Old fashioned (cocktail)

The old fashioned is a cocktail made by muddling sugar with bitters and water, adding whiskey or, less commonly, brandy, and garnishing with orange slice or zest and a cocktail cherry. It is traditionally served in an old fashioned glass (also known as rocks glass), which predated the cocktail.

Old fashioned
IBA official cocktail
Whiskey Old Fashioned1.jpg
Primary alcohol by volume
ServedOn the rocks; poured over ice
Standard garnishOrange slice or zest, and cocktail cherry
Standard drinkware
Old Fashioned Glass.svg
Old fashioned glass
IBA specified
PreparationPlace sugar cube in old fashioned glass and saturate with bitters, add a few dashes of plain water. Muddle until dissolved. Fill the glass with ice cubes and add whiskey. Garnish with orange slice or zest, and a cocktail cherry.
TimingBefore dinner
dagger Old fashioned recipe at International Bartenders Association

Developed during the 19th century and given its name in the 1880s, it is an IBA Official Cocktail.[1] It is also one of six basic drinks listed in David A. Embury's The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks.


An old fashioned was one of the simpler and earlier versions of cocktails, before the development of advanced bartending techniques and recipes in the later part of the 19th century.[2] The first documented definition of the word "cocktail" was in response to a reader's letter asking to define the word in the May 6, 1806, issue of The Balance and Columbian Repository in Hudson, New York. In the May 13, 1806, issue, the paper's editor wrote that it was a potent concoction of spirits, bitters, water, and sugar; it was also referred to at the time as a bittered sling and is essentially the recipe for an old fashioned.[3][4] J.E. Alexander describes the cocktail similarly in 1833, as he encountered it in New York City, as being rum, gin, or brandy, significant water, bitters, and sugar, though he includes a nutmeg garnish as well.[5]

By the 1860s, it was common for orange curaçao, absinthe, and other liqueurs to be added to the cocktail. As cocktails became more complex, drinkers accustomed to simpler cocktails began to ask bartenders for something akin to the pre-1850s drinks. The original concoction, albeit in different proportions, came back into vogue, and was referred to as "old-fashioned".[2][6] The most popular of the in-vogue "old-fashioned" cocktails were made with whiskey, according to a Chicago barman, quoted in the Chicago Daily Tribune in 1882, with rye being more popular than Bourbon. The recipe he describes is a similar combination of spirits, bitters, water and sugar of seventy-six years earlier.[2]

The Pendennis Club, a gentlemen's club founded in 1881 in Louisville, Kentucky, claims the old fashioned cocktail was invented there. The recipe was said to have been invented by a bartender at that club in honor of Colonel James E. Pepper, a prominent bourbon distiller, who brought it to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel bar in New York City.[7] Cocktail critic David Wonderich finds this origin story unlikely however, as the first mention in print of "old fashioned cocktails" was in the Chicago Daily Tribune in February 1880, before the Pendennis Club was opened; this in addition to the fact that the old fashioned was simply a re-packaging of a drink that had long existed.[2][8]

With its conception rooted in the city's history, in 2015 the city of Louisville named the old fashioned as its official cocktail. Each year, during the first two weeks of June, Louisville celebrates "Old Fashioned Fortnight" which encompasses bourbon events, cocktail specials and National Bourbon Day which is always celebrated on June 14.[9]


George Kappeler provides several of the earliest published recipes for old fashioned cocktails in his 1895 book. Recipes are given for whiskey, brandy, Holland gin, and Old Tom gin. The whiskey old fashioned recipe specifies the following (with a jigger being 2 US fluid ounces (59 ml)):[10]

Old Fashioned Whiskey Cocktail
Dissolve a small lump of sugar with a little water in a whiskey-glass;
add two dashes Angostura bitters,
a small piece of ice, a piece of lemon-peel,
one jigger whiskey.
Mix with small bar-spoon and serve, leaving spoon in glass.[10]

By the 1860s, as illustrated by Jerry Thomas' 1862 book, basic cocktail recipes included Curaçao, or other liqueurs. These liqueurs were not mentioned in the early 19th century descriptions, nor the Chicago Daily Tribune descriptions of the "old fashioned" cocktails of the early 1880s; they were absent from Kappeler's old fashioned recipes as well. The differences of the old fashioned cocktail recipes from the cocktail recipes of the late 19th Century are mainly preparation method, the use of sugar and water in lieu of simple or gomme syrup, and the absence of additional liqueurs. These old fashioned cocktail recipes are literally for cocktails done the old-fashioned way.[2]

Gin Cocktail
Use small bar glass
3 or 4 dashes of gum syrup
2 do [dashes] bitters Bogart's
1 wine glass of gin
1 or 2 dashes of Curaçao
1 small piece lemon peel
fill one third full of fine ice shake well and strain in a glass[11]

Old Fashioned Holland Gin Cocktail
Crush a small lump of sugar in a whiskey glass containing a little water,
add a lump of ice,
two dashes of Angostura bitters,
a small piece of lemon peel,
one jigger Holland gin.
Mix with small bar spoon.

