The Bourbon Old Fashioned isn’t much more than a bit of whiskey that’s been sweetened, with some seasoning added.
Some people think of it as primarily a way to hide cheap whiskey, but it’s actually a great drink all on its own. In fact, it’s one of the oldest cocktails out there that’s still in fashion.
The idea of this cocktail goes back all the way to 1806.
At the time, the Whiskey Cocktail was a very popular morning drink: a cure for headaches, nausea, and other symptoms of a hangover. Today we’d call this “hair of the dog that bit you,” but at the time it was considered a sophisticated way for alcoholics to manage life and remain functional.
To make it, bartenders would just throw some sugar, bitters, and ice into whiskey, and it was so popular that every bartender had their own version.
The version closest to what we call an Old Fashioned today was made by James Pepper in 1880. He was a bartender at a private Kentucky social club, and when he moved to New York and went to work at the Waldorf-Astoria, he took his recipe with him. Naturally, anything being served at the Waldorf-Astoria was a hit, and this was the original Old Fashioned.
Since then, the drink has had its ups and downs. The zenith of its popularity came in 1880, when a despised New York politician by the name of Samuel Tilden withdrew from an election, prompting drunken celebrations that heavily favored the Old Fashioned, as well as hot whiskey.
The drink very nearly died out during Prohibition but has revived since.
How To Make
If you want to make this in the absolute classic fashion, you’ll need:
- 1 teaspoon Sugar
- 2 Ounces Bourbon
- 2 Dashes Angostura bitters
- 1 Splash Water
- 1 Orange peel for (Garnish)
- 1 Brandied cherry (Garnish)
- Add sugar, water and bitters to a rocks glass and stir
- Add a few large ice cubes, add bourbon and stir
- Rub orange peel around glass rim then drop into the glass
- Add brandied cherry as garnish
- Serve and enjoy
Since the Old Fashioned is a classic cocktail, there are lots of variations and twists that bartenders have come up with over the years. Here are some of our favorite riffs on the Bourbon Old Fashioned:
- Rum Old Fashioned: Instead of using whiskey, use a dark rum of choice in this variation.
- Oaxacan Old Fashioned: Mix up a Mexican-inspired Old Fashioned with this Old Fashioned made with tequila. This recipe calls for reposado tequila and mezcal for added smokiness.
- Maple Bacon Old Fashioned: Try this indulgent twist on the classic cocktail, which still calls for bourbon as the primary spirit but uses maple syrup instead of sugar to sweeten the drink and a bacon garnish.
- Brandy Old Fashioned: Replace whiskey for brandy in this classic twist on the iconic cocktail.
Bourbon Old Fashioned FAQ
Should I use bourbon or whiskey in an Old Fashioned?
Bourbon is a type of whiskey, and it’s a popular choice for an Old Fashioned. The difference between bourbon and whiskey is that bourbon is usually sweeter, and that’s because, to qualify as a bourbon, a drink has to be made from 51% or more corn mash.
It also can’t have any additives or colorings added, and it must be aged in charred oak barrels. It must also be no less than 160 proof at the time of casking and no more than 125 proof at the time of bottling.
What is the best bourbon for Old Fashioned?
Any high quality bourbon can make a great Old Fashioned cocktail – if you have a favorite bourbon brand, give it a try! You can also find our favorite whiskeys for making Old Fashioneds here.
Should you use expensive bourbon in an Old Fashioned?
You should use a quality bourbon in an Old Fashioned so that the smooth flavors shine through, but it doesn’t have to be expensive! There are plenty of inexpensive bourbon brands that still taste great.
When should you drink an Old Fashioned?
The Old Fashioned is a timeless cocktail that can be enjoyed year-round, but it’s especially popular in fall and winter as the weather cools off.