What is an Old Fashioned?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 17 October 2019
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An Old Fashioned is probably one of the most classic and oldest of cocktails, and in some ways resembles the many alcoholic punches that were served in England and the Americas prior to the true beginning of the cocktail. Reference to the Old Fashioned dates back to 1806, but the drink didn’t receive its current appellation until the 1880s. The invention of the Old Fashioned likely occurred at the Pendennis Club, a gentleman’s club in Kentucky, and popularity of the drink soon took the Old Fashioned to the more urban environment of New York City. Historians believe that the Astoria Hotel in New York City was the first to offer the Old Fashioned once it became popular in Kentucky.

Though the drink is normally made with bourbon, the International Bartenders Association (IBA) accepts Scotch or rye whiskey as acceptable alternatives. The basic recipe given by the IBA is the following:

  • Four ounces (118.3 ml) bourbon
  • 1 sugar cube
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • Splash of soda or flat water
  • Ice

The sugar cube is placed in the glass, usually a simple tumbler. Bitters are added to melt down the sugar cube, or alternately, a small amount of water may melt the sugar cube. Some bartenders skip the sugar cube and use simple syrup instead in order to avoid the grit of a partially dissolved cube at the bottom of the glass.


Once the sugar cube has been melted with bitters, the glass is filled with ice cubes, and the chosen alcohol is added. This is when people begin to differ on whether the Old Fashioned should contain water, of either the flat or soda variety. While the IBA suggests soda water, many purists argue that water detracts from the taste of the alcohol and shouldn’t be used. Others suggest a little dilution with plain water is the best way to go.

There’s also considerable debate on garnishes. Many people add cherry and orange slice garnishes to accent the sweetness of the sugar. Others suggest the “twist," a piece of lemon peel, instead. You can order the drink with any garnish you choose if you have a particular favorite.

For lovers of the Old Fashioned, quality of the alcohol is important. Bourbon, or rye whiskey tend to be preferred because of their complex notes and quality. A few recipes for this cocktail favor brandy instead, and scotch is also a welcome alternative. Since the taste of the alcohol remains predominant, choose quality alcohols only for this drink. Many people apply very high standards to alcohol quality and complexity when judging the drink.


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Post 1

A old fashioned should never have soda in it. That is a modern invention, and totally against the character of the drink's history.

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