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rye whiskey, social hour, tom macy, cocktail, classic cocktail

Old Fashioned




In a chilled mixing glass, combine the whiskey, sugar, and bitters. Fill it with ice and stir for 18-25 seconds.  Strain the cocktail into a chilled rocks glass over ice - preferably one large cube.  Express the oils of the lemon and orange peels and add them into the glass.


Alternatively, combine all ingredients in a rocks glass.  Stir them with ice, garnish and serve.


The Old Fashioned Story 

The Old Fashioned has a pretty fair claim to being the original cocktail (though plenty of others have a stake in that as well, the mint julep for one).  The first definition of a "cocktail" in print, that we know of anyway, appeared in a periodical published in 1806.   It states that a “cock-tail” is "a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters.”  As you can see, that's essentially the recipe listed here - today we use ice instead of water.  So, back then, a "cocktail" made with whiskey was simply called a "whiskey cocktail."   Dutch gin and brandy were also commonly used.


Jumping ahead to the end of the 19th century when the Gilded Age was in full swing and opulence was all the rage, it had become fashionable to spruce up the standard whiskey cocktail with a dash or two of imported ingredients like absinthe or curaçao.  These were known as "fancy" or "improved" cocktails.  But not everyone was into these modern embellishments, and traditionalists began to order their whiskey cocktails "in the old fashion," which how we got the name we use today.  


Muddled Orange and Cherry Old Fashioned

In the 20th century, cocktails went down an odd and meandering path through prohibition, World War II and the culture wars of the 60s and 70s. During this time, the Old Fashioned became repurposed into a sweeter, fruitier drink that contained a muddled orange slice and cherry that was sometimes topped off with soda.   It wasn't until the cocktail revival began about fifteen years ago that the traditional Old Fashioned recipe came back into favor.  Since then, it has skyrocketed in popularity.  


One final note, I hold no grievances against the orange and cherry version. Multiple generations made and loved Old Fashioneds that way, including my dad's and grandfather's (not to mention Don Draper's).  It makes for a fine cocktail.  I just prefer Old Fashioneds (pun alert!) the old-fashioned way.  Strong, simple and whiskey forward. 

Applejack Old Fashioned

This is one of my favorite classic cocktail variations hands down, I almost like it more than a traditional Old Fashioned (almost).  high proof American style apple brandy is ideal,  I highly recommend Laird's 100 proof, and be careful not to add too much maple syrup.  You can read more about this drink on the Applejack Old Fashioned page.  


  • 2 oz apple brandy

  • teaspoon maple syrup

  • 2 dashes baking spice bitters (substitute or split with Angostura bitters)

  • orange peel for garnish


Prepare as Above





If there's one cocktail everyone should know how to make, it's the Old Fashioned, one of my all-time favorites alongside the Daiquiri and Manhattan.  


This is my best-case scenario recipe which, as you can see, is very specific about the sugar and bitters.   But I'm not actually suggesting you have to pick up three different types of bitters and prepare demerara syrup to make an Old Fashioned.  If you feel like pulling out all the stops, by all means, go for it, you won't be disappointed (while you're at it, you might as well make my Dad's Bitters blend listed below for the ultimate Old Fashioned).  But as long as you have the essentials: rye or bourbon whiskey, sugar of some kind (several options are listed below), Angostura bitters, and a lemon or orange peel, a great Old Fashioned can be yours. 


Old Fashioned Variations

When I discovered how easy it was to make variations on an Old Fashioned it was a revelatory moment for me.   The formula is so simple and yields such diverse results.  All you do is replace the whiskey with another spirit - stick to something barrel-aged that has some color - and then adjust the sugar and bitters to match the new spirits' flavors.  Trust your culinary instincts.  Here are a few of my favorites:

Demerara Syrup

Tequila Old Fashioned

Simply use a reposado or añejo tequila and agave nectar for the sweetener, light is best.  If you don't have any agave regular sugar will do just fine. Mole bitters are a very nice addition here.  You can read more about this drink on the Tequila Old Fashioned page.  


