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How to make an Old Fashioned cocktail the right way

When you're mixing up an Old Fashioned, you don't want to do it wrong

An Old Fashioned cocktail on a counter
Dan Baker / The Manual

For many bartenders and drinkers alike, the Old Fashioned holds a special place in their collective hearts. If we were ever reduced to a single cocktail on the menu — heaven forbid — we’d still do just fine if this classic whiskey drink was it. Frankly, it’s a tried-and-true cocktail worthy of its legacy and colossal popularity.

Brooks Reitz is the founder of Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. He also runs Leon’s Oyster Shop and Little Jack’s Tavern, among others. With a classic drink like this, it can be easy to overlook the subtleties. “I think the biggest miss with most Old Fashioned recipes is not using enough bitters,” Reitz said. “They are really the tie that binds the whole thing, and you really want that spice on the backend to bring everything home.”

The Old Fashioned cocktail has understated beauty because of its relatively few but incredibly complementary ingredients. It’s essentially bourbon, orange, bitters, and some element of sweetness or sugar.

Many recipes call for a sugar cube, but Reitz prefers an approach that leads to a more integrated finished product. “When I was first learning to bartend ,we would always start with a sugar cube instead of syrup, but I find that the syrup allows for the sweetness to be more fully incorporated. The cube is tough to fully dissolve and usually leaves the last few sips too sweet,” he told us.

Similar recipes also call for muddling, or similar. Yet, in a quest for a more refined version of the drink, Reitz opted for a different direction. “I’m not a fan of crushing the cherry and the orange — I think it muddies the drink,” he said. “The recipe I’ve provided gives a cleaner, fresher version of the drink, and I think the overall effect is more elegant and more delicious.”

Unbeknownst to many, some early versions of the drink called for brandy instead of whiskey. And while we’re on the topic of history, let’s settle the score — the Old Fashioned glass (also dubbed a rocks glass) predates the drink. While Kentucky claims to be the birthplace of the drink in the late 19th century, it likely came about elsewhere just prior. Bartenders in Chicago and New York were mixing up formative versions of the drink early on. But as the unofficial bourbon capital of the world, it’s easy to see why Kentucky has made quite a home for the drink. Now, without further ado, keep reading to learn how to make an Old Fashioned the right way.

Old Fashioned recipe

Old Fashioned cocktail
Nuff / Unsplash

This recipe from Reitz called on his line of bar ingredients, namely citrus bitters and the deeper, whiskey-friendly flavors provided by demerara. Note that you’re adding ice twice, first with the ingredients as you stir, and again with the finished cocktail. Go with a large cube or sphere to keep the cocktail from diluting too abruptly. If you’re looking to go against the grain a bit, swap out the bourbon for a nice aged rum.


  • 2 ounces bourbon (Reitz likes Weller)
  • 1/4 ounces Jack Rudy Demerara syrup
  • 6 drops Jack Rudy Aromatic Bitters
  • 6 drops Jack Rudy Orange Bitters


  1. Add ice to a mixing glass and add the ingredients
  2. Stir well, and then strain the mixture into an Old Fashioned glass over fresh ice.
  3. Garnish with a cocktail cherry and a large peel of orange.

Brandy Old Fashioned

Old Fashioned close-up

Earlier, we said that some early versions of the Old Fashioned called for brandy instead of whiskey, and while whiskey is still the preferred spirit for the Old Fashioned, there are some places where brandy is still the main ingredient. One of those places in Wisconsin, where the brandy Old Fashioned is the drink of choice in most bars. The recipe for this drink is sometimes also called a “brandy sweet” is much different than the classic Old Fashioned, but if you’re looking for sweet, this might be the drink for you.

(recipe from


  • 3 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 2 orange slices
  • 2 maraschino cherries
  • 1 sugar cube
  • 2 ounces brandy
  • Lemon-lime soda or club soda


  1. Add the bitters, orange slices, cherries, and the sugar cube to an Old Fashioned glass and muddle to combine.
  2. Fill the glass with ice and then add the brandy.
  3. Top with lemon-lime soda or club soda, and stir to chill.
  4. Garnish with a skewered cherry and an orange slice.

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Mark Stock
Mark Stock is a writer from Portland, Oregon. He fell into wine during the Recession and has been fixated on the stuff since…
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