The Old Fashioned Cocktail is steeped in rich, boozy history. It’s a beloved drink for generations of cocktail enthusiasts with nearly as many variations, hotly debated methods and ingredients to match.
Old Fashioned Ingredients
Whiskey: the #1 rule of home bartending is that the BEST liquor is the one you like. We recommend bourbon if you like cocktails on the smoother and sweeter side or rye if you like them a bit hotter and spicy.
Sugar: for the best old fashioned cocktail, use a rich simple syrup (2 parts sugar: 1 part water) to sweeten the drink.
Bitters: after many recipe tests and a variety of bitters, we found the best bitters for the old fashioned cocktail is a combination of angostura bitters and orange bitters.
Garnishes: keep it simple with an orange twist and occasionally a maraschino cherry.
How to Make an Old Fashioned Cocktail
- Combine the whiskey, simple syrup and bitters in a mixing glass with ice.
- Stir until thoroughly chilled.
- Strain into the cocktail glass over one large ice cube or a few standard ice cubes.
- Garnish with an orange twist.
What Glass to Serve It In?
Best Sugar for Old Fashioned
We’re big believers that a simple syrup makes the best Old Fashioned. For one, it’s easier to use and two, it makes for a smoother drink. Traditionalists will say a sugar cube doused in bitters is the way to go, but if we’re talking quality (not history) then simple syrup it is.
Use a rich simple syrup for this cocktail. That’s 2 parts sugar to 1 part water. We recommend making the simple syrup with demerara, muscovado or brown sugar, though white sugar will work too.
Garnishes: Orange Twist and Cherry?
Garnishes on an old fashioned are a hotly debated topic. We prefer to keep it very classic and very simple and garnish the cocktail with just an orange peel. We’ll occasionally throw in a Luxardo cherry and lemon peel, but only if the person drinking it requests them.
Many bartenders and home mixologists will muddle an orange, lemon and cherries before adding the whiskey. It’s an old habit that was formed during prohibition to cover up harsh spirits, but it certainly is not, and should not, be traditional.
What’s the Best Whiskey for an Old Fashioned?
Before we get into the nitty gritty—the most important thing to remember is the best whiskey for your cocktails is the one you like. In order to create a cocktail you will like you need to use ingredients you like!
Traditionalists will say a true Old Fashioned should be made with rye since bourbon wasn’t developed or being made until decades after prohibition. Regardless, use what you like. For reference, bourbon will make for a mellow and slightly sweeter Old Fashioned. Rye will be a little “hotter” due to being high in alcohol and will add some spice.
Use whichever you prefer, or do a mix of both for the best of both worlds.
Some specific brands we like include Bulleit, Four Roses, Woodford Reserve and Basil Haydens.
What Bitters to Use
The best Old Fashioned is made with two types of bitters—angostura bitters and orange bitters. We use them in equal parts—3 dashes of each. Bob’s Abbotts Bitters are also a favorite from time to time.
How to Make Clear Ice
The best way to make clear ice is to use this ice cube tray. Essentially you need a large ice cube tray and a small cooler. The key to achieving clear ice is to slow down the freezing process (hence the cooler).
It also helps if the ice cube tray has holes poked in it which allows the water molecules to move in and out of the ice cube tray and encourages any impurities to fall out of the ice cube tray and to the bottom of the cooler. Which is why it’s also important to set the tray on a rack inside the cooler so it sits up off the bottom of the cooler.
If you’ve got some leftover clear ice in the freezer, use it to serve Clarified Milk Punch. Milk Punch is clear and would be stunning with a big clear ice cube!
Test Kitchen Tips
- You can mix an Old Fashioned cocktail in the rocks glass you intend to serve it in or in a cocktail mixing glass. Either works!
- To avoid the drink from watering down too quickly, serve the cocktail in a rocks glass with a single large ice cube.
- If you like both bourbon and rye, use 1 ounce of each!
- For a cozy and naturally-sweetened option, make this cocktail with pure maple syrup instead of the simple syrup.
- For a very old-school Old Fashioned, muddle a sugar cube in the bottom of a rocks glass with the bitters before adding the remaining ingredients.
- Skip the cherry and instead garnish the cocktail with both an orange peel and a lemon peel.
- Try different flavored bitters like coffee bitters, vanilla bitters or chocolate bitters.
Old Fashioned Recipe
- 2 ounces bourbon and/or rye whiskey
- ⅓ ounce rich simple syrup
- 3 dashes angostura bitters
- 3 dashes orange bitters
- orange peel, for garnish, optional
- maraschino cherry, for garnish, optional
- Add whiskey, simple syrup, and bitters to a mixing glass. Add 4 ice cubes and stir until chilled, about 15 seconds.
- Strain cocktail into a rocks glass with one large ice cube set in it.
- Express oils of orange peel over top. Add cherry, if using. Serve immediately.