9 recipes that take your old-school style to new heights
The old fashioned is perhaps the most famous cocktail in the world, a timeless classic. It’s old, yet still in vogue to this day, having survived more than a century of cocktail trends since its inception in 1880 at the Pendennis Club in Louisville, Kentucky. The basic recipe is simple: crush a sugar cube with Angostura bitters, add whisky, stir with a few ice cubes and garnish with orange peel and/or a maraschino cherry. But the resulting cocktail – smooth and aromatic, yet forward-thinking – hits all the right notes.
Of course, there are many variations of the traditional, old-fashioned recipe. Don Draper, who did his part to popularize the cocktail, once made it with rye (which adds a bit more spice) and the addition of soda water, to suit his taste. But excellent versions of the classic cocktail can be found in bars around the world, as its basic recipe is ready to be interpreted. A few inspired modifications – for example, sherry instead of whiskey or perhaps an interesting-tasting sweetener, a bit of smoke, or unique bitters – can completely transform the drink while still keeping it familiar.
So if you’re looking to add some new variety to your old fashion, the nine variations below — favorite renditions suggested by bartenders and spirits experts — are a great place to start.
1. Midnight Cowboy
“I wanted to make a big, rich, brewed drink with layers of flavor. The sherry gives it the body I wanted, and the mezcal adds that nice herbal note with a bit of smoke,” says Ryan Dunton, bartender at esters, Maui’s first craft cocktail bar, in Wailuku. “And who these days doesn’t like an old-fashioned smokey?”
Combine rye, mezcal, sherry and bitters in a mixing glass with ice until cool, then strain into a highball glass with a large cube and garnish with an orange twist.
2. The Old-Smoked Great Jones Applewood
While some bartenders use mezcal for its inherent hint of smoke, others prefer to use real smoke. “The smoke is nothing but microscopic particles of ash and adds an aromatic quality to the cocktail,” explains Esteban Ordonez, mixologist and brand ambassador for the Great Jones Distillery At New York. “But it also changes the flavor by dissolving and integrating with the liquid, giving it that dry orchard fruit and vanilla and tobacco notes that are oddly familiar and pleasing to most people’s palates.” In addition to the smoke, its old-fashioned recipe includes the use of brown sugar syrup, bourbon, and orange and angostura bitters.
- 2oz. Great Jones Straight Bourbon
- ¼ oz. brown sugar syrup
- 3 dashes of Angostura bitters
- 2 dashes of orange bitters
- A piece of cherry or apple tree
- Orange twist, for garnish
Light the piece of wood until it begins to burn and smoke, then catch the smoke in a glass jar by holding the jar upside down above the burning wood. Mix the bourbon, syrup, and bitters in the jar for the smoky, fruity flavors, then toss with ice. Pour into a highball glass with ice. Garnish with an orange zest.
3. The old-fashioned Jilo
While some palates have a preference for smokiness, some gravitate towards sweetness, and this variation offers a touch of sweet corn through corn whiskey and Nixta, a corn liqueur from Mexico. “Let the robust, toasty notes of corn warm your body, while the light touch of chamomile, honey and cocoa top it all off with a long finish,” says Cesar Sandoval, Brand Ambassador for the spirit. “It gives you a little taste of Mexico from the comfort of your own home.”
Add the Abasolo, Nixta and bitters to a mixing glass. Add ice and stir until cold and diluted. Zest the citrus over a highball glass and add fresh ice. Then strain the drink into the glass and roll the zest into attractive curls over the ice as a garnish.
4. Fashionable Skrewball
Peanut Butter Whiskey is the uncommon ingredient in this riff on the old tradition – and it’s worth a try for the peculiar yet flavorful notes. “We love this recipe because it’s really surprising,” says Chicago’s bar manager Brad Gertz. Hub 51. “Customers walk in and never expect to see flavored whiskey in a classic cocktail, so this cocktail surprises – but never disappoints.”
Mix the whiskeys and bitters in a mixing glass. Then pour into a highball glass with a large ice cube. Garnish with a twist of cherry and orange.
5. The Shaped Marzalossa
The inspiration for this old-school variation by Jessica King, co-owner and master mixologist at Knoxville’s Brother Wolfcame from a jaunt through Italy for a friend’s wedding.
