Five Different Ways To Make An Old Fashioned

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In the ever-growing world of craft cocktails and fine whisk(e)ys, the Old Fashioned is anything but, well, old fashioned. 

In fact, this classic cocktail has been ground zero for bartenders’ experiments with flavor and finesse. And if you’re looking to expand your own home bartending skills, it’s the perfect cocktail to teach you the fundamentals of spirits, sweeteners, bitters, and infusion.

With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at five different one-off variations of the Old Fashioned, from a spicy rye version to a bacon-infused stunner and a midwest regional variant that’s pretty darned weird.

Rye Old Fashioned

Rye Old Fashioned

If you’ve had an Old Fashioned or 12, I’ll give ten to one odds that it was made with bourbon. It makes sense: America’s national spirit is a fine match for a spoonful of sugar syrup and a few dashes of bitters.

But if you go back a couple hundred years or so, corn whiskey wasn’t the spirit of choice for the Old Fashioned—they were more likely to be made with spicy, high-proof rye.

Knob Creek’s recipe for a Rye Old Fashioned harkens back to this yesteryear of drinkery, while adding the uncommon touches of brown sugar and a grapefruit twist (rather than orange). That gives it a depth and brightness that perfectly rounds out the peppercorn-tinged rye whiskey base.

Maple Old Fashioned

Maple Old Fashioned

For a low maintenance (but absolutely delicious) variation on the Old Fashioned, you’ll want to look to our northern neighbors. Specifically, you’ll need to buy a rich and flavorful maple syrup.

Maple syrup is such a natural pairing with whiskey, and it doesn’t require any special preparation to mix into an Old Fashioned; just pour it into the glass along with your bourbon and bitters, and give it a little stir.

Four Roses puts an even nicer touch on this cocktail courtesy of a few dashes of black walnut bitters—giving a lovely nutty flavor and aroma, and deep tannin bitterness to balance the maple syrup’s sweetness. 

Author’s note: Personally, I’m a fan of Honest John’s Black Walnut Bitters.

“Maple syrup is such a natural pairing with whiskey, and it doesn’t require any special preparation to mix into an Old Fashioned.”

Benton's Old Fashioned

Benton’s Old Fashioned

If the previous cocktail’s addition of maple syrup got you thinking of breakfast, boy do we have the cocktail for you.

Benton’s bacon is a perennial favorite in high-class kitchens, thanks to its fantastic balance of smoke, salt, and porky goodness. Fry up a few slices, and you can use a somewhat labor-intensive infusion method called “fat washing” to add all those mouthwatering qualities to your favorite bottle of bourbon.

Mix that together with a touch of maple syrup and a dash of Angostura bitters, and voila—a perfect cocktail to pair with your breakfast (we won’t judge).

Old Fashioned Valentine / Four Roses
Four Roses

Old Fashioned Valentine

Natalie Migliarini, author of Beautiful Booze: Stylish Cocktails to Make at Home, has put together what might be my favorite Old Fashioned on this list. It leverages simple ingredients to maximum effect, and transforms a medley of flavors into something greater than the sum of its parts.

Starting with Four Roses Small Batch, a fine whiskey at an approachable price, Migliarini then mixes a touch of honey syrup and a restrained few dashes of chocolate bitters. That’s garnished with an orange peel, but then one secret ingredient: Serve it with a salted chocolate truffle, if you can. Taken altogether, this combination of ingredients gives wave after wave of pleasurable tasting experiences—making it an ideal cocktail to make the next time your date comes home with you.

Wisconsin Old Fashioned

Wisconsin Old Fashioned

Wisconsin has what I would consider a very loose definition of an Old Fashioned. But seen another way, it’s a testament to just how versatile this classic cocktail really is. Even when made with brandy, smashed together with fruit, and mixed with Sprite, there’s still something recognizably “Old Fashionedesque” about the drink.

When all of your other cocktail options have become boring and overused, the Wisconsin Old Fashioned offers a way to liven things up. It can be made four different ways, and adjusted to anything from mind-scramblingly strong to a light aperitif.

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