Five Great New Takes on the Old Fashioned That Won’t Offend Your Father
Simple alterations with coffee, honey, rum, salt or even curry can transform a classic cocktail
Update 10/15/21: It’s Old Fashioned Week, which this year runs October 15-24. Sponsored by Elijah Craig and the drinks publication Punch, the “week” (it’s ten days!) features an array of bars and restaurants serving up variations on the classic cocktail, with proceeds earmarked for the Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation. You can find a participating bar here … and if you’re making one at home, try one of these variations.
Per Robert Simonson’s excellent 2014 cocktail tome The Old-Fashioned: The Story of the World’s First Classic Cocktail with Recipes and Lore, the Old Fashioned has led a fascinating, tortured history: Civil War-era roots (Union soldiers received “Whiskey Cocktail” provisions), a fruity downfall mid-century (Simonson dubs this “sacchariferous window dressing”), and a modern rebirth (aka “The Mad Men Effect”).
I drink probably two variations on an Old Fashioned every week. The classic recipe — bourbon, sugar cube or simple syrup, bitters, big ice cube, stir — is the lazy home bartender’s best friend. But alter or add one ingredient, and you have a whole new experience.
First, a tutorial from Old Fashioned Week sponsor Elijah Craig on how to make the classic drink:
But if you’re in the mood for something different, head below. In lieu of overly redefining what works, the recipes and ideas here are simply Old Fashioneds I’ve enjoyed recently, including possibly my new favorite (which adds one crucial element).
The best new take: True Northwest Old Fashioned
- 2 oz Westward American Single Malt
- .25 oz Jacobsen’s Bee Local Honey
- 1 pinch Jacobsen’s Sea Salt
- .5 dropper Portland Bitters Company Aromatic Bitters
Portland’s Westward team recently teamed up with some local neighbors to craft an exceptional OF variation. The key here is the salt. Jacobsen extracts their spice from oyster beds within Oregon’s Netarts Bay. Add in an artisanal honey and some organic bitters, and you have a cocktail that offers a different sweetness and a touch of salinity (basically, it’s the “chunky chocolate chip cookies with sea salt” of Old Fashioneds).
A buzzy brunch alternative: The Cold Fashioned
- 1.5 oz Mr Black
- 1 oz. rye whiskey
- 1 dash orange bitters
You can up that rye to 1.5 oz. if you want, but the good thing about Mr Black is that it adds coffee notes while also accounting for the sweetness, plus has a nice little kick of its own. And you can radically change this simple variation by using the brand’s new Single Origin release, which adds some dried fruit notes.
Your cheat: High West Barrel-Finished Cocktails
This Utah distillery’s new-ish bottled variations of both the Old Fashioned and a Manhattan. Yes, the drink is easy to make, but if you can get ’em pre-batched in a large format for about $4/cocktail, having someone else do is worth it. High West utilizes both bourbon and rye in their recipe, and then rests the cocktail in second-use rye whiskey barrels. The result isn’t overly sweet — the rye elements nicely cut down on that — with a modest hint of orange zest.
Back-up batch plan: Santa Teresa has put together a few interesting cocktail kits that sub in its 1796 rum for whiskey. The results are a Trinidadian take that adds notes of chipotle, curry powder and chai, and a deliciously smooth coffee/chocolate-y variation where all sale proceeds go to BEAP (Bartender Emergency Assistance Program).
Your “remembering summer” sipper: The Smoked Old Fashioned
- 2 parts Longbranch
- 0.5 parts sherry
- 0.25 parts sugar syrup
- 5 drops bitters
Stir ingredients over ice, then strain in a smoking decanter. smoke with wood chips of your choice, swirling to incorporate smoke. Pour into Old Fashioned glass over ice block.
Our appreciation of Longbranch (a Wild Turkey release) grew this summer — it was just a whiskey that felt right on hotter days. This smoked variation and the dry notes of the sherry give this one a campfire feel.
Your winter alternative: Cincoro Spiced Old Fashioned
- 2 oz Cincoro Reposado
- .5 oz spiced syrup *
- 2 dashes orange bitters
- Orange twist
Build in mixing glass. Add ice, stir, strain into ice-filled rocks glass. Garnish with a twist.
The spiced syrup:
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 cup water
- 4 cinnamon sticks
- 4-5 cloves
- 1 vanilla bean pod.
Add all into a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, covered; then let simmer on low heat for 30 minutes and cool for at least an hour.
This is how I described Cincoro’s reposado last year: “Aged in used whiskey barrels 8-10 months in an underground cave, the angel share is about half what you’d normally have … I usually find reposados to be lacking character, but not here. On the nose, you’ll get mocha, caramel and vanilla, plus a bit of creme brûlée. On the palate, it’s chocolate and cinnamon.”
Think that wouldn’t work well in an Old Fashioned?
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