Raise your hand if you’ve had an Old Fashioned in the last week or so. Everyone have a hand up? Great. We’re on the same page. Within the last few years, the Old Fashioned has risen from a nearly forgotten bit of nostalgia to our country’s default drink of choice. Can’t think of what you want to drink? Just order an Old Fashioned. You’ll be glad you did. You can thank Don Draper and the “League of Extraordinary Bartenders” for the ubiquity of the drink. And you really should thank them, because it is a great drink. So simple, yet so delicious. But it can always be better. We found five ways to upgrade the common Old Fashioned.
Purists might disagree, but it’s okay to put a little fruit in your Old Fashioned. We’re not advocating for turning it into a fruit cocktail, but a little cherry garnish, as long as it’s the right cherry, is perfectly fine. And the right cherry is the Luxardo cherry. Forget that syrupy, gummy Maraschino cherry you find in a Shirley Temple, the Luxardo is a sour marasca cherry grown in Italy and steeped in maraschino liqueur and cherry juice. The result is a sweet, nutty cherry that’s darker than anything you’ve ever put in a cocktail before.
Photo via Appleton Estate
Take a tiny twist of an orange peel, about an inch in diameter, light a match and wave the orange peel next to the open flame, warming the fruit over your cocktail glass. Then squeeze the peel quickly so the orange oil shoots through the match, creating a burst of flame. Now rub the orange peel around the rim of your glass and drop it in the cocktail.
The Old Fashioned is meant to be made with rye, which isn’t as sweet as its bourbon counterpart. You’re putting sugar in this cocktail, after all, so rye’s spice is there for balance and nuance. To be honest, 90% of the time, I use a common rye like Bulleit. And you can also get away with pulling a bottle from our list of killer budget ryes. But we’re upgrading here, so reach for something classic, like Michter’s Straight Rye, a single barrel whiskey that helps set the rye standard. Or go with the trendier WhistlePig Straight Rye, which offers more heat at 100 proof.
Forget that white stuff that’s in your pantry, the Hella Bitter Sugar Cubes are made with raw Demerara pure cane sugar, which impart a bit of soft molasses flavor to the cocktail. The cubes aren’t cheap, but it’s the little touches like this that can give your Old Fashioned an edge. $10
Think there are a lot of whiskies to choose from on the market these days? Start digging into your bitters options and you’ll see just as wide a variety. Angostura has had a relative monopoly in the cocktail world until the last few years, when every bartender in the country started making their own bitters. We give you a solid list of choices here. You can get really esoteric with bitters and go down a serious rabbit hole of flavors. Dutch’s Colonial Cocktail Bitters are a good place to start. The use of herbs and orange peel make Dutch’s Colonial a multi-purpose bitter ideal for the Old Fashioned.