  • 2 oz reposado or añejo tequila

  • ½ teaspoon agave nectar

  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters

  • 1-2 dashes mole bitters - optional

  • orange peel for garnish (grapefruit is nice too)


Prepare as Above


Demerara Syrup 

Demerara syrup is a simple syrup made with demerara sugar, which is a less processed style.  I like it in Old Fashioneds because it adds some caramelized molasses notes that pair nicely with the whiskey.  It also gives the cocktail a richer mouth-feel because it has a 2:1 sugar to water ratio, also called a rich syrup


Demerara sugar can be found the baking aisle of most supermarkets.  You can also use turbinado sugar (such as Sugar in the Raw), muscovado sugar, or dark brown sugar in this recipe.  



  • 1 cup demerara sugar

  • ½ cup water


Combine in a small pot over medium-low heat (or microwave for 1 minute, or so) and stir until dissolved.  Do not boil.

If you make an Old Fashioned, let me see!  Tag a photo with #socialhourcocktails  on Instagram.

Rum Old Fashioned

Oaxacan Old Fashioned

The Oaxacan (wa-HOCK- ahn) Old Fashioned is a smokier version of a Tequila Old Fashioned and the premier gateway mezcal cocktail.  It was created by Phil Ward when he was working at Death & Co.   


  • 1½ oz reposado tequila - añejo tequila works too

  • ½ oz mezcal

  • ½ teaspoon agave nectar

  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters

  • 1-2 dashes mole bitters - optional

  • orange peel for garnish


Prepare as Above

Rum Old Fashioned

A traditional rich amber rum, like Ron Zacapa or El Dorado 12, performs beautifully in an Old Fashioned.  But that's just the tip of the tip of the sugarcane stalk.  The fun thing about Rum Old Fashioneds is because there so many diverse styles of rums, you can play around with lots of variations by blending rums.  As a jumping off point, try what I like to call my "supercharged rum blend" below. Have fun!


  • 2 oz amber/dark rum, or rum blend of your choice

  • teaspoon demerara syrup - or another type of sugar

  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters

  • 1 dash orange bitters - optional

  • 1 small dash baking spice bitters

  • orange and lime peel for garnish


Prepare as Above


Supercharged Rum Blend - 

  • 1½ oz amber or dark rum

  • ½ oz aged overproof rum (60-75% ABV)

  • teaspoon Smith and Cross, Batavia Arrack, Wray & Nephew or another high-ester rum


Oaxacan Old Fashioned
Other Sugar

Muddling Raw Sugar

Combine with the bitters and grind it to a paste.

The key to muddling sugar in an Old Fashioned is to make sure it gets dissolved. Combine the sugar and bitters in a rocks glass and grind them up with the muddler until they form a paste.  You can add a teaspoon of water or seltzer to help the sugar dissolve along. This is more akin to crushing spices with a mortar and pestle rather than gently muddling herbs.   More muddling tips can be found on the Muddling Page.


Muddle in the final serving glass, not a mixing glass.

It's better to prepare muddled sugar Old Fashioneds in the glass you’ll be drinking from, rather than stirring them in a separate mixing glass and straining. This way you won't leave any undissolved sugar behind (there always seems to be some, despite your best efforts), which could throw things off balance.


Syrups are better for bar service.  At home, you make the rules.

The main reason I call for using syrup in Old Fashioneds is it's less work and more consistent, which is particularly beneficial when working behind a bar.  But as far as the drink itself, but both syrup and raw sugar can make an excellent Old Fashioneds, and there’s no denying the romance of the muddling ritual. 

Different Sugar Options

Sugar can make its way into an Old Fashioned in a myriad of ways - and they all work.  You can make a syrup - either a rich 2:1 syrup like the one above or a traditional 1:1 simple syrup - or you can use raw sugar, either a cube or loose granulated sugar.  In the case of the latter two, the sugar will need to be muddled with the bitters to get it to dissolve, which is a preparation some actually prefer. More on that below.


In any scenario, white or dark sugar (brown, demerara, turbinado, etc.) can be used.  The chart below breaks down the various options, how much to use of each, and how best to incorporate them.


Sugar Types and Methods Chart

White or dark sugar can be used for any of these.

