Traditionally made with either bourbon or rye whiskey, a dose of sugar—either via simple syrup or a muddled bitters-soaked sugar cube—Angostura aromatic bitters, and some ice to chill and dilute, the Old Fashioned cocktail has been a mainstay at bars for more than a century and is one of the most popular cocktails in the world.
Its standard template of spirit, sugar, bitters, and water embodies the definition of the word “cocktail,” which first appeared in print in 1806 in the Hudson, New York, newspaper The Balance and Columbian Repository. In the early 1800s, the Old Fashioned was consumed without ice as an eye-opening tonic first thing in the morning, but it eventually went on to become a more sophisticated cocktail served at bars, especially once ice became normalized in the 1860s. Some recipes call for a muddled orange and maraschino cherry, an addition believed to have risen during Prohibition when the fruit was likely used to mask the unpalatable flavor of the poor-quality spirits available at the time, but no one really knows for sure. The more simplified version has come back into favor in current times, but many bartenders take a crack at adding their own twist to the cocktail.
Whether you’re a longtime fan of the classic bourbon Old Fashioned or a newcomer to the drink, you’ll enjoy these bourbon-based riffs on it that showcase the flavorful breadth and depth of this cocktail.
Benton’s Old Fashioned
New York City speakeasy PDT is one of the best-known cocktail bars in the world, having produced both a wealth of modern-classic cocktails and a roster of star bartenders since its opening in 2007. One of those cocktails, however, has usurped the others in popularity. Created by then-PDT bartender Don Lee in 2008, this drink uses bourbon fat-washed with Benton’s bacon fat as its base, which is joined by maple syrup and Angostura bitters before being garnished with an orange peel. The key to perfectly emulating the original PDT drink is procuring the bacon from Benton’s Country Ham; otherwise, it’s not truly a Benton’s Old Fashioned.
Normandie Old Fashioned
This cocktail created by Alex Day and Devon Tarby at The Normandie Club in Los Angeles employs a flavorful base of coconut-flake-infused bourbon with a touch of apple brandy. The combination is complemented by spiced almond demerara syrup and a dash of the usual Angostura bitters. It’s no surprise that it’s one of the bar’s best sellers, and it’ll likely be a hit with you, too.
This is an Old Fashioned unlike any other. It uses smoked ice cubes made from cherrywood chip-smoked water (yes, really). The concept of using flavored ice to slowly infuse cocktails over the course of the drinking session isn’t new, but using smoked ice is most definitely unorthodox. These cubes are used to chill and dilute a simple mixture of bourbon, Aperol, and rosemary spice bitters. For the adventurous home bartender, this is a fun one to try.
Bourbon & Berries
This simple bourbon-based riff from San Diego’s Herb & Wood embraces a berry-forward flavor profile. The usual simple syrup is swapped out for a bright and savory strawberry-vanilla syrup, which adds depth and complexity to the cocktail, before being seasoned with Angostura bitters. It goes without saying that this cocktail is best enjoyed when strawberries are at their peak in early summer, but it’s a delectable flavor combination regardless of the season.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
In this Mexican-influenced Old Fashioned riff, earthy mezcal is married with bourbon to create a complex spirit base. For body and sweetness, rather than using simple syrup, it calls for orgeat, made with sugar, almonds, and orange blossom water. If you don’t want to whip up your own orgeat, there are a few commercial bottlings worth trying, including BG Reynolds, Liber & Co., and Small Hand Foods.
Brown Butter Old Fashioned
If you’ve never tried a brown-butter-washed bourbon Old Fashioned, then drop whatever you’re doing and get to it. There are few flavors that pair better with bourbon than the rich nuttiness of brown butter. The process of washing the bourbon is simple: Heat unsalted butter in a saucepan until it lightly browns and has a nutty aroma. (The key is to keep it moving in the pan so it doesn’t burn.) Then combine the browned butter with a bottle of bourbon in a heavy-duty Ziploc, toss it in the freezer overnight to freeze the fat, then skim off the solids. That bourbon base is combined with a complementary brown-sugar syrup and Angostura bitters before being garnished with the usual orange twist and a Luxardo maraschino cherry.
Featured on the innovative classic cocktail menu at the opulent Rosina bar inside The Palazzo at The Venetian hotel in Las Vegas, this back-bar-focused Old Fashioned riff uses a combination of bourbon, crème de cacao, and peach bitters to create a drink that’s dessert-like in nature. It’s garnished with a lemon twist to round out the rather rich serve with a bright aromatic profile that plays well with the fruity peach bitters. Overall, it’s a straightforward recipe that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Expense of Honesty
Bourbon makes up the majority of this drink’s base, but it’s accented by two rums, honey and demerara syrups, and Angostura and Peychaud’s bitters. It reads very Sazerac in style, but is served over a large cube before being garnished with an orange twist to differentiate it from the other spirit-forward classic. If you tend to enjoy a sweeter flavor profile, this cocktail should suit your fancy and might just make you a rum convert in the process.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
If there is one thing that Southerners love in the summertime, it’s sweet tea. This drink pays homage to that culture in that it’s laced with sweet tea via an infused oleo saccharum. The result is paired with bourbon and peach bitters to yield a cocktail that easily draws comparisons to a Peach Snapple Iced Tea, but is undoubtedly more refined. It’s the perfect Old Fashioned for a hot day.
Pumpkin Spice Old Fashioned
So-called “pumpkin spice”-flavored drinks have become so ubiquitous as to elicit eye rolls, but this Old Fashioned riff proves the flavor has merit when used wisely. This cocktail calls for a homemade syrup employing pumpkin puree, pumpkin pie spice, brown sugar, and vanilla extract; just combine this liquid pumpkin pie with bourbon and orange bitters and let the autumnal sensation wash over you.