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What Is An Old Fashioned Drink? Plus 5 Tips To Make The Cocktail

The season of celebrations has arrived, and we’re toasting it with a classic Old Fashioned cocktail. Seeing as the start of November marks the launch of Old Fashioned Week, we can’t think of a better time to celebrate this timeless classic. But what is an Old Fashioned Drink? 

We’ll dive into the history of the Old Fashioned, tips for cocktail success, and variations to make now. Here is a bit about how this cocktail became the most popular worldwide and everything you need to know to make the perfect Old Fashioned cocktail.

What Is An Old Fashioned Drink?
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What Is The Old Fashioned Cocktail?

Dating back to the early 1800s, the Old Fashioned is one of the oldest cocktails of all time – fitting, after all, for a drink named “Old Fashioned.” The basic recipe for the cocktail has been made pretty much the same, with a combination of premium ingredients like bourbon, sugar, citrus, and the essential ANGOSTURA® bitters. 

How Does The Old Fashioned Cocktail Taste?

When properly made, the Old Fashioned Cocktail should be a balance of the alcohol, the sweetness, and the bitters. One of the reasons this cocktail has been around so long is because it is simple three elements that work so well together. 

Finished Old Fashioned Cocktail

The History Of The Old Fashioned Cocktail

As food and history lovers, we’re partial to drinks with a storied past, and the Old Fashioned cocktail does not disappoint. It is said that the Old Fashioned was created at the Pendennis Club in Louisville, Kentucky, during the 19th century in honor of a bourbon distiller named Colonel James E. Pepper. However,you can also find a very similar drink, the Whiskey Cocktail, in Jerry Thomas’s 1862 book, “How To Mix Drinks,” so it is up for debate. 

Regardless, the cocktail gained popularity when it was served at the famed Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City. The popularity of this classic cocktail has never waned, and it is now one of the world’s most popular cocktails.

Pouring ingredients into a cocktail glass

6 Tips For How to Make An Old Fashioned Cocktail

The classic Old Fashioned cocktail isn’t all that complicated, but a few key things make it go from good to amazing.

First, let’s talk about what’s in the glass – a classic Old Fashioned cocktail is built in a rocks glass and combines rye or bourbon, sugar, ice, ANGOSTURA® aromatic bitters, and a lemon peel. We’ve got the full recipe for a classic Old Fashioned cocktail here.  However, here are six tips to make sure your Old Fashioned cocktail – whatever your twist may be – is delicious:

Pour High-Quality Ingredients

This cocktail has just a few ingredients, so each one shines through. As such, an Old Fashioned is not the time for second-rate ingredients! Make sure everything – from the alcohol to the bitters – is of the highest quality.

Use the Correct Glassware

We’re all for inventive twists but one mainstay we won’t budge on is traditional glassware because we believe a Classic Old Fashioned cocktail should always be served in a rocks glass. And it’s not just about aesthetics – the rock glass (aka the old-fashioned glass) makes it easy for muddling the sugar and to  stir the cocktail properly (more on that below).

It should be said that you’ll often find this drink made in a mixing glass and then strained over fresh ice cubes into a serving glass. This is not traditional but is done by mixologists becuase it will result in a cleaner flavor. However, we feel it’s unnecessary if you’re only making one cocktail.

Opt for Pure Ice

As a cocktail lover, you probably already know this, but you want the cleanest ice so that the flavor of the other ingredients comes through. At home, we use filtered water so we can make sure the final cocktail uses clear ice and tastes as good as possible.

Stir with Style

The Old Fashioned is a cocktail that requires very few steps, but one you can’t skimp on is stirring. Pull out your best bar spoon and steadily stir all the ingredients until the glass is chilled and the liquid ingredients are slightly cloudy.

We think of a stirred drink like a vinaigrette – you want to mix until you’ve combined everything well and achieved dilution. Ideally, there’s a perfect balance of all ingredients in the finished cocktail, but you don’t let the ice melt so much that it’s watery.

Don’t Forget the Bitters

No Old Fashioned is complete without a dash or two of ANGOSTURA® bitters. The citrus notes in ANGOSTURA® orange bitters are also a beautiful complement to the traditional Old Fashioned. They can be found in many of its offshoots, balancing flavors and adding complexity to the drink.