Dad’s Bitters Blend - For the Ultimate Old Fashioned

Dad’s Bitters (aka Dad’s Dashes) is a blend of bitters that I created during my search for the perfect Old Fashioned recipe.  For a while, I had been using two dashes each of Angostura and orange bitters, which works great.  Then one day I noticed adding a touch of Bitter Truth Jerry Thomas Decanter Bitters introduces an earthy cinnamon note that really kicked things up a notch, so I started including those as well.  Though I quickly realized that while the flavor blend was great, the drink was sometimes too bitters heavy because I was now using 5 dashes of bitters, and not all dashes are created equal (this is why I only call for a few drops of Jerry Thomas or another baking spice bitters above).  So being the obsessive bartender that I am, I decided to batch all the bitters together so the ratios would be perfect every time and I could use fewer dashes overall.


It took some trial and error to zero in on the right balance (it’s a tough job I have, I know).  The key was Bitter Truth Orange Bitters, once I started using those it all fell into place.  They have the perfect balance of dry bitter orange and bright sweet orange.  


I settled on a ratio of 9:6:1 of Angostura to orange to Decanter Bitters.  The recipe below is small enough to fit in a 5 oz bitters bottle (the standard size) without being too full.  I use 3 good dashes per drink, 4 if they’re a little short, but that’s up to you of course!  Note, I think this blend works best with rye Old Fashioneds because the spiciness of the bitters supports and accentuates the spice in the rye whiskey, though bourbon is mighty tasty too.   As for the name "Dad's Bitters", that was coined by buddy, and amazing bartender, Jelani Johnson.   We thought it was more fun than “Tom’s Bitters.”


Dad’s Bitters Blend


Combine in a dasher bottle.


The Ultimate Old Fashioned

I received some huge vindication of my meticulous methods when I entered this recipe using into a blind tasting held by the cocktail website Punch that was in search of the Ultimate Old Fashioned.  A panel, which I admittedly was a member of, blind-tasted 17 Old Fashioned recipes collected from top bartenders and mine was unanimously chosen as #1, here's an article about it.  I’m not saying this proves my Old Fashioned is the best ever, tastings like that are highly subjective, but it was encouraging enough for me to put Dad’s Bitters up on the site and tell people it was worth the trouble of preparing.


  • 2 oz rye whiskey (I called for Wild Turkey Rye 101)

  • teaspoon demerara syrup

  • 3 good dashes Dad’s Bitter’s Blend

  • lemon and orange peel for garnish


Prepare as above.

Tips on Making Bitters Blends

Making your own blend of bitters is as simple as combining bitters and putting them in a dasher bottle.  This is great for making cocktail specific blends like Dad's bitters, or creating your own personal expression of a particular bitters style.  For example, at Clover Club our house orange bitters is a blend of equal parts Fees and Regan’s Orange, and at Leyenda - Clover Club’s sister bar across the street - we have a house baking spice bitters blend that’s a mixture of Jerry Thomas Decanter Bitters and Fee Bros. Old Fashion Aromatic Bitters.   


The only challenging thing about bitters blends is finding something to dash them out of and taking the tops off the bitters bottles. Dasher bottles and tops are easy to find online, as usual, Cocktail Kingdom has the most attractive ones.  You can also use an empty bitters bottle if you have one around.  Oil and vinegar cruets also work pretty well.



Dad's Bitters
rye whiskey, social hour, tom macy, cocktail, classic cocktail
rye whiskey, social hour, tom macy, cocktail, classic cocktail

Taking the Dasher Top off of a bitters bottle.

You can easily pop the top off of a bitters bottle using a knife.  Put your thumb over the dasher, and with your other hand carefully slide the blade into the space between the lip of the bottle and the plastic dasher cap. Then tilt the blade up til the cap pops off.  It may be sticky depending on how old the bottle is.  Some caps are easier than others.  For Angostura, you can use a butter knife or even your fingernails.  Other bottles like the Bitter Truth line require a knife with a sharper point to dig under the plastic dasher top.  As always when using knives.  Be careful!  Make sure you feel in control of the blade at all times.  Remember, you can always just dash out the quantities manually as well, it doesn't take that long.



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