The Classic Old Fashioned: what’s in an old fashioned Timeless Cocktail

The Old Fashioned is more than just a cocktail; it’s an institution. As quintessential as the little black dress or the tailored suit, this time-honoured drink has earned its place in the pantheon of classic mixology. With a history that weaves back to the early 19th century, the Old Fashioned has been the go-to choice for those seeking a sophisticated yet straightforward libation.

The Old Fashioned is a simple yet elegant drink with just four key ingredients: whiskey, sugar, bitters, and water. The beauty of this cocktail lies in its simplicity and versatility. You can easily adjust the ratios of these four components to tailor what’s in an old fashioned to your taste.


The charm of what’s in an old fashioned lies in its simplicity and its ability to tell a story in every glass. Found at the crossroads of fashion and tradition, the Old Fashioned remains a testament to the adage that “less is more.”

In this post, we’ll delve into the depths of this beloved cocktail, exploring its rich history, the foundational ingredients that have made it a staple, and the modern twists that keep it a favourite among aficionados and novices alike.

Whether you’re a seasoned bartender or an inspired home mixologist, understanding the Old Fashioned is a rite of passage. So, let’s raise our glasses to this venerable cocktail and discover what’s really in an Old Fashioned.

A Brief History of the Old Fashioned

What’s in an Old Fashioned starts in the early 1800s when cocktails were a simple concoction of spirits, sugar, water, and bitters. The Old Fashioned was believed to be born at the Pendennis Club, a gentlemen’s club in Louisville, Kentucky. Originally referred to as a “whiskey cocktail,” it underwent various modifications through the ages, including a period when it was fashionable to add fruit garnishes and muddled sugar.

However, purists argued for the return to the original recipe, hence, the term “old-fashioned” was coined. The Old Fashioned was not merely a nostalgia trip but a declaration of the elegance of simplicity.

The Anatomy of the Classic Old Fashioned

The beauty of the Old Fashioned lies in its basic yet carefully balanced components. Each ingredient in the Old Fashioned plays a crucial role, harmonizing with the others to create a cocktail that’s both complex and accessible.

Bourbon or Rye Whiskey

The soul of the drink: What’s in an old fashioned bourbon offers sweetness and full-bodied flavour, while rye brings a spicy, edgier feel. The choice of whiskey sets the tone for the rest of the experience.


Just a touch, often in the form of a sugar cube or simple syrup, balances the bite of the spirits and the bitters.


A few dashes of bitters contribute depth and complexity, typically Angostura, although other varieties can be used to add unique twists.


Often just a splash, to dissolve the sugar and meld the flavours together harmoniously.


A twist of orange or lemon peel for fragrance and a subtle zest, finishing the cocktail with a simple elegance.

Crafting the Perfect Old Fashioned

To make an authentic Old Fashioned, you’ll need:

  • 2 oz Bourbon or Rye Whiskey
  • 1 Sugar Cube or 1/2 oz Simple Syrup
  • 2-3 Dashes of Angostura Bitters
  • Orange Peel (for garnish)


  1. Muddle Together Sugar and Bitters: If using a sugar cube, place it in the bottom of the glass with a small splash of water and muddle until mostly dissolved before adding the bitters.
  2. Stir in the Whiskey: Pour the bourbon or rye over the muddled sugar and bitters.
  3. Add Ice: Fill the glass with large cubes of ice.
  4. Stir Gently: Carefully stir to combine, ensuring the drink is chilled and diluting it ever so slightly.
  5. Garnish: Twist a piece of orange peel over the drink to release its oils, then run the peel around the rim of the glass before dropping it in.

The Old Fashioned in Popular Culture

This cocktail has been a staple on the silver screen and in literature, fueling characters and setting scenes with its iconic status. From Don Draper in “Mad Men” savoring an Old Fashioned as he contemplates his next big pitch to the pages of Raymond Chandler novels, this drink symbolises the cool and composed.

Drinking an Old Fashioned harkens to a bygone era of elegance and gustatory pleasure. It prompts a slowdown, a moment of reflection – a sort of ritual that whispers of the past while firmly holding its ground in the present.

Modern Variations

Mixologists across the globe have taken the Different Old Fashioned recipes and made it their own. They have introduced new ingredients, shaking up the recipe while keeping the heart of the cocktail intact.

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Some modern spins include:

  • Replacing sugar with maple syrup or honey for a different kind of sweetness.
  • Using smoked glassware or introducing a smoke element for a sensory experience.
  • Trying out different bitters, like chocolate or orange, to play with flavor profiles.
  • Infusing the whiskey with additional flavors like cherry wood or bacon.

Each variation offers a different way to enjoy the timeless Official Drink of Louisville.


The Old Fashioned is not just a cocktail; it’s a narrative. Every sip transports you to a different time and place, offering a tangible connection to cocktail lore. It beckons you to savor the moment, appreciate the craft, and perhaps inspire you to create your own version.

As we bring our exploration of the Old Fashioned to a close, remember that great cocktails, much like fashion, never truly go out of style. They evolve, adapt, and continue to inspire. So whether you are enjoying a classic Old Fashioned or a contemporary twist on this eternal cocktail—cheers to tradition, and to the delicious simplicity that stands the test of time.



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