Old Fashioned

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This article is about the cocktail. For other uses, see Old-fashioned.
Old Fashioned
IBA Official Cocktail
Whiskey Old Fashioned1.jpg
Type Cocktail
Primary alcohol by volume
Served On the rocks; poured over ice
Standard garnish
Standard drinkware
Old Fashioned Glass.svg
Old Fashioned glass
IBA specified ingredients*
Preparation Place sugar cube in old fashioned glass and saturate with bitters, add a dash of plain water.

Muddle until dissolved.
Fill the glass with ice cubes and add whiskey.
Garnish with orange slice, and a cocktail cherry.

The Old Fashioned is a cocktail made by muddling sugar with bitters, then adding alcohol, such as whiskey or brandy, and a twist of citrus rind. It is traditionally served in a short, round, 8–12 US fl oz (240–350 ml) tumbler-like glass, which is called an Old Fashioned glass, named after the drink.

The Old Fashioned, developed during the 19th century and given its name in the 1880s, 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.


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.[2][3] 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.[4]

By the 1860s, it was common for orange curaçao, absinthe, and other liqueurs to be added to the cocktail. The original concoction, albeit in different proportions, came back into vogue, and was referred to as "old-fashioned".[5][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.[6]

The first use of the name "Old Fashioned" for a Bourbon whiskey cocktail was said to have been at the Pendennis Club, a gentlemen's club founded in 1881 in Louisville, Kentucky. 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]


George Kappeler provides some 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)):[8]

"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." [8]

By the 1860s, as illustrated by Jerry Thomas' 1862 book, basic cocktail recipes included Curaçao, or other liqueurs, not mentioned in the early 19th century descriptions, nor the Chicago Daily Tribune descriptions of the "Old Fashioned" cocktails of the early 1880s; it is 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.[6]

"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" [9]
"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.
Serve." [8]

A book by David Embury published in 1948 provides a slight variation,[10] 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.

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,[11]


The original Old Fashioned recipe would have showcased the whiskey available in America in the 19th century, either Irish, Bourbon or rye whiskey.[12] But in some regions, especially Wisconsin, brandy is substituted for whiskey (sometimes called a Brandy Old Fashioned).[13][14] Eventually the use of other spirits became common, such as a gin recipe becoming popularized in the late 1940s.[12] Another common modification is to add soda water.[12]

Common garnishes for an Old Fashioned include an orange slice or a maraschino cherry,[12] although these modifications came around 1930, some time after the original recipe was invented.[15] 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.[15]

In popular culture

In John Updike's novel Rabbit, Run, the title character resents the job he works at to "earn a living to buy sugar for [his wife Janice] to put into her rotten old Old-Fashioneds".[16]

The drunkard played by Jim Backus in Stanley Kramer's film It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World steps away from the controls of the airplane he is flying to mix himself an Old Fashioned.[16]

The Old Fashioned is the cocktail of choice of Don Draper, the lead character on the Mad Men television series, set in the 1960s.[17] The use of the drink in the series coincides with a renewed interest in this and other classic cocktails in the 2000s.[18]

In the film Crazy, Stupid, Love, Jacob Palmer portrayed by Ryan Gosling enjoys this drink as his beverage of choice.[17]

See also


  1. "Old Fashioned". International Bartenders Association. Retrieved 17 February 2013. 
  2. "Raising a glass to the cocktail", Newsday article by Sylvia Carter, May 17, 2006. Newsday archive; Highbeam archive. Relevant paragraph quoted at ArtHistoryInfo.com
  3. "Cocktail". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  4. Alexander, J.E. (1833). Transatlantic Sketches, comprising visits to the most interesting scenes in North and South America, and the West Indies, Volume II. 
  5. "THE DEMOCRACY IN TROUBLE". The Chicago Daily Tribune. Chicago, Illinois. February 15, 1880. p. 4. Retrieved January 9, 2014. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Wondrich, David (2007). Imbibe!. 
  7. Crockett, Albert Stevens (1935). The Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Kappeler (1895). Modern American Drinks: How to Mix and Serve All Kinds of Cups and Drinks. p. 19, footnote. 
  9. Thomas (1862). How to mix drinks: or, The bon-vivant's companion... 
  10. Embury (1948). The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks. 
  11. "After 184 Years, Angostura Visits the Orange Grove", Saveur, by Robert Simonson, Dec 8, 2008. [1]
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 Marcia Simmons (2011-04-18). DIY Cocktails: A Simple Guide to Creating Your Own Signature Drinks. Adams Media. 
  13. Checchini, Toby, "Case Study: The Old-Fashioned, Wisconsin Style", New York Times Style Magazine, September 22, 2009.
  14. Byrne, Mark (2012-02-21). "Russ Feingold Interview on the Presidential Election 2012: Politics". GQ. Retrieved 2012-08-20. 
  15. 15.0 15.1 Anthony Giglio, Mr. Boston (2008-11-10). Mr. Boston Official Bartender's Guide. John Wiley & Sons. 
  16. 16.0 16.1 Once in Fashion, It's Now Old Hat, The Wall Street Journal, July 22, 2006
  17. 17.0 17.1 McDowell, Adam (March 11, 2012). "Happy Hour: Ryan Gosling and the lure of the old-fashioned". National Post. 
  18. Old-Fashioned or Newfangled, the Old-Fashioned Is Back, New York Times, March 20, 2012.

Further reading

External links