“As we maneuvered carefully through rows of twisting vines lined with over 40-year-old Primitivo vines, we passed a fig tree with fat fruit ready to be picked. I filled the front of my t-shirt with as many juicy figs as I could carry, and went back to our historic masseria to experiment,” she says, recalling her thoughts on incorporating local ingredients into classic drinks. “I’m quite happy with this that I was able to produce from someone else’s inventory and a bit of adaptation.”
Mash the fig – with the skin removed if you prefer – with the demerara syrup in a double rock glass. Then add the whiskey, bitters and ice cubes. Stir until cool and well blended.
6. Old-school Wisconsin Korbel
When ordering a Wisconsin old fashioned, a bartender will ask you to specify which: the original old fashioned or the Wisconsin old fashioned, because by default the state recipe is a tad different. Wisconsin residents use brandy instead of whiskey and add soda. “Instead of orange peels, we like to use orange slices. We confuse the fruit and sugar cubes, add ice, add the alcohol base and top off with pure 7 Up,” adds Tami Lax, owner of The old-fashioned tavern and restaurant in Madison, a place so famous for this cocktail that they are about to serve their millionth.
- 2oz. Korbel Brandy
- 2 cubes of brown sugar
- ½ slice of orange
- 4 dashes of bitters
- 7 Up Lemon Lime Soda
- ½ orange slice and 1 maraschino cherry, for garnish
Mix sugar and orange with brandy until boiled. Then pour it into a glass of ice and top it off with 7 Up. Garnish with orange and maraschino cherry.
7. Bold Fashion
“I really enjoy this twist on the old one, as it includes flavors that are often used in Latin culture,” says Sergio Serna, brand ambassador for Woodford Reserve. Growing up in a Mexican family, spices were always an important part of any dish or drink that Serna encountered. “Aromatic and chili spices are a great additive to coffee as well as mole, all of which are flavors that can be detected in Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey,” he says. “The brandied cherry is a great treat to munch on as a garnish.”
- 2oz. Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
- ½ oz. ancho pepper infused coffee liqueur*
- ½ oz. cinnamon syrup**
- 2-3 dashes of chocolate bitters
- 1 cherry brandy, for garnish
Combine the whiskey, chili-infused coffee liqueur, cinnamon syrup, and bitters in a mixing glass. Add ice and stir until the outside of the glass is chilled, then strain into a highball glass. Add a large cube if available – otherwise three regular cubes will work – and garnish with the brandied cherry.
*For the Ancho Chili Infused Coffee Liqueur
Add 4-5 chili peppers to a bottle of coffee liqueur and let sit at room temperature for 3-4 days, then strain.
For the cinnamon syrup
Add 1 cup water, 1 cup granulated sugar and 4-5 cinnamon sticks to a saucepan and bring to a boil until the sugar has dissolved. Leave to cool to room temperature then filter.
8. The Starward Cold Fashioned
If you want your cocktail to have a little pick-me-up, then this one might be for you. “Cold Fashioned simply replaces the sugar component of your classic Old Fashioned with coffee liqueur,” says Sean O’Connell, brand ambassador for Starward Australian Whiskey. “We like a combination of equal parts Starward Two Fold and Mr. Black with a dash of bitter orange. It also leaves room for creativity.
Combine whiskey, coffee liqueur and bitters in a mixing glass and stir with ice until very cold. Pour into a rocks glass over 1 large ice cube with the orange zest.
9. The Good Old Game
This old-school Irish whiskey riff is so Irish it’s got Guinness in it – and it’s also a perfect cocktail for the fall season. “The Proper Old Fashioned offers the perfect combination of autumn spice, malty sweetness and the delicious vanilla and honey flavor of Proper No. 12says Nick Fogel, Beverage Director of New York’s Late Late Bar & Spirit Grocer. “This moody cocktail is sure to bring out the best parties in anyone who enjoys it!”
- 1½ pint. Guinness
- 1qt. demerara sugar
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 2 tbsp. pink pepper
- 2oz. Proper No. Twelve Irish Whiskey
- ¼ oz. Amaro Nonino
- 1 dash of walnut bitters
- Orange zest, for garnish
Mix ¼ oz. Guinness syrup** with the Irish whiskey, amaro and bitters in a mixing glass with ice, and stir to cool. Then strain into a highball glass and garnish with the orange zest.
**To make Guinness syrup,
Bring the Guinness to a boil in a saucepan and let reduce by about half. Add the cinnamon and pink pepper, then whisk in the demerara sugar. Stir and simmer for five minutes, allowing the mixture to thicken. Then let it cool and save it for future recipes.
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