No list of top cocktail recipes is complete without the Old Fashioned, and rightfully so, the Old Fashioned cocktail is well-balanced, tastes excellent, and is extremely easy to make. It is the ideal craft cocktail for both bourbon enthusiasts and those just getting started. The classic recipe is great, but the Old Fashioned is versatile. Many modified recipes exist that make this a fun, go-to craft cocktail for the home mixologist.
The Old Fashioned, America's Favorite Cocktail
Why we love it
As with many of the classics, the exact origin story for this cocktail is a little unclear, with multiple accounts and references to the Old Fashioned cocktail occurring at various times. One thing, however, is clear, this classic cocktail dates back to the mid-nineteenth century.
One of the earliest references to "old-fashioned" describes a technique for making cocktails, not a specific cocktail recipe. In Jerry Thomas' 1862 Bartender Guide, to prepare a cocktail the "old fashioned" way was to "Crush a small lump of sugar in a whiskey glass containing a little water, add a lump of ice, two dashes of Angostura bitters, a small piece of lemon peel, one jigger Holland gin. Mix with a small bar spoon. Serve." Yes, you read that correctly; Gin, not whiskey. Thomas' "old-fashioned" reference was for a Holland Gin Cocktail recipe.
The Old Fashioned cocktail recipe, as we know it today, is said to have been invented in the 1880s at The Pendennis Club in Louisville, KY, by James E. Pepper, who was a bartender and bourbon enthusiast. Pepper's Old Fashioned cocktail recipe gained notoriety when he took it to the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York City in 1881.
The first published recipe for an Old Fashioned Whiskey Cocktail is said to be in George Kappeler's 1895 cocktail recipe book, Modern American Drinks. Kappeler's recipe is very similar to the Old Fashioned recipe as we know it today, "Dissolve a small lump of sugar with a little water in a whiskey-glass; add two dashes Angostura bitters, a small piece of ice, a piece of lemon-peel, one jigger whiskey. Mix with small bar-spoon and serve, leaving spoon in glass."
Don't let its name and age fool you; there is nothing old about the Old Fashioned Cocktail. Even after 100 years, the Old Fashioned Cocktail continues to be one of the most popular cocktails in America and is an ideal cocktail for the home craft cocktail connoisseur.
An Old Fashioned is extremely easy to make and only requires a few tools.
What you need
The classic Old Fashioned recipe calls for sugar to be muddled with bitters and a little water until dissolved. The good news is that a muddler is a go-to bar tool used in many craft cocktails. Every home bar needs a good muddler.
The official International Bartenders Association (IBA) recipe for an Old Fashioned calls for 1.5 oz of Bourbon or Rye Whiskey. We suggest resisting the temptation of eyeballing this measurement, or pouring heavy, and use a jigger to measure out the appropriate volume. What makes an Old Fashioned great is that it is so well balanced. You can always make a double!
Another classic bar tool, the bar spoon is used to stir this cocktail before serving.
The classic Old Fashioned recipe contains approximately 2 oz of liquid, plus ice, and is best served in a glass that holds 6-10 oz. Often referred to as an old fashioned glass, rocks glass, or low ball glass, these short cocktail glasses accentuate an Old Fashioned cocktail's rich color.
Craft Ice & Chilling:
An Old Fashioned is served on the rocks. We recommend using a sphere ice ball that will chill your cocktail without diluting it as quickly as standard-sized ice cubes. For a heightened presentation, try using a clear ice sphere.
Mixers & Garnishes:
A traditional Old Fashioned is mixed with Bitters and served with an Orange Peel and Cocktail Cherry. If you're looking for a shortcut, try using an Old Fashioned cocktail mixer. Add the appropriate amount of mixer to your whiskey, stir, and serve.
A traditional Old Fashioned features bourbon or other types of whiskey. Some modified recipes replace the bourbon with gin or brandy.
Our favorite recipes
Nothing beats the classic Old Fashioned recipe:
- Place sugar cube in an old fashioned glass and saturate with bitters, add a few dashes of plain water.
- Muddle until dissolved.
- Fill the glass with ice cubes and add whiskey.
- Garnish with orange slice or zest, and a cocktail cherry.
Here are links to some of our other favorite recipes:
Old Fashioned fun
The Old Fashioned is the official drink of Louisville, KY. The city celebrates the cocktail, and all things bourbon with a two-week series of festivals in early June called Old Fashioned Fortnight.
Elijah Craig Bourbon and Punch Magazine host an annual Old Fashioned Week each year in October. This 10-day celebration features Bourbon experts, enthusiasts, and live entertainment all to honor the Old Fashioned.