There are few classic cocktails that can showcase a great bourbon better than the Old Fashioned. The easy mix of whiskey, simple syrup, bitters and an orange twist-cherry garnish highlights the spirit’s flavors without overpowering them, and even the most novice at-home mixologist can throw the stirred drink together in a jiff. Here are the absolute best bourbons for an Old Fashioned that will take the cocktail to the next level.
Sure, original Maker’s makes a mighty fine Old Fashioned. But if you want to step it up a notch, Maker’s Mark 46 mixes a most elegant version of the classic cocktail. Fully-matured Maker’s Mark is finished with 10 seared French oak staves and finished in the distillery’s limestone cellar to give this whiskey a warm, toasty aroma and rich vanilla flavor.
Ever since I tried my first Elijah Craig Small Batch Old Fashioned eight years ago, I’ll sing the bourbon’s praises to anyone who will listen to me. It’s still one of the best values on the shelf with its beautiful bottle and pleasantly woody, baking spice flavor. Try orange bitters instead of aromatic in this Old Fashioned, as they complement the bourbon nicely.
This bottle has been racking up the medals for years, probably because it’s damn delicious. Four Roses’s high rye (35%), 100 proof Single Barrel bourbon is full-bodied but smooth with fruit-forward flavors like plum and cherry. While it makes a perfect classic Old Fashioned, replace the simple syrup with Amaro Averna or Amaro Lucano for a fun twist.
The distillery behind Hudson Whiskey, Tuthilltown Spirits, was the first to operate in New York State since prohibition when it launched in 2003, and the craft spirits pioneer continues to be one of our favorites. Bright Lights, Big Bourbon is 95% corn and 5% malted barley and aged a minimum of three years, which gives it a lightly savory, caramel flavor. Perfect for rooftop, fire escape and patio Old Fashioneds everywhere.
One of my favorite places to go when visiting family in Columbus, Ohio, is Watershed Distillery — not only because their restaurant has the most amazing food and cocktails, but because I can snag a refill of their Bottled-In-Bond Bourbon. Watershed’s distiller chooses his favorite barrels from a single season (in line with bottled-in-bond rules) to create this expression, and it makes for one of the more complex Old Fashioneds on this list.
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I’ll admit that the first thing that attracted me to Off Hours was its sexy, curvy bottle and minimal, modern design. But upon first sip, it’s clear this bourbon is more than a pretty package. It has a silky texture with flavors of vanilla, baking spice and toasty pecans. Try the brand’s rosemary and honey simple syrup recipe to give your Old Fashioned a twist.
When my Dad gave me my first taste of Woodford, I did as most college kids do and took it as a shot. But he reminded me that a whiskey this good has to be savored, and so began my love for bourbon. Woodford Reserve is still one of the top bourbons for an Old Fashioned, making for a drink that will impress just about anyone. Try it with peach bitters if you’re feeling adventurous.
You can’t go wrong with this bourbon in any capacity, whether you’re sipping it neat, over ice or in a classic cocktail like the Old Fashioned. Knob Creek is woody and full-bodied, which makes it especially perfect for the booze-forward, lightly sweet classic cocktail. Use maple syrup in place of simple to bring out the whiskey’s rich vanilla and caramel notes.
It’s frustrating to be a fan of Buffalo Trace these days because the beloved bourbon is so hard to find in some markets, and we definitely understand if you want to drink this one neat when you do snag a bottle. But if you’re in a place where Buffalo Trace is in abundance or like to live on the edge by mixing it with simple and bitters, then it’s going to make one of the best Old Fashioneds you’ll ever have.
To make this barrel-proof whiskey, the distillers at Wild Turkey don’t add any water before bottling a custom selection of six-, eight- and 12-year bourbon. The result is bold like Turkey 101 but with a smooth, lingering finish that makes Rare Breed so special. Don’t forget to express an orange peel over this Old Fashioned (as you should with all of them) to really make it shine.
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