Garnish As Desired

Note that you’ll often see an orange twit, a maraschino cherry, or club soda added to the drink to finish it off — these are all unnecessary but common additions.

Tequila Old Fashioned Ready To Serve

5 Variations On The Old Fashioned Cocktail

There are countless twists on the timeless Old Fashioned recipe – here five of our favorites right now:

The Añejo Tequila Old Fashioned

To make this twist on the classic Old Fashioned cocktail, we added our favorite aged añejo tequila in place of the traditional spirit of bourbon or rye. We garnished with slices of mandarin instead of an orange peel.

The Oaxacan Old Fashioned

Created by New York bartender Phil Ward in 2007 at the beloved bar Death & Co., the Oaxacan Old Fashioned helped put mezcal on the radar for most Americans. The basic recipe includes tequila and mezcal along with agave syrup and a flamed orange peel. Some variations use chocolate bitters or orange bitters and we like both!

Rosemary Old Fashioned Cocktail

The Rosemary Old Fashioned

Instead of using a sugar cube, we make a simple syrup with equal parts boiling water and sugar and stir to dissolve. Add in a couple of fresh rosemary sprigs, then let it hang out just a few minutes to allow the herbal flavors to seep in. until you get herbal flavors. Remove the rosemary, let the syrup cool, and then use ¼ ounce of simple syrup for every cocktail you make.

Garnish it by taking a fresh rosemary spring, smacking it between your hands over the finished cocktail to unleash the aromatic oils, then pop it into the cocktail to serve.

Burnt Cinnamon Old Fashioned

The Burnt Cinnamon Whiskey Old Fashioned

To make this, use orange bitters, your favorite smoky whiskey, and then light the end of a cinnamon stick before serving. The smoke’s aroma will amplify the whisky’s smokiness and give you major holiday fireplace vibes!

Spiced Persimmon Old Fashioned Cocktail Recipe

The Spiced Persimmon Old Fashioned

Made with muddled persimmons, rye whiskey, cinnamon, and a few teaspoons maple syrup, this recipe is one of our favorite twists on the Old Fashioned cocktail during the fall season! Truth be told, you can make this classic cocktail using an array of spirits, liqueurs, and garnishes to achieve a variety of flavor profiles. No matter how you drink your Old Fashioned, one thing remains consistent – it’s never complete until topped with ANGOSTURA® bitters.

Old Fashioned Recipe

How to Celebrate Old Fashioned Week

Now that you’ve mastered the Old Fashioned cocktail, it’s time to celebrate Old Fashioned Week! The event was launched in 2015 by Michael Landart of the Maria Loca bar in Paris and Cyrille Hugon of Rhum Fest Paris to pay homage to the cocktail.

Old Fashioned Week became a global event in 2017 as an open festival providing a worldwide platform for spirit connoisseurs’ favorite cocktails and bartenders’ creativity. Since the week was founded, the pair has worked to establish partners contributing to the evolution of the Old Fashioned, including ANGOSTURA® bitters. Visit the Old Fashioned Week website to check out the full lineup of bars and find a participating location near you.

What Is The Difference Between The Old Fashioned and the Manhattan? 

The Old Fashioned and the Manhattan are two classic whiskey drinks, but each one’s got its own vibe. A Manhattan is like that sophisticated friend who knows their way around a wine list. It’s a blend of whiskey, sweet vermouth, and bitters, all topped off with a cherry. Picture yourself sipping this in a swanky bar, because it’s traditionally served straight up in a classy cocktail glass. The Old Fashioned, though? That’s your laid-back buddy who loves vinyl records and vintage tees. This one’s made with bourbon or rye whiskey, a dash of sugar, bitters, and a little citrus twist for good measure. It’s the chill drink in the room, typically served on the rocks.

Holiday Entertaining Tips Bar Cart

More Cocktail Tips

In search of our best cocktail recipes for your next party? Check out this list of cocktail party-worthy drinks, including other great whiskey and bourbon cocktails.

Sponsored Content: This story has been brought to you by THE HOUSE OF ANGOSTURA®. Thank you for supporting these sponsors who help keep Salt & Wind up and running.

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