It’s Friday … Have a Drink: Improved Whiskey Cocktail

It’s Friday … Have a Drink: Improved Whiskey Cocktail
Our weekly recommendation.

In the formative years of cocktailing, the early to mid-1800s, most drinks were just a shot of liquor with a little water, a little sugar, and a splash of bitters. In fact, this was also sometimes referred to as a bittered sling, the sling being a drink of liquor, water, and sugar that predates the term “cocktail”. As liqueurs became more widely available in the latter half of the nineteenth century, “improved” versions of cocktails began to feature additional liqueurs, citrus zests, and other flavors. The Improved Whiskey Cocktail, one of the most venerable, still survives on bar menus today.

This is a great “step up” from an Old Fashioned. I use the quotes because there is absolutely nothing wrong with the Old Fashioned — it’s perfect — so the only way in which you’re really stepping up is toward a cocktail with a little more complexity. There’s just more going on here, from the earthy maraschino to the aniseed pastis rinse. It’s really excellent.

I like to use a LOT of bitters in this. Six dashes or so. I’ve left the recipe at two because that’s more traditional, but I recommend giving my way a shot.

Combine all ingredients in a pint glass over ice and stir thoroughly. Strain into a chilled cocktail coupe. Garnish with a lemon twist.

This article is a modified and enhanced version of a post that ran on my nightly cocktail blog, DrinkShouts. Liquors in parentheses are what I used when I made this recipe, and are included as suggestions.

Christopher Buecheler is a novelist, a web developer, an award-winning amateur mixologist, a brewer, a guitarist, a drummer, and an NBA enthusiast. He lives a semi-nomadic life with his wife and two cats, currently residing in Providence, RI. You can learn more at his website,


  • Reply October 31, 2014

    Eric Henao

    Can we assume on the measurements, that with the pastis, a dash is 1/8 tsp, while a dash out of a bitter’s type bottle is one shake? [I can’t remember if there is a name for the bottle top regulator, especially thinking of the one on top of the Angostura bottles that allows a “dash” of fluid with one shake]

    • Reply October 31, 2014

      Christopher Buecheler

      The cap with the hole in it on bitters bottles like Angostura is called a dasher cap, and I generally consider two shakes of the bottle to be a “dash”. Yes, I’d say 1/8th tsp is about right for the pastis, but it’s fine to just eyeball it … enough to coat the glass, without having too much that you have to throw away.

  • […] complex, many “improved” variations on existing recipes started to appear. One of these, the Improved Whiskey Cocktail, came into vogue in the late 1800s. In order to differentiate between this newfangled elixir and […]

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