When you get right down to it, the Bourbon Old Fashioned is little more than a slug of whiskey, seasoned and sweetened. Yet for all of its suave simplicity, the drink remains as relevant today as it was when it first captured drinkers’ hearts 200 years ago.
If you’re a history buff, you could draw a straight line connecting this drink to the first recorded definition of the cocktail category in general (circa 1806), which called for spirits, sugar, water, and bitters. The Old Fashioned hits all those marks, with whiskey, sugar, water, and aromatic bitters. You could also skip the history lesson and simply make the drink. Do the latter if you’re getting thirsty.
Start by using good bourbon, the rule being that if you wouldn’t sip it by itself it has no place at the helm of a Bourbon Old Fashioned. (There are other whiskey drinks for masking subpar booze—this isn’t one of them.) From there, the cocktail-minded seem to break into two camps: simple syrup or muddled sugar.
While a bar spoon of syrup can cut your prep time in half, it robs the drink of some of the weight and texture that makes it so appealing. If you want to make the drink as they did back in the 19th century, granulated sugar or a sugar cube is the way to go. If you want to make the cocktail with more of a modern twist, opt for simple syrup. (Although what’s the big rush? The Bourbon Old Fashioned isn’t going anywhere). Just know that simple syrup adds a bit more water to your drink, so you may need to adjust your ice and stirring accordingly.
Once you’ve mastered the Bourbon Old Fashioned, you can also try making the cocktail with rye whiskey, which results in a slightly spicier drink. Or you can use rum, brandy, or any number of spirits—after all, the Old Fashioned is more of a template than an exact science. But there’s something about the bourbon-spiked version that drinkers have been coming back to for decades, so why mess with perfection?
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 3 dashes Angostura bitters
- 1 teaspoon water
- 2 ounces bourbon
- Garnish: orange peel
Add the sugar and bitters into a rocks glass, then add water, and stir until sugar is nearly dissolved.
Fill the glass with large ice cubes, add the bourbon, and gently stir to combine.
Express the oil of an orange peel over the glass, then drop in.
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