It’s Friday … Have a Drink: Old Fashioned

It’s Friday … Have a Drink: Old Fashioned
Our weekly recommendation.

This is the drink that many people “test” a new bar or bartender with, but it’s also very easy to make home. It’s a deceptively simple classic, featuring a few basic ingredients and producing one of the most perfect cocktails on the planet when made correctly. The key is the orange peel: you need a hefty chunk of it, it needs to be as pith-free as possible, and you need to muddle the heck out of it to really get those essential oils out and into the drink. In my opinion: if your Old Fashioned isn’t cloudy, you haven’t muddled enough.

You can make this drink with sugar instead of simple syrup, but you’ll have to muddle and stir for a really long time to get the sugar fully dissolved. If you do that, cut the sugar to one teaspoon (or one cube).

Some people like a splash of water or seltzer in their Old Fashioned. I’m not one of those people, but if that’s your thing, go for it. There’s also a whole school of thought that an Old Fashioned should have muddled fruit in it (typically orange slices and maraschino cherries). I’m not a fan of this variant at all – I think the fruit overshadows the simple, beautiful interaction of the whiskey and the bitters – but it’s apparently very popular in some regions. The key, as always, is to drink what you like.

Muddle orange peel, bitters, and simple syrup in a rocks glass. Add bourbon and ice, stir, and serve.

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,

  • Alex

    I discovered about this cocktail by watching Mad Men and it made me want to try it! Thanks for the recipe!

    • Caesar Merlin

      Same, I tried it after watching mad men too

  • Josh M

    This is always my “go-to” cocktail in a situation where a cocktail is appropriate because I know the guy on the other side of the bar is going to know how to make it and I halfway look like like I know what I’m ordering. I had a variant of the Old Fashioned in San Antonio made with Tequila (several actually) and it was quite good.

    • Christopher Buecheler

      I often make a rum-based Old Fashioned variant that uses four different types of bitters. Honestly, you can use just about any base liquor and get something delicious — cognac, whiskey, rum, tequila … even gin or vodka would work (though the vodka one might be a little boring).

  • RLM

    Is this the same recipe used in Mad Men?

    • Christopher Buecheler

      I’m sure it’s close. I’ve never seen the show so I don’t know if they describe a specific recipe, but this is a classic old fashioned recipe that dates back to the 1800s.

  • Jason

    I prefer my Old Fashioned a little simpler, actually…and with rye instead of bourbon. Instead of muddling the orange peel, I just give it a squeeze.

    (for those asking about the Mad Men Old Fashioned, it too was probably made with rye…but was probably also with muddled fruit and a splash of soda water as described as alternatives in the article…that’s they way a “classic” old fashioned is made)

    • Christopher Buecheler

      A “classic” Old Fashioned is whiskey, sugar, bitters, and a splash of water (provided by the ice in this version). The recipe dates back to at least the 1860s. The muddled fruit variant is a 1930’s introduction.

      Rye production in this country had nearly ceased during the era Mad Men is set in. Prohibition came very close to killing it, and only a few brands survived. It’s unlikely most people were using it in their Old Fashioneds, unless they were using Canadian whiskey, which is typically made from a high-rye mash.

  • Butch_Zee

    How I’ve done it for years: get a rocks glass and put one sugar cube in it. Drip the bitters on cube to soak it. I use Angostura’s, you can use an orange bitters if you’d like. Crush the soaked cube, add ice, pour bourbon, stir.

    • Christopher Buecheler

      I heartily approve of this approach!

  • Scott

    Living in Wisconsin, this drink is next to impossible to order in bars. For some reason it has been bastardized into this sweet, terrible version that everyone assumes is a normal old fashioned. Its something to the effect of:

    Sprite/Sour depending on taste
    orange slice
    cocktail cherry

    It’s garbage, and I often have to teach bartenders how to make a proper Old Fashioned.

    • Christopher Buecheler

      I’ve heard of the Wisconsin variant before and … yeah, that sounds deeply unfortunate!

    • David Bjerke

      The Wisconsin Old Fashioned can be done properly — That is just a slight variation of the original Old Fashioned recipe, with the key being the lack of sprite or sour. However, living in Wisconsin for 27 out of my 28 years I agree with you… it’s rare to come across a proper, well-made Old Fashioned cocktail there.

      That being said, I just came across (another) abomination of this cocktail last night here in Chicago. I don’t know how a restaurant can hire a bartender that adds sprite/sour/whatever to an Old Fashioned when it isn’t specifically requested for by the patron.

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