The Old Fashioned is a serious cocktail and it is one you really should know how to make at home. When made well, it’s strong, but not overly so. There’s sweetness, but it isn’t cloying or excessive.
It’s been around a long, long time. Paul Clarke from Serious Eats says it “predates not only the motor car, but the presidency of Abe Lincoln.”
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How to Make Our Go-To Old Fashioned
Cocktails at home should be fun and never stressful so we aren’t going to bore you with all the do’s and don’ts when it comes to making the Old Fashioned. Instead, I’m going to show you how we make it when we’re in the mood for a cocktail at home, plus a few twists for fun!
Most commonly, bourbon or rye whiskey are called on for the Old Fashioned. That doesn’t mean to say that there aren’t other options. Gin, brandy and rum all work really, really well.
We particularly love switching the whiskey for a dark, aged rum. In fact, if you were to walk into a bar and see us sipping on an Old Fashioned, you’d most likely see me with rye and Adam with aged rum.
Whatever we go for, we stick to mid-range priced bottles. For Bourbon and Rye, we like Four Rose’s a lot, especially for being so well priced. Bulleit is a popular choice, too. We have their 10 year Rye in our bar right now.
If you’re in the mood to try something more special, our friends swear by Woodford Reserve Double Oaked. There’s obviously many, many more options when it comes to Whiskey so if you’ve got a favorite, share it in the comments below.
We stick to simple syrup. You can certainly use crystallized sugar (many people do), but it is more work. The sugar needs to completely dissolve, otherwise you’ll end up with an unsweetened drink and sugary sediment at the bottom of your glass.
Simple syrup is ridiculously easy to make and since it lasts ages in the fridge, we can make one large batch and go back to it each time we want to make a cocktail.
Using simple syrup lets you play a little, too. Swapping white sugar for brown sugar makes a rich, almost caramel-like syrup that works well in Old Fashioned cocktails. Honey is also a nice idea.
Bitters, Orange and Cherries
We add two to three dashes of bitters. Our standby is Angostura bitters, but one look in a well stocked store or online proves there are lots to experiment with.
Depending on who makes it, the amount of fruit added to an Old Fashioned varies. We’ve seen everything from multiple slices of orange and an abundance of cherries muddled together then served in the glass to an Old Fashioned with no fruit whatsoever.
We like somewhere in between. A 2-inch piece of orange or blood orange peel and a cherry (or two for me) and we’re happy.
If we’re feeling feisty, we break out this little trick. Take a coin-sized slice of orange peel (with quite a bit of the white pith intact so it is easier to squeeze), squeeze it between your fingers and light a match or lighter next to it (be careful).
The oils will spark and flame out. If you do all of this over the glass, a smoky orange aroma will fall down over the drink. We don’t add the flamed peel to the drink, but rubbing the flamed peel around the rim of the glass is a nice touch.
The flavor and aroma of the drink really changes and while we don’t do this all the time, it’s fun to experience the difference.
Having Fun with The Ice
Since we’ve gotten into making Old Fashioned cocktails at home, Adam dorked out a little and looked into the how and why of clear, large ice cubes.
None of this is required for your cocktail, but since we used two of his ice balls in our photo and considering we’ve already bonded over our love of the Old Fashioned, I thought I’d take a shot at explaining what we’ve learned.
I’m sure you’ve seen various large ice cube molds like this sphere mold (what we have) and this cube tray. The problem is that if you just add water and freeze, you will be left with cloudy ice. Worse still, if you use the sphere mold, the water freezes in such a way that when you add the sphere to your drink, it has a very high chance of breaking into pieces.
This all matters because cloudier ice cubes are less dense so they melt much quicker and break apart easier than clearer ice cubes. In other words, the clearer ice cubes are, the less dilution your cocktail will need to endure. And, let’s be honest, clear ice looks cooler.
So how do you make clear ice cubes. There are quite a few gadgets you can buy online. This ice baller looks like one of the better options, although it is pretty expensive.
We went the more DIY, budget-friendly route. After some research, we found this tutorial for making clear ice balls using filtered water and an insulated mug.
In the photo above, Adam is holding the clear ice ball on the left and an ice ball made by simply filling the mold and freezing on the right. Even though the ice isn’t 100% clear it is considerably better than the cloudy (and cracked) ice ball and did seem to melt less quickly. It is actually one of the ice balls seen in our Old Fashioned photo below.
Recipe updated, originally posted May 2015. Since posting this in 2015, we have tweaked the recipe to be more clear and add more info. – Adam and Joanne
- 1 to 2 teaspoons simple syrup, we like simple syrup made with brown sugar
- 3 dashes bitters, Angostura is great and readily available
- 2 ounces mid-range bourbon or rye whiskey
- One 2-inch piece of orange peel, optional
- 1 to 2 maraschino cherries, optional
- Place simple syrup, bitters and the whiskey in an Old Fashioned glass, stir well then add 1 to 2 large ice cubes. Stir 2 to 3 times to chill then garnish with peel of orange and cherry.
Adding water: Some people add a splash of soda or still water to their Old Fashioned cocktails. We don't do this since the ice (even if it is clear) will eventually melt a little and begin to dilute the cocktail anyway. We suggest tasting the drink before adding any water and go from there.
Recipe inspired and adapted from this Old Fashioned Recipe by Serious Eats.