Old-Fashioned Cocktail

During the Prohibition era, strong flavorings such as Angostura bitters were used in cocktails to disguise the taste of illegally produced spirits, otherwise known as “moonshine.”–Ben Reed

LC An Old-Fashioned Old-Fashioned Note

Remember grandma ordering old-fashioned after old-fashioned each time the family would go out to dinner? (Uh, tell us that wasn’t just us…?!) If that memory is fairly recent—say, dating from the late ’50s or so—you probably also recall chuckling at poor grandma when you saw what was slid in front of her, given that many a bartender has mistakenly come to construe an old-fashioned as more fruit cocktail than cocktail, littered with orange slices and cherries and pineapple. All too often, what passes as an old-fashioned is an affront to the classic old-fashioned cocktail, which dates back to the early 1800s and started, quite simply, as a little sugar, a little water, a lot of rye whiskey, and a splash of bitters. (That was when the general equation for any cocktail was sugar, water, booze, and bitters. It was the inclusion of rye whiskey in particular that made this an old-fashioned as opposed to any other cocktail. Nowadays the water is often in the form of ice, so as not to dilute a fine rye whiskey. And bourbon drinkers, it’s permissible to swap that for rye here. Although as those wise boozers over at Esquire once said, “Cheap bourbon’s already sweet enough, and good bourbon doesn’t need any help going down.” Amen to that.) Anyways, the moral of this meandering story is that chances are your grandma was a tougher broad than you may have suspected given the unfortunate sham she was served in a rocks glass. We can only imagine the fury she felt at this counterfeit cocktail but was too ladylike to express. Any other old-fashioned questions? Direct them to our recipe tester, Sheri Codiana, whose old-fashioned-making prowess we bow to—and which you can benefit from when you read what she has to say in her comment beneath the recipe that follows.

Old-Fashioned Cocktail Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 5 M
  • 5 M
  • Serves 1


  • 1 sugar cube (or 1 teaspoon granulated sugar)
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 2 ounces rye whiskey or bourbon
  • Ice
  • Orange twist, for garnish


  • 1. Muddle the sugar, bitters, and whiskey or bourbon together in a rocks glass. Add a cube or two of ice and stir. If desired, run the twist round the rim of the glass prior to garnishing.
  • 2. Serve pronto.
Thirsty for more? Sip on these:

Testers Choice

Testers Choice
Testers Choice
Susan Bingaman

Dec 04, 2012

Strong and delightful! I’ve never had a version so stripped-down, and boy, is it good. I’ve taken to making them with Iowa’s own Templeton Rye (we’re currently on the waiting list in hopes of getting another bottle in time for the holidays), but even brandy is good in this cocktail.

Testers Choice
Sheri C.

Dec 04, 2012

I’ve opinions about how to make an old-fashioned, and this recipe complies with most of them. No soda water, no muddled fruit. Just whiskey, bitters, and a sugar cube. I do have a couple of suggestions, though. A few drops of water on the sugar cube along with the bitters (muddling before adding whiskey) will help dissolve the sugar better. Use a good (but not great) whiskey; this is no time to mess around with bottom-shelf stuff. And as for the addition of ice—muddle the sugar, add the whiskey, stir, then add a big ice cube or 2 and stir again.

Testers Choice
Sandy Hill

Dec 04, 2012

What a pleasant way to spend the weekend—testing an old-fashioned! The cocktail was definitely a sipping drink and really warmed you.
The orange twist added a mysterious and delicious citrus note to the cocktail and was a wonderful addition. We muddled the sugar, bitters, and bourbon together and then rubbed the orange twist around the rim of the glass before garnishing the drink. We can’t wait to enjoy this cocktail again in the near future!

Testers Choice
Robert McCune

Dec 04, 2012

Many years ago, I ordered an old-fashioned in a bar and really didn’t care for it. At that time I wasn’t much of a rye or bourbon drinker, so I didn’t try one again. In recent years, I’ve tried some rye and bourbon that I find quite pleasant on the rocks or with a splash of water. I decided to revisit the old-fashioned again since I had just received a gift of a small-batch rye whiskey made here in Utah. What a nice surprise! The sugar cube and the bitters combine to enhance the taste of the rye, not mask it. I also ran the orange peel around the rim of the glass for a little added flavor. I’ve been in a rut with gin and vodka; I think this’ll be my occasional choice for a winter cocktail.

Testers Choice
Carol Anne Grady

Dec 04, 2012

Like bourbon? This is the drink for you. Make it a quality bourbon like Woodford Reserve or whiskey like Gentleman Jack, and remember that some will be sweeter and mellower than others, just like with a malt whiskey. A classic, easy-to-make cocktail. Oh, and sip your drink. It’s potent.

Testers Choice
Cindy Zaiffdeen

Dec 04, 2012

I love this cocktail because it’s a classic. It has a great depth of flavor and is a satisfying predinner cocktail. Everyone who tried it at our get-together loved it. Being Canadian, we used rye whiskey. We added a little maraschino cherry juice to make the cocktail a tad sweeter. (Traditionally this drink is garnished with lime, orange, lemon wedges and a maraschino cherry on a skewer.)

  1. Rachel says:

    In Wisconsin, the Old-Fashioned is practically the state drink. However, we drink it with brandy, not rye or bourbon. Delicious!

    • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

      Rachel, it was much the same where I grew up in Iowa. Though we had Templeton Rye aplenty, my grandma took hers with Canadian Club or brandy. And I take to her ways and yours—love how smooooooth it is when made with brandy!

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