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,


  • Reply August 1, 2014


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

  • Reply August 1, 2014

    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.

    • 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).

  • Reply August 1, 2014


    Is this the same recipe used in Mad Men?

    • 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.

  • Reply August 1, 2014


    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)

    • 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.

  • Reply August 1, 2014


    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.

  • Reply August 2, 2014


    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.

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

    • Reply August 12, 2014

      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.

  • […] 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 […]

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