Classic Old-Fashioned Cocktail

A classic Old-Fashioned is simplicity itself: a little sugar, a splash of bitters, and a lotta rye or whiskey. (Just ask your grandmother…)

A highball glass filled with classic old-fashioned cocktail and large ice cubes.

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

Old-Fashioned of Yore

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.

Old-Fashioned Today

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.

Classic Old-Fashioned Cocktail

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  • 5 M
  • 5 M
  • Serves 1
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Ingredients

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

Directions

  • 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.

Recipe Testers Reviews

This classic old-fashioned is 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.

I’ve opinions about how to make a classic 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.

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!

Many years ago, I ordered an old-fashioned in a bar and 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 since I had just received a gift of a small-batch rye whiskey made here in Utah. What a 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 will be my occasional choice for a winter cocktail.

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.

I love this old-fashioned because it’s a classic. It has a great depth of flavor and is a satisfying pre-dinner 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.)

I typically like to drink bourbon neat, but I thought I'd give this classic old-fashioned recipe a try. I'm glad I did! It's a great drink. The sugar and bitters mellow out the bite of the bourbon. It's just right. This is now in our repertoire of go-to drinks for Friday night. Note: You don't have to have a muddler, a spoon works quite well. Just make sure you muddle the sugar with the bitters for a while before adding the ice and bourbon. Otherwise, the sugar won't dissolve.

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Comments

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

    1. 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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