A book by David Embury published in 1948 provides a slight variation, specifying 12 parts American whiskey, 1 part simple syrup, 1-3 dashes Angostura bitters, a twist of lemon peel over the top, and serve garnished with the lemon peel.[12] Two additional recipes from the 1900s vary in the precise ingredients, but omit the cherry which was introduced after 1930 as well as the soda water which the occasional recipe calls for. Orange bitters were a popular ingredient in the late 19th century.[13]


The original old fashioned recipe would have showcased the whiskey available in America in the 19th century: Irish, Bourbon or rye whiskey.[14] But in some regions, especially Wisconsin, brandy is substituted for whiskey (sometimes called a brandy old fashioned).[15][16][17] Eventually the use of other spirits became common, such as a gin recipe becoming popularized in the late 1940s.[14]

Common garnishes for an old fashioned include an orange slice or a maraschino cherry or both,[14] although these modifications came around 1930, some time after the original recipe was invented.[18] While some recipes began making sparse use of the orange zest for flavor, the practice of muddling orange and other fruit gained prevalence as late as the 1990s.[18]

Some modern variants have greatly sweetened the old fashioned, e.g. by adding blood orange soda to make a fizzy old fashioned, or muddled strawberries to make a strawberry old fashioned.[19]

Modern versions may also include elaborately carved ice; though cocktail critic David Wonderich notes that this, along with essentially all other adornments or additions, goes against the simple spirit of the old fashioned.[2]

Cultural impactEdit

The old fashioned is the cocktail of choice of Don Draper, the lead character on the Mad Men television series, set in the 1960s.[20] The use of the drink in the series coincided with a renewed interest in this and other classic cocktails in the 2000s.[21]

It was also the basis of an oft-quoted line from the movie It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, when boozy pilot Jim Backus decides to make the cocktail and leaves passenger Buddy Hackett to fly the plane. When Rooney asks, "What if something happens?", Backus replies, "What could happen to an old-fashioned?"

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Old Fashioned". International Bartenders Association. Archived from the original on 4 December 2014. Retrieved 17 February 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Wondrich, David. (2007). Imbibe! : from absinthe cocktail to whiskey smash, a salute in stories and drinks to "Professor" Jerry Thomas, pioneer of the American bar (1st ed.). New York, N.Y.: Perigee Book/Penguin Group. pp. 196–199. ISBN 978-0-399-53287-0. OCLC 154308971.
  3. ^ "A Beginners Guide to Bourbon". Bourbon Culture. Archived from the original on March 27, 2019. Retrieved March 7, 2019.
  4. ^ "Cocktail". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  5. ^ Alexander, J.E. (1833). Transatlantic Sketches, comprising visits to the most interesting scenes in North and South America, and the West Indies, Volume II.
  6. ^ "The Democracy in Trouble". The Chicago Daily Tribune. Chicago, Illinois. February 15, 1880. p. 4. Retrieved January 9, 2014.
  7. ^ Crockett, Albert Stevens (1935). The Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book.
  8. ^ "In The Beginning". 2010-07-20.
  9. ^ "Old-fashioned".[permanent dead link]
  10. ^ a b c Modern American Drinks: How to Mix and Serve All Kinds of Cups and Drinks. New York, The Merriam company. 1895. p. 19.
  11. ^ Thomas (1862). How to mix drinks: or, The bon-vivant's companion ...
  12. ^ Embury (1948). The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks.
  13. ^ Simonson, Robert (December 8, 2008). "After 184 Years, Angostura Visits the Orange Grove". Saveur.
  14. ^ a b c Simmons, Marcia (2011-04-18). DIY Cocktails: A Simple Guide to Creating Your Own Signature Drinks. Adams Media.
  15. ^ Checchini, Toby (September 22, 2009). "Case Study: The Old-Fashioned, Wisconsin Style". New York Times Style Magazine.
  16. ^ Byrne, Mark (2012-02-21). "Russ Feingold Interview on the Presidential Election 2012: Politics". GQ. Retrieved 2012-08-20.
  17. ^ Jones, Meg (August 8, 2016). "A sip of Wisconsin: Old-fashioned contest". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved August 8, 2016.
  18. ^ a b Giglio, Anthony (2008-11-10). Mr. Boston Official Bartender's Guide. John Wiley & Sons.
  19. ^ "Strawberry Old Fashioned". 2016-07-23.
  20. ^ McDowell, Adam (March 11, 2012). "Happy Hour: Ryan Gosling and the lure of the old-fashioned". National Post. Archived from the original on January 4, 2015.
  21. ^ "Old-Fashioned or Newfangled, the Old-Fashioned Is Back". The New York Times. March 20, 2012.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit