Old Fashioned Cocktail

4.80 from 5 votes
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A properly made Old Fashioned cocktail is difficult to come by these days. Despite being an incredibly simple cocktail, it’s often served as an overly sweet pulp bomb of orange flesh and muddled cherries. Let’s end the debate once and for all and learn how to make the classic Old Fashioned the correct way!

Old fashioned cocktail garnished with an orange peel.

The Old Fashioned cocktail dates back to the late 1800s. It’s said to have been created by bartender, James E. Pepper in Louisville, Kentucky. It’s a classic cocktail made with whiskey (bourbon or rye), Angostura bitters, orange peel (or lemon), and a muddled sugar cube. It’s a fantastic whiskey-forward cocktail with subtle sweetness and a bouquet of fresh citrus on the nose.

If you love the Old Fashioned cocktail, you should also try the Sazerac cocktail and the very similar Improved Whiskey Cocktail. If you want something a little sweeter and citrusy, look no further than the classic Whiskey Sour or my favorite Sidecar cocktail.

Ingredients

Old fashioned cocktail ingredients on a table.
  • Bourbon: I’ve suggested some of my favorite bourbons below. Use whatever you like best. While you can substitute for rye in a pinch, stick with bourbon if possible.
  • Simple sugar/rich demerara syrup: simple syrup is a 50-50 mix of table sugar and hot water. It’s the best way to sweeten cocktails since it easily mixes. You can also use demerara sugar (typically 2:1) in place of table sugar. This has become the gold standard for whiskey cocktails for its richer, darker flavor.
  • Orange peel: strictly referring to the orange peel. You should not be adding any orange flesh or muddling an orange wheel.
  • Bitters: Angostura bitters are readily available and a classic option for almost any whiskey cocktail.
  • 20% saline solution: saline is an optional advanced ingredient in cocktails to make the flavors pop. Just like in food, it’s used as a seasoning to enhance different flavors. Mix 80 grams of water with 20 grams of table salt. Stir until salt is dissolved.

See the recipe card for full information on ingredients and quantities below.

Cocktail Variations

There are countless variations of the Old Fashioned. For a fall-inspired spin substitute sugar with maple syrup and garnish with a cinnamon stick. For gin lovers, try the gin Old Fashioned made with old Tom gin. For my favorite infused Old Fashioned, try my fig and vanilla-infused Old Fashioned.

How to Make Simple Syrup

You can purchase simple syrup (simple sugar) premade or you can easily make it right at home. I usually make my simple syrup with a 50-50 mix of sugar and water. Heat 1 cup of water on the stovetop and add one cup of table sugar. Stir until the sugar is fully dissolved. Let cool, place in a sealable jar, and store in the fridge.

You can also make simple syrup in a Pyrex glass in the microwave. Microwave in intervals and stir in between. Simple syrup can be made with table sugar or demerara sugar (raw sugar), which is typically reserved for dark spirits or whiskey cocktails.

Rich demerara is commonly used for Old Fashioneds. It’s usually made as a 2:1 ratio of sugar to water, making it thicker than a basic simple syrup. A general rule of thumb is to use regular simple syrup with light spirits and demerara with darker spirits.

How to Make an Old Fashioned

Step 1.

In a mixing glass or Boston shaker, combine simple syrup, bitters, and bourbon. Fill the mixing glass halfway with ice, then stir vigorously about a dozen times.

Stirring a whiskey cocktail ingredients in a mixing glass.

Step 2.

Strain into a chilled old-fashioned glass over a giant ice cube or fresh ice.

Pouring an Old Fashioned cocktail over a giant clear ice cube.

Step 3.

Squeeze orange peel over the glass to extract oils, wipe the rim of the glass with the peel, and add to the glass.

quick tip

Point the outer peel (non-pith side) outward facing the drink and gently squeeze the edges so the oils spray out over the top of the drink. If done properly, you can see the oils floating on the surface of your drink. This works best with two hands.

Expressing an orange peel over an Old Fashioned cocktail with a giant ice cube.

Expert Tips

  • Chill your glasses in the freezer. A cold glass prevents warming and keeps your drink colder for longer.
  • Always stir an Old Fashioned. Most whiskey cocktails are stirred rather than shaken to limit the amount of dilution and oxygen infused into the drink.
  • A giant ice cube is designed to melt slower due to its size, causing less dilution. If you’re serious about making cocktails, invest in a clear ice maker. Clear ice cubes taste better and melt even slower.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Bourbon Do you recommend?

Buffalo Trace, Larceny, Elijah Craig, Michter’s, Henry McKenna Single Barrel, Four Roses Single Barrel, Eagle Rare, Knob Creek, Maker’s Mark.

What is simple syrup?

Simple syrup, also called simple sugar, is a liquid sweetener made with equal parts sugar and water.

Can I use any kind of bitters?

Look for Angostura aromatic bitters or Scrappy’s aromatic bitters.

More Whiskey Cocktails

Enjoy this recipe? If you made this cocktail, please leave a ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ star rating in the recipe card below & a review in the comments!
4.80 from 5 votes

Old Fashioned Cocktail Recipe

Servings: 1 cocktail
Prep: 5 minutes
Total: 5 minutes
How to make the classic old fashioned drink the right way. Bourbon, bitters, simple syrup (sugar cube), and an orange peel.

Ingredients 

  • 2 ounces bourbon or rye
  • 1/4 ounce simple syrup or rich demerara syrup, 2:1 ratio for demerara
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 1 orange peel, or lemon
  • optional 2 drops 20% saline solution, see note below
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Instructions 

  • In a mixing glass or Boston shaker, combine simple syrup, bitters, bourbon, and optional saline. Fill the mixing glass halfway with ice, then stir vigorously about a dozen times.
  • Strain into a chilled old-fashioned glass over a giant ice cube.
  • Squeeze orange peel over the glass to extract oils, wipe the rim of the glass with the peel, and add to the glass.

Notes

You can use 1/2 a teaspoon of sugar if you don’t have simple syrup.
A tip on expressing the oils from a peel: You want to point the outer peel (non-pith side) outward facing the drink and gently squeeze the edges so the oils spray out over the top of the drink. If done properly, you can see the oils floating on the surface of your drink.
Saline is an optional advanced ingredient in cocktails to make the flavors pop. Just like in food, it’s used as a seasoning to enhance different flavors. Mix 80 grams of water with 20 grams of table salt. Stir until salt is dissolved. It’s best dispensed with a liquid dropper tool.
If making demerara sugar, use a 2:1 ratio of demerara to water. This will render a thick, richer syrup that will lend body without being cloyingly sweet.

Nutrition

Serving: 1gCalories: 154kcalCarbohydrates: 6gSodium: 6mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Additional Info

Course: Cocktail
Cuisine: American
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About Shawn Williams

My name is Shawn, author behind Kitchen Swagger. I'm a food & drink enthusiast bringing you my own simple and delicious restaurant-inspired recipes.

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Recipe Rating




8 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    I’m not a big bourbon drinker but this is one of the best drinks I’ve ever had , so much better than you will get at most restaurants.

  2. I make this recipe but isn’t there little twists to make it your own? I’ve had old fashioned in fancy restaurants that were outstanding. What makes it different? A cherry and a mandarin orange wedge on a pick? Orange bitters instead of regular? Is the rye instead of bourbon the difference?

    1. Not looking for different – this is the Old Fashioned in its purest form – how a meticulous cocktail bar would build the drink. Traditionally it’s orange peel, sugar, and bitters. Unfortunately a lot of bars and restaurants will muddle cherry and an orange wheel (with guts) but it’s too sweet and not how a true Old Fashioned should be made!