As with most cocktail’s history, the origin of the Old Fashioned is a bit murky. The “Old Fashioned” is the name of a cocktail that falls into a category of cocktails called Slings or Bittered Slings. Back in the late-19th century, there were only about a few dozen cocktails, and they all basically consisted mostly of spirit, bitters, sugar, and water. Though more cocktails and cocktail ingredients entered the arena, the Old Fashioned remained popular because it’s a wonderfully simple way to dress up a spirit without detracting from it.
“The bitters take the edge off of the spirit, while adding a bit of complexity. The Old Fashioned is also a great drink to modify and come up with variations for.”
— Rob Ficks, Head Bartender at Craigie on Main, Cambridge, MA.
Though it was eluded to in Jerry Thomas’s bartender’s manual of 1862, it is commonly said that the Old Fashioned was created during the late 1800’s at the Pendennis Club in Louisville, Kentucky, quickly making its way to the Waldorf-Astoria around 1880. The first published recipe was from George Kappeler’s Modern American Drinks in 1895, and the modern Old Fashioned with the muddled fruit and soda didn’t come around until the 1930’s.
– ½ ounce of Bourbon or Rye
– 2-3 dashes Angostura Bitters
– 1 Sugar Cube
Put a sugar cube into an old fashioned glass and douse it with bitters and a little water. Muddle the combination until it dissolves. Add ice cubes before pouring whiskey over the ice. Garnish the drink with an orange slice and a cherry.
Here are three different classic whiskey brands:
If you like a smooth-sipping, rich, luscious bourbon, then Blanton’s Single Barrel makes a superior cocktail.
If you like it a little rough around the edges, then maybe use a robust, spicy rye like Rittenhouse 100.
This blend of old and young rye whiskies is spicy and complex and perfect for an Old Fashioned the way it would have tasted a hundred years ago.
There isn’t a right way or a wrong way to make a drink – some just turn out better than others. You can swap all of these ingredients in and out to come up with variations. The base spirit is especially flexible, but additionally, the variety of bitters and spirits that are available these days provide a tremendous opportunity for bartenders and cocktail enthusiasts to make a statement.
“Use rum as the base, with a bit of maple syrup, tiki and mole bitters and you have a rum Old Fashioned. Use mezcal, agave syrup, and orange bitters and you have an Oaxacan Old Fashioned.”
— Rob Ficks.