How To Make The Best Old-Fashioned You've Ever Had

The Old-Fashioned is possibly the premier classic American cocktail. Comprising a few simple ingredients, the Old-Fashioned allows each component to shine. It is a relatively simple cocktail, made with just bitters, bourbon, a hint of sugar, and some orange peel and cherry for garnish.


Evidence of the Old-Fashioned cocktail shows up as far back as the 1700s, when simple whiskey cocktails came into fashion. By the late 1800s, more fruit-forward cocktails with added ingredients and complexities came into vogue. This spawned patrons to harken back to simple "old fashioned" style whiskey cocktails, and thus the Old-Fashioned as we know it today took its shape.

Over the years, people have played with the Old-Fashioned, at times adding muddled fruit or other ingredient swaps to put a spin on it, but the beauty of this cocktail is in its simplicity. To make the best Old-Fashioned, you don't need many ingredients or equipment. Any bartender worth their salt should be able to make one, but if you are a lover of the drink, we can show you how to make the best Old-Fashioned right at home.


Picking your bourbon and sugar

Because there are so few ingredients in an old-fashioned, it is important to put thought into each component. First things first — you will need whiskey. Typically, Old-Fashioneds are made with bourbon, however, you are welcome to pick something else. For example, if you prefer a spicy whiskey, feel free to try a rye. You will want a whiskey that has a present flavor, as the heart of this cocktail is the whiskey. Buffalo Trace, Elijah Craig, and Maker's Mark are all solid choices. We are using Maker's Mark.


After whiskey, you have to decide on the sugar. An Old-Fashioned is usually made with a sugar cube, which is then muddled with bitters. Most people do not have sugar cubes on hand, though, so you can substitute them with cane sugar. If you are concerned about the sugar cube fully dissolving, you can also use a homemade simple syrup. The total amount of sugar will stay the same. One sugar cube is one teaspoon of sugar, which is equal to two teaspoons of simple syrup. For an extra flavor boost, use demerara sugar, which has a bit of molasses left in it.

The finishing touches

Finally, you will need aromatic bitters, as this cocktail requires just a few shakes. Angostura is a popular brand, but you can use any kind you prefer. We are using Wigle Whiskey brand aromatic bitters. Some people also like to add orange bitters, though this is not necessary and is entirely up to you. The cocktail should be garnished with an orange peel, which will help bring out those orange flavors without the use of orange-flavored bitters.


If you are going to garnish with a cherry, put some thought into what kind. Maraschino cherries bought at the grocery store are fine. However, if you want to make the best Old-Fashioned, we recommend stepping up your game with cocktail cherries. Luxardo cherries, for example, don't use thickeners and you'll notice the cherries themselves are not an artificially bright red, but the true deep burgundy of a cherry. You can also find brands of cherries that have been brined in brandy, creating a delicious and potent bite. All are better options than the artificial sundae cherries found in the grocery store.

Finally, you will need ice. We recommend using a large whiskey ice. This won't dilute your drink by melting as quickly as the small standard cubes and will create a cool and potent drink.


What tools do you need?

As we mentioned, you do not need much specialty equipment. You will need a whiskey tumbler, which is a short stocky glass. Some people will use multiple glasses for this recipe, transferring the cocktail to the final cup once it is ready, but we have found this is not inherently necessary (and just creates more dishes to wash).


You will also need a way to measure your whiskey, such as a jigger. And that is about it. If you are using a sugar cube in your Old-Fashioned, you will also need a muddler, but if you don't have one, you can use the end of a rolling pin or the back of a spoon to muddle.

Finally, if you do want to use a large whiskey ice cube, you will need a mold. Inexpensive ones can be purchased on Amazon, both large cubes and spheres. Either way, this will help both the taste and presentation of your Old-Fashioned.

Avoid these common mistakes

Before we dive into instructions, there are a few common mistakes you should avoid. First, do not pour the cherry liquid into the drink. The cherry flavor will then become overpowering, and it will add unnecessary sweetness to your Old-Fashioned. Likewise, do not pour or squeeze any orange juice into your Old-Fashioned, as the same problems will occur. In a similar vein, do not go crazy with the sugar. The sugar is only there to balance out the bourbon, not to create a truly sweet drink. If you want a sweet drink, pick a different cocktail.


Finally, do not forget to express the orange essence, as described below. This is a small step, but provides a beautiful and subtle balance to the drink overall.

Add the sugar

Once you have decided what kind of sugar you are going to use, add it to the bottom of your tumbler. Again, resist the temptation to add more sugar. It will not look like a lot, but trust us, one sugar cube — or one teaspoon of sugar, or two teaspoons of simple syrup — is plenty.


Dash the bitters

Next, add three to four shakes of bitters to the cup on top of the sugar. If you want to use both aromatic and orange bitters, do two shakes of each or three aromatic and one of orange. If you are using a sugar cube, now is the time to muddle your sugar and bitters together.


Pour in your bourbon and stir

Once your sugar and bitters are combined, add two ounces of your bourbon. Stir until all the sugar has dissolved. This will take longer with granulated sugar and a sugar cube than with simple syrup. This is also why we wait to add the ice, as sugar dissolves slower in cold liquid. Make sure to stir until all granulated sugar is dissolved. 


Add your ice cube

Once all the sugar is dissolved and incorporated, lower your large ice cube into the cocktail. Make sure to do this gently so as not to splash your drink out.

Express the orange peel

Take your thin strip of orange peel. Hold it just above the glass with the peel facing the drink. Quickly fold the top and bottom together long ways and snap the sides together. This will express the orange oil onto the drink. After expressing, run the peel against the outside of the glass.


Garnish your drink

Take your expressed orange peel and place it in the glass. You can give it a twist if you are feeling fancy. Take one cherry out of the container and place it on top. The cocktail is now ready to drink.


Other fun Old-Fashioned recipes and additions

Now that you know how to make a perfect classic Old-Fashioned, you can start to mix things up. Try swapping the bourbon for another liquor such as gin. Or add some floral notes with flavors such as sweet lavender. These, and any other combinations you want to try, allow you to play with this classic cocktail and make it your own.