The Old Fashioned Cocktail

I think a competent individual should be able to make a good cocktail and have the ingredients on-hand to do so. An expertly-built cocktail is a crowd-pleaser, an ice-breaker, a mood-maker, or maybe all three. In my opinion none is quite so good as the Old Fashioned cocktail.

Why the Old Fashioned?

It’s one of the classic cocktails. The Old Fashioned is about as timeless as a drink gets. If you master this one, you will have mastered a drink that will never go out of style. Also, “Old Fashioned” is probably one of the straight-up coolest cocktail names of all time.

It’s easy to make. The Old Fashioned doesn’t require a blender. It doesn’t require a lot of esoteric ingredients. This cocktail only requires three ingredients and a couple garnishes, all of which can be used across a broad spectrum of cocktails. It requires no special equipment, either.

It’s delicious. I have turned more than one person on to the Old Fashioned cocktail. It’s rich and warm and adaptable; it’s just as at home at a summer cocktail hour as it is on a winter night by the fireplace. Make one and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

How to Make an Old Fashioned: Equipment

Glassware: Old Fashioned glass. That’s right, folks, the classic “rocks” or “lowball” or “whiskey” glass is actually named for the drink we’re about to make.

Ice: You need a big ol’ chunk of ice to keep this puppy cool. That’s actually a common problem with Old Fashioneds served in restaurants and bars - they serve the drink with small ice cubes that melt quickly, watering down that sweet, sweet bourbon. Get yourself some whiskey ice cube trays and make some proper ice.

A couple more thoughts on ice. First, you want to make your ice out of good water because some of it will inevitably melt into your drink. Water with a heavy chlorine taste will throw your drink off. I also like to keep my ice trays covered with aluminum foil. This prevents the ice from picking up flavors and odors from the other stuff hanging out in the fridge.

Jigger: Every home bar should have a jigger. A jigger is nothing more than a graduated measuring cup for liquor.

How to Make an Old Fashioned: Ingredients

DISCLAIMER: This is my Old Fashioned recipe. Yep, it deviates from some of the advice of more venerable sources. However, after years of trial and error, I believe this to be the superior recipe. . . at least for me!

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Bourbon: I’m sure I’ll raise some hackles here, but I like Bulleit in my glass. Really you can use any bourbon you like, but as with most things, the drink will reflect the quality of your ingredients. I’d stick with a middle-of-the-road bottle here. You don’t want to mix drinks with Pappy Van Winkle anymore than you want to mix them with Old Crow.

Sugar or Simple Syrup: The original cocktail calls for muddling sugar. I am not a fan of this preparation and greatly prefer simple syrup, as it mixes much more easily into the drink. Don’t have simple syrup? No problem - make some! All you have to do is boil water, and add an equal amount of sugar.

Bitters: you’ll need a bottle of Angostura bitters. Bitters adds structure to a drink and ties the strong bourbon and sweet sugar together into a coherent masterpiece. If your local liquor store doesn’t have it, you can find it on Amazon. Bitters are called for in a lot of other drinks, too, so having some on hand is not a bad idea.

Garnish - Maraschino Cherries: Here’s the deal - these are NOT the atomic red, glow-in-the-dark cherries you find at your local grocery store. I recommend you buy some Luxardo Maraschino cherries - these guys are the real deal.

Garnish - orange peel: The last thing you need is a strip of orange skin. What you don’t want is any of the flesh of the orange, or the stringy white stuff under the peel - just the oily outer portion. I use a vegetable peeler to remove a thin strip.

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Putting it All Together

  1. Add a healthy dash of Angostura bitters to the glass

  2. Add 2 ounces of bourbon

  3. Add 1/2 to 3/4 ounce simple syrup

  4. Stir gently.

  5. Drop in 1 Luxardo Maraschino Cherry

  6. Before dropping in the orange peel, massage some of the oil from it onto the top of the drink. This will add a delightful orange essence and your friends will swear (correctly) that this is the best Old Fashioned they’ve ever had. Once finished, drop the orange peel in.

  7. Add 1 2” ice cube. Swirl.

  8. Enjoy!

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Screwing Up The Old Fashioned

Yes, you can totally screw this drink up. There are two ways that seem to be popular. In fact, these ways of screwing up an Old Fashioned are so popular that I’m hesitant to order one at a bar. I don’t want to endure a bad drink, but I also don’t want to be the dick sending drinks back because they aren’t up to my standard. . . even though they aren’t. Here’s how you can screw your drink up:

Bad ice. I mentioned this earlier, but it deserves reiterating. Don’t use small ice, chipped ice, shaved ice, or crushed ice. Use a big, heavy ice cube designed for use with whiskey. You’ll be glad you did.

Muddled fruit. Yep, that’s right. Some bartenders insist on serving you drink that is more closely related to a County Fair slushie rather than a refined, elegant cocktail. Please don’t muddle the fruit - it covers up the flavor of the bourbon and makes the drink far too busy.

Adaptations on the Old Fashioned

The Old Fashioned can be modified. I’m not one of these cocktail purists that swear you can only make it one way. These are my two favorite mods the this beautiful drink.

Rye whiskey. Using rye instead of bourbon changes the drink up considerably. Where bourbon offers a sweet, buttery flavor, rye brings some spicy edge to the table. Though I generally prefer a bourbon Old Fashioned, I like to change it up and make one with a rye from time to time.

Rum Old Fashioned. That’s right, you can make this cocktail with rum. . .just not Bacardi. I like a high-quality, dark rum. For my money it doesn’t get any better than Thomas Tew Single Barrel.

Maple Old Fashioned. This is one of my newfound favorites! Over eighteen months ago I was given a gallon Vermont maple syrup as a gift. I’ve used a little of it, but mostly it’s sat on the shelf. Until inspiration hit, that is! I decided to substitute maple syrup for simple syrup, and holy shit is it good! Maple syrup adds an entirely new dimension to the drink. Just make sure you’re using the real thing. . .Mrs. Butterworth’s ain’t going to cut it here!

The Bottom Line

If you come to my house, you’ll get offered a drink. I like being prepared to treat my guests to something amazing that doesn’t take forever or cost a fortune to make. The best part about learning to make a cocktail? Getting to drink all your practice rounds! So get on it - learn to make this one and up your entertaining game.