If someone asked me what my favorite cocktail is, it would 100% be the old fashioned.

There is something about this classic cocktail, maybe it’s because it’s so easy to make at home, or because it’s such a perfect balance of flavors, but it’s the one I go back to. Unlike many drinks with dozens of obscure liqueurs and fresh fruits, old fashioneds are easy and the supplies are always on hand.

old fashioned | www.iamafoodblog.com

Old fashioned cocktails are the best

For me, old fashioneds are the perfect drink. Simple with few ingredients that are more than the sum of its parts, and never trying to hide that it’s alcohol.

Whenever I’m at a new bar, I always order an old fashioned. The way every bar does something different with the same recipe is so interesting. Unlike ordering a specific drink that you love or something off the menu, you have a good frame of reference while letting the bar run free with their energy and creativity.

At home, I usually reach for an old fashioned as well, not just because we don’t keep fresh fruits around or dozens of specialty liqueurs, but because there’s something satisfying about perfecting something so simple.

What is an old fashioned

Old fashioneds were one of the first cocktails ever developed, back in the day when the whiskey wasn’t too good and the liqueur selection was slim to nil. The old fashioned cocktail actually predates prohibition, going way back to some of the first cocktails. Originally they were made with gin, brandy, or whiskey as well, but these days, we know them only with whiskey, usually bourbon, sometimes rye.

They are smoky, spicy, a tiny bit sweet, very smooth, and incredibly strong.

stirring bourbon | www.iamafoodblog.com

Manhattan vs old fashioned

The Manhattan and the old fashioned are very similar, because they both came from around the same period and more or less are the same color. For me, a manhattan tastes a little more floral, smoother, and fruit foward from the vermouth and cherries, while the old fashioned is a little darker, a little rounder and more complex tasting from the bitters. The old fashioned highlights the whiskey more as well, so it’s a little more important to use a decent one.

It’s so easy to make a bar quality old fashioned drink at home

I drank a lot of old fashioneds to write this post. The original; with garnish, without garnish; with smoke, without smoke. I’ve also had a lot of old fashioneds – and variations on them – in a lot of restaurants. I can definitively say that it’s a lot easier to make a high end bar quality old fashioned than it is to make a restaurant quality pate de campagne, or a ramen shop quality bowl of noodles.

old fashioned recipe | www.iamafoodblog.com

How to make an old fashioned

  1. Add sugar and bitters, and a little water to the glass and mix. Or add simple syrup and bitters.
  2. Add whiskey and ice. One large ice cube is ideal, avoid whiskey rocks. The water from the ice opens up the flavors and aromas of the drink.
  3. Stir. Shaking drinks is usually a bad idea, except in the case of vodka martinis. Stirring allows more control over the dilution of ice (and coldness) of the drink. Professional bartenders often count the stirs so that the drink comes out the same every time.
  4. Optional: add an orange twist or smoked herb or spice as garnish. More on that below.

Old fashioned ingredients

Whiskey

Choose something mid-range but not crazy good. Examples of decent, easy to find, middle-of-the-road bourbons are Bulleit or Wild Turkey. Decent ryes include Alberta Premium or Pendleton.

Sugar

There is a debate about simple syrup vs sugar in making old fashioneds. Most people at home are unlikely to have simple syrup and it’s not considered traditional anyway, but I find it to make a smoother drink. Muddled sugar, meanwhile, is more convenient and provides a more weigh-y texture, but takes more care to dissolve the sugar completely.

sugar and bitters | www.iamafoodblog.com

Bitters

Angostura bitters is where you want to be here. You can experiment with other bitters over time, but Angostura is the classic for a reason. While you can get Angostura bitters on Amazon, you can often also find them right next to the soda at any grocery store.

Ice

Invest in a good 2” covered ice cube tray for your cocktails. You don’t need to go crazy and make clear ice, but traditionally, old fashioneds were served with large ice cubes. A covered ice cube tray protects your ice from any stray freezer smells.

Garnish

Originally, old fashioneds did not have a garnish. More modern old fashioneds are garnished with orange peels, often flamed (gotta earn that $16 old fashioned somehow). Really modern old fashioneds are often served with smoked garnishes like rosemary or cinnamon. My favorite all time garnish was literally a smoked cedar block from a drink I got in Banff.

Banff Taste for Adventure - Park Distillery - www.iamafoodblog.com

(I asked him if he has ever burnt himself holding that block, he said: “every night”)

The best old fashioned whiskey

The old fashioned is an American cocktail, so using an American whiskey such as bourbon or rye is essential. You can use Scotch, Irish, or Japanese whiskies if you would like, but it’s both a waste and not really an old fashioned.

I prefer bourbon over rye out of respect for where the old fashioned comes from (Louisville), but rye, aka Canadian whisky, is a good change up sometimes for its spicier and harsher flavor profile.

