Broadly acclaimed as the original cocktail, the old fashioned is a core element of any whiskey lover’s repertoire. Variations of the recipe date back to the Civil War era, with the name “old fashioned” attributed to the Pendennis Club in Louisville, Kentucky. The fact that the cocktail was already called an “old fashioned” in 1881 certainly speaks to its old-school cred. To this day (as evidenced by its presence on the most mouthwatering cocktail menus), few recipes have made a bigger impact on craft-cocktail culture.
The drink is comprised of bourbon or whiskey and usually just a bit of sugar, bitters, and an orange peel to garnish. Although the recipe itself is simple, picking the perfect whiskey can be a challenge. There's rye whiskey, Kentucky bourbon, and many more options to choose from. All are made in their own unique way and offer different flavors.
Whether you’re a seasoned aficionado or a new classic-cocktail enthusiast, here are five of the best whiskeys for an old fashioned, plus how to make one for yourself. Happy sipping.
Buffalo Trace Bourbon
The perennial darling of the craft-cocktail set, Buffalo Trace is the go-to spirit for a classic old fashioned. With a hint of honey-like sweetness and an expertly balanced blend of corn and rye, Buffalo Trace reflects the signature elements of the cocktail without being overpowering. If you’re planning a dinner party or restocking the liquor cabinet, this is also one of the most drinkable and affordable whiskeys to keep on hand. As Theo Lieberman, head bartender at Milk & Honey in New York points out, “You’d be hard-pressed to find something as good for under $30.”
Eagle Rare 10-Year Bourbon
Another staple from the Sazerac line (and a favorite among craft-cocktail icons like The Richardson and Death & Co.), Eagle Rare is one of the best whiskeys for an old fashioned. Featuring notes of brown sugar and orange peel, the major selling point of this whiskey is the balance between the flavors. As David Kaplan of Death & Co. suggests, “In an old fashioned, balance manifests in a different way than a sour. It’s all about enhancing the flavor of the base spirit in a pronounced and focused way while rounding off the edges, making it easier to consume than straight booze.”
Woodford Reserve Double Oaked Bourbon
The original iteration of Woodford Reserve has cultivated a strong following as a highly respectable, versatile whiskey. This new, delectably rich variant is swiftly gaining traction on the cocktail scene. Richer and heftier than traditional whiskeys, Woodford Reserve Double Oaked bourbon carries distinctive notes of caramel, oak, and hazelnut that make for a strong, woodsy old fashioned.
Mulholland Whiskey is one of the newer whiskeys to gain a following among craft-cocktail aficionados. It also offers a high-proof, low-risk alternative to more established bourbons in the canon. Featuring strong notes of toffee, maple, and vanilla, the result is “A distinctive West Coast old fashioned,” which, according to Joshua Bermudez, director of Wolf & Long and head bartender at the Wellesbourne in Los Angeles, “Offers a clean, sea salt–mineral finish that stands up gorgeously to the sweeter elements of the cocktail.”
If bourbon isn’t your thing, then opt for an old fashioned made with rye (a favorite of TV character Don Draper). If you’re leaning in this direction, Rittenhouse Rye is the way to go. Since rye consumption predates bourbon, this stylish yet affordable rye celebrates a true tradition and is characterized by notes of black pepper, stone fruit, and spice.
How to Make an Old Fashioned
Now that you know a few of the best whiskeys for an old fashioned, here’s how to make one:
2 oz. bourbon or rye whiskey
1 sugar cube (or 1/2 tsp. sugar)
2 to 3 dashes of Angostura bitters
1 orange peel
Mix the sugar and bitters together in the base of an old fashioned glass. Next, add a large piece of ice, either cubed or round. Pour bourbon or rye whiskey of your choice over ice. Finish by garnishing with an orange peel.