey ($43.95)
With notes of breakfast tea and peppermint bark, this golden amber whiskey is great on its own, but it also works nicely in cocktails like the Old Fashioned or on the rocks. Rye provides it with a peppery flavor with honey undertones and a crisp, dry finish. Warm cinnamon and baking spice flavor linger in the aftertaste.
Though it's a little spicy due to the rye, it has a unique blend of honey, peppermint, and citrus that your taste buds will love.
This strong and savory bourbon, patiently aged and bottled at 80 proof, will undoubtedly be an excellent addition to your Old Fashioned recipe.
What’s in an Old Fashioned?
Before we move on to how to make it, we want to provide you with a bit of background on the major components of the Old Fashioned Cocktail for better appreciation and understanding.
The classic Old Fashioned is created using bourbon or rye whiskey. Whichever you go for, it’s best to stick to bottles in the mid-price bracket, for the most part, all you need to make sure of is that the bourbon or rye you purchase is of high quality. If you haven't already, we hope our list of top recommendations below inspires you to try a new favorite.
Zest and Bitters
For bitters, the usual go-to is Angostura bitters, but there are a plethora of other options. Two to three dashes of bitters are standard.
For the zest, it really depends on who makes it. Some go for orange slices and others blend in some cherries, while some prefer an Old Fashioned with no fruit at all.
Peeling an orange in preparation for an old-fashioned
A 2-inch slice of orange or blood orange peel is usually fine. Some will go for a flaming orange twist which is to take a coin-sized piece of orange peel (with some of the white pith still attached to make it easier to squeeze), squeezing it between your fingers, then lighting a match or lighter next to it.
The oils will ignite and burn out. Do this over or near your glass to give the drink a roasted orange aroma. For an added touch, rub the flamed peel around the rim of the glass. This makes a dramatic change in the flavor and aroma of an Old Fashioned. A must-try, if you haven’t.
There's just one best Old Fashioned recipe: the one you already know and love. Some people would rather use sugar instead of simple syrup, which is totally alright. Some prefer to skip the sweetness altogether.
Angostura bitters infused with warmly spiced sugar are an alternative for those who wish to start strong and finish sweet. This technique allows the flavor to develop with each sip. If you don't want any grit in your cocktail, do a slow muddle first and then drop an orange peel garnish in. This gives the drink a zesty aroma and a hint of bitterness while also bringing out the drink's natural sweetness.
Some prefer a smooth bourbon, while others prefer a spicy rye whiskey. Our recipe calls for bourbon, which is always a crowd-pleaser.
HOW TO MAKE OLD FASHIONED COCKTAIL
Old Fashioned cocktails have been around for a while, yet they still have a growing following among enthusiasts. The sweetness makes it smoother than many other whiskey-based beverages, but it still has a robust, remarkable flavor. Fortunately, because it just calls for a handful of ingredients, it's also a breeze to mix together. Here's a dish you can whip up in no time flat:
- 1 sugar cube, or 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 2-3 dashes of bitters
- 2 ounces bourbon or rye whiskey
- Orange peel, for garnish
- Cherry, for garnish
- Gather all the ingredients.
- First, get an old-fashioned glass. An old-fashioned glass is a short glass used for serving alcohol, such as whisky, plain, or over ice. It is also commonly used to serve particular cocktails, such as the Old Fashioned cocktail which it is named for.
- Using the Old Fashioned glass, saturate a sugar cube or sugar with bitters. You may muddle or stir to mix. To muddle means to gently mash the sugar along with the bitters, this will help the tastes to bind with the alcohol better.
- Add the whiskey of your choice. You might opt to choose from one of the top choices above for the perfect drink.
- Fill the glass with ice, and stir well. Do you know how to properly stir a cocktail? It may surprise you that there is a proper technique for this deceptively trivial task. Though it appears simple when it comes to mixology, it deserves extra attention. We don’t want to be too rough with it but keep it smooth and steady.
Here’s how to properly stir a cocktail:
- Keep a bar spoon steady by weaving it between your middle and ring fingers. No need for a strong grip.
- Placing the bar spoon in the ice with the back against the glass. Some bartenders barely touch the drink with the ice, while others slide it almost to the bottom.
- Rotate the ice by moving the spoon around the glass's edge. Let your fingers do the work while your arm and wrist remain stationary.
30 seconds or 50 rotations around the glass is the general rule. You can stir for longer, but thirty seconds is plenty to chill the drink, and how much you want to mellow the flavor.
- Express an orange peel and squeeze it hard to release citrus oil into the drink. Be careful to squeeze it towards the direction of the glass and not towards your eyes.
- Garnish with a cherry if you’d like.
Being an age-old classic of course there are now numerous ways to modify this recipe as it's usual for drinks to evolve over the years. That's especially true for Old Fashioned because it's one of the very first drinks.
You can go ahead and follow a classic recipe, incorporate one or two modern tweaks, or simply customize it to your taste.
Just keep in mind that the main purpose of the old-fashioned is to avoid adding too much to it, so you can allow the bourbon or whiskeys to shine.
Whatever you do, the important thing is that you enjoy your Old Fashioned cocktail, so have fun trying out all of the different options!