Best bourbon for old fashioned

You don’t need to (and shouldn’t) use a hugely top shelf bourbon for your old fashioned, because your bitters, sugar, and especially garnish will ruin the subtle notes you pay for in top shelf whiskey, but neither should you use something that smells like paint thinner or nail polish remover. My go to is Bulleit, mostly because I like the shape of the bottle. For an upgrade, I go  Four Roses or Elijah Craig.

old fashioned | www.iamafoodblog.com

Old fashioned glass

Old fashioneds are cocktail royalty: martinis go in martini glasses, old fashioneds go in old fashioned glasses. Not too many other cocktails can say that. Old fashioned glasses are also called rocks glasses or low ball glasses. The glass actually is older than the cocktail, so you should definitely serve them up in a good old fashioned glass.

The glasses come in singles and doubles. Unless you always drink doubles, it’s better to buy a single glass so the drink doesn’t look half empty in the glass.

old fashioned recipe | www.iamafoodblog.com

Old fashioned recipe

The best cocktail of all time
Serves 1
4.67 from 3 votes
Prep Time 2 mins
Total Time 2 mins

Ingredients

  • 1/2 tsp granulated sugar or 1 tsp simple syrup
  • 3 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 1 tsp water
  • 2 oz bourbon or rye whiskey
  • 1 2" ice cube

Instructions

  • Add sugar, bitters, and water to the glass and stir until sugar is dissolved.
    sugar and bitters | www.iamafoodblog.com
  • Add whiskey and give it a quick stir.
    stirring bourbon | www.iamafoodblog.com
  • Add ice cube. Stir until cold (25-30 stirs or about 30 seconds)
    old fashioned recipe | www.iamafoodblog.com

Notes

Optional: For an extra smoky touch, flame a sprig of rosemary, an orange peel, or a cinnamon stick as garnish with a blow torch, then cover and allow to infuse for 30s-1 minute.

Estimated Nutrition

Nutrition Facts
Old fashioned recipe
Amount Per Serving
Calories 129
% Daily Value*
Fat 0.01g0%
Saturated Fat 0.01g0%
Cholesterol 0.01mg0%
Sodium 39mg2%
Potassium 1mg0%
Carbohydrates 5.4g2%
Fiber 0.01g0%
Sugar 5.2g6%
Protein 0.01g0%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

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10 Comments

  1. Rye-an Gosling says:

    You almost got it all correct. Rye whiskey is not “Canadian whiskey”.

    1. Lofty Dirigible says:

      Was just going to point out the same thing as “Ryan”. Though Canadian whiskey is sometimes called “rye”, Rye Whiskey is absolutely an American whiskey, the difference from bourbon being that it has at least 51% rye in its mash I’ll rather than corn. Just as American, just spicier rather than sweeter. Also, as far as shaking versus stirring, I know 007 likes his vodka martinis shaken, but really, in general, any drink that is all spirits (no fruit), should be be stirred, while drinks with fruit (or egg, etc) should be shaken.

      1. Mike says:

        Thanks for the detailed comment Lofty. Canadian whisky (it is correctly spelled whisky when referring to Canadian whisky) is called rye depending on where you live as you pointed out. I point out later in the post that I prefer rye over bourbon but that Canadian whisky is a nice change up, implying they are different, but I wanted to answer your other points in more detail:

        I think you are thinking of Canadian whisky from one point of view (let’s be honest, either Crown Royal or Canadian Club). I know Canadian whisky can have a bad reputation in America, esp from a certain age group, but in fact Canadian whisky runs the gamut of rye mash content and style. I specifically highlighted Alberta Premium because it’s one of the rare 100% rye whiskies in the world. Canadian whisky has had rye in it as long as American Rye, and a lot of the rye that goes into American Rye comes from Canada, so I think it deserves to have that reputation changed.

  2. Sabrina says:

    a great reminder of how to do it correctly! I’d basically forgotten but a classic cocktail for Thanksgiving, so thank you!

  3. MLB says:

    4 stars
    Where would one find those spectacular glasses?

    1. Mike says:

      Sorry, they’re discontinued!! We got them on a trip to Toronto at a place called Drake General Store, you might try emailing them to see if they have any seconds but it’s been a few years, the only ones they have now are some Canadiana glasses from the same line.

  4. Jerrie says:

    May I ask where you got the glasses?

    1. Mike says:

      Sorry, they’re discontinued!! We got them on a trip to Toronto at a place called Drake General Store, you might try emailing them to see if they have any seconds but it’s been a few years, the only ones they have now are some Canadiana glasses from the same line.

  5. Corisa says:

    hi i love the glasses!! can you tell me where they are from?

    1. Mike says:

      Sorry, they’re discontinued!! We got them on a trip to Toronto at a place called Drake General Store, you might try emailing them to see if they have any seconds but it’s been a few years, the only ones they have now are some Canadiana glasses from the same line.

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