September 27, 2023 3:07 pm

I’ll Have an Old Fashioned Please!


The Old Fashioned is a timeless, classic cocktail with roots dating back to the 1800s. The Pendennis Club of Louisville is often credited with its origination in 1881, using bourbon made by James E. Pepper. However, its roots can be traced back to the earlier part of the century through letters and articles describing cocktails with similar recipes; this is now more of an urban legend rather than history.

The first published sighting of an Old Fashioned recipe was in Theodore Proulx’s book The Bartender’s Manual (1888). The original recipes differed from what we now know as Old Fashioned, consisting of sugar, ice, and spirit. Eventually, bitters were introduced to cocktails, and other drinks such as the Sazerac.

The recipe’s base now consists of muddled sugar or simple syrup, an ice cube, bitters, and the spirit. The spirit throughout history consists of either bourbon, rye, brandy, gin, or, on occasion, an Irish or Scotch whiskey. However, unless you specify the spirit, it will generally be made with Rye or Bourbon. Other variations of the old-fashioned will come in the form of a smoked, barrel-aged, or possibly a bartender’s choice, such as using bitters other than the classic Angostura aromatic.

While an easy recipe, the classic old-fashioned is also easy to mess up. This representation of this timeless cocktail relies on the mixologist’s ability to balance the flavors. Too much of the bitters or syrup will overpower the spirit.  Muddling the cherry or orange peel could make it more like a fruit punch.

Introducing variations of this classic recipe, such as the Smoked Old Fashioned or Barrel Age Old fashioned, only adds to the importance and difficulty of balancing all of the flavors of the cocktail.

Credit: Maxim Hopman

Classic Old Fashioned

The classic old fashioned will follow the standard recipe using Rye or Bourbon as its foundation. There may be variations where the mixologist will use a pre-made simple syrup or muddle granulated sugar with water or club soda. 


  • 2 ounces of bourbon or rye

  • 2 dashes of Angostura bitters

  • ¼ ounce of simple syrup

  • 1 orange twist for zest and garnish

  • 1 Maraschino cherry 

Once the ingredients are mixed through stirring, strain it into a rocks glass over a large ice cube. This will cool the drink while slowing down its dilution.

Watch for bartenders who shake the mix with ice cubes rather than stir. The shaking will dilute the drink and dull the balance of the flavors.

Credit: Bon Vivant

Smoked Old Fashioned

While it is not entirely known who first came up with the concept of smoking wood chips and then filling the rocks glass with the smoke, it is known that the trend started to take off in 2007.

Esteemed bartender, Eben Freeman, came up with the now much-loved Waylon, which is a mix of smoked Coca-Cola and bourbon.

The recipe for the smoked stays the same as the classic; however, the complexity of balancing the smoke with the rest of the flavors is now added. Smoke the glass too long, and the smoke will overpower the drink; not long enough, and you might as well be drinking a classic.

Unique Recipe Old Fashioned

Many bartenders will sometimes try to put a twist on this classic cocktail. However, only some can pull it off. The heart of the recipe will be followed with the spirit, bitters, simple syrup, garnishes, and ice.

What makes the recipe unique is the twist the mixologist will put on the drink. One of my favorite takes on this style of an Old Fashioned is the NBK Old Fashioned. The bartender uses coffee to make the ice ball to create a coffee-infused old fashioned with chocolate bitters replacing the Angostura bitters.

Barrel Aged Old Fashioned

The barrel-aged Old Fashioned is yet another take on the classic recipe. With this interpretation, the bar will make a batch of the cocktail and then let it rest in a barrel, generally a smaller barrel of around 5 liters in volume. The resting time will vary from bar to bar, but, on average, the cocktail will rest for about 30 days before being served.

Whatever way you take your drink, whether it’s a classic, smoked, or a unique variation that the mixologist presents to you, lift your glass up with your friends and enjoy this classic cocktail.

"Whisky is liquid sunshine."

George Bernard Shaw

“The light music of whiskey falling into a glass – an agreeable interlude.”

James Joyce

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