Old-Fashioned Cocktail

Old-fashioned cocktail with ice cubes and cocktail cherries on a cocktail stick

The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

Prep: 3 mins
Cook: 0 mins
Total: 3 mins
Serving: 1 serving
Yield: 1 cocktail
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
161 Calories
0g Fat
7g Carbs
0g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 1
Amount per serving
Calories 161
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 0g 0%
Saturated Fat 0g 0%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 1mg 0%
Total Carbohydrate 7g 3%
Dietary Fiber 1g 3%
Total Sugars 5g
Protein 0g
Vitamin C 9mg 44%
Calcium 13mg 1%
Iron 0mg 1%
Potassium 33mg 1%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

A sugar cube soaked in bitters, a shot of whiskey, and an orange peel; creating an old-fashioned cocktail from scratch really is that easy. This classic drink has been served since the mid-1800s and is as popular today as it was back then.

Why Is It Called an Old-Fashioned?

Modern drinkers can relate to the story of the old-fashioned. This cocktail sparked the same type of "old versus new" debates in the late 19th-century bar that modern "martini" menus produce today. In truth, the old-fashioned was considered "old-fashioned" over a hundred years ago.

Around the 1880s, the American cocktail scene really started to boom. Bartenders were creating new drinks with curaçao, absinthe, syrups, and fruit juices, and they were a hit. There were, of course, the holdouts, those nostalgic drinkers who wanted a simple drink with a kick like they got in the "old days." To them, all of the fancy stuff was a waste of time. After countless newspaper editorials and bar debates, the old-fashioned got its official name. It was first published under the name in Theodore Proulx's (of Chicago's famous Chapin & Gore saloon) 1888 "The Bartenders Manual."

The Old-Fashioned Today

It's common for drinks to morph and evolve over the years. That's especially true when it's one of the very first cocktails, and today there are many variations on the old-fashioned.

Like the Manhattan, rye whiskey was the original choice for this drink. Over the years, the selection of good ryes dwindled, and bourbon became the preferred substitute for much of the latter 20th century. While bourbon remains a favorite for many drinkers, the luxury of a burgeoning rye market offers a fantastic opportunity to explore the old-fashioned in its original form. It's difficult to choose a lousy whiskey for this drink, and it's a great venue to try out new finds, so pour whatever you like.

The intent of the old-fashioned is to avoid adding too much to it, which allows the whiskey to shine. The best old-fashioned drinks are simple mixes, and it's essential to pay close attention to the quality of each ingredient. From there, it's all a matter of personal choice.

What Kind of Whiskey To Use in an Old-Fashioned

The old-fashioned is one of the best ways to dress up your favorite whiskey without significantly altering the taste. If you're a traditionalist, you might prefer rye whiskey. The bourbon old-fashioned is a popular choice as well; it was the go-to style of whiskey for this iconic drink for years. Whichever whiskey you pour, the sweet, bitter, and fruit flavors added to the glass will enhance it nicely.

How To Personalize Your Old-Fashioned

There are many ways to adjust this recipe, too. Follow an original, simplified approach, incorporate one of the modern twists, or personalize it to your taste or the whiskey you're pouring at the moment. Muddle or stir, add soda, use syrup, or ramp up the fruit... The point is that you enjoy the drink, so have fun exploring all of the options!

"I am a big proponent of the traditional Old Fashioned, which is simply whiskey—preferably rye—a little sugar, bitters, and a citrus peel. I think this drink should be simple, strong and whiskey-forward. For me, too much fruit pulls it away from its roots." —Tom Macy

Old-Fashioned Cocktail Tester Image
A Note From Our Recipe Tester


  • 1 sugar cube, or 1/2 teaspoon sugar

  • 3 dashes bitters

  • 2 ounces ​bourbon or rye whiskey

  • Orange peel, for garnish

  • Maraschino cherry, for garnish

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients for old-fashioned cocktail recipe gathered

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

  2. Place a sugar cube or sugar in an old-fashioned glass and saturate it with bitters. Muddle or stir to mix.

    Sugar and bitters muddled with a wooden cocktail muddler in a short tumbler

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

  3. Add the whiskey, fill the glass with ice, and stir well.

    Whiskey and ice cubes added to glass and stirred with a spoon

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

  4. Express the orange peel over the drink before dropping it into the glass: Twist up the peel and give it a good squeeze (directed toward the glass, not your eyes) and bits of citrus oil will spray into the drink. Add a cherry if you like.

    Old-fashioned with ice cubes, twisted orange peel, and cocktail cherries on a cocktail stick

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

Recipe Variations

  • For much of the 20th century, the old-fashioned was muddled with an orange slice and topped with a splash of club soda and a maraschino cherry. It's a nice drink but many bartenders have reverted to the simpler version.
  • When using granulated sugar (rather than a cube), it's common to add 1 teaspoon of water, then stir until the sugar dissolves.
  • Alternatively, use a splash (barely 1 teaspoon) of simple syrup instead of granulated sugar, mixing it with the bitters before adding ice and whiskey.
  • Adding an orange slice or peel to the muddle is a modern twist. The earliest old-fashioneds barely used the fruit as a garnish. Some bartenders pair a lemon peel with certain whiskeys and some use both orange and lemon peels.
  • Angostura aromatic bitters are the classic choice, though today's market includes a great variety of bitters. Orange bitters are nice, and any whiskey barrel-aged bitters are a natural accent for the drink. Some whiskeys can even handle unusual flavors such as chocolate, peach, or rhubarb.

How To Make Old-Fashioneds for a Crowd

The Old-Fashioned is a very simple drink, but mixing them one at a time for a crowd is still time-consuming. To mix a large batch of Old-Fashioneds for a party, follow these steps:

  1. Multiply each ingredient by the number of servings you want to make. Use granulated sugar instead of sugar cubes.
  2. For the bitters, divide the number you got in Step 1 by 2. Bitters tend to become more pronounced over time in batched cocktails so you don't need to use as much.
  3. Use the resulting numbers to help you figure out how many bottles of whiskey you'll need to buy. Remember that alcohol is usually sold in 750mL bottles. 750mL is approximately 25 1/4 ounces.
  4. Once you have your ingredients, measure them out according to the math you did in Steps 1 and 2.
  5. Mix the ingredients together, place in a serving vessel, and chill well. The sugar may not dissolve right away, but it will dissolve over time. Give the drink a stir or shake every so often to hasten this process.
  6. To serve, measure out 2 1/2 to 3 ounces of the mixed cocktail and pour it over a large ice cube in a glass. Garnish as desired.

Read more about how to batch cocktails here.

The Pendennis Club Myth

For decades, the creation of the old-fashioned was attributed to the Pendennis Club in Louisville, Kentucky. David Wondrich points out in his book "Imbibe!" that this is false: The club opened in 1881, but a year before that, "old-fashioned cocktails" were mentioned in the Chicago Tribune. There was even an "ambiguous newspaper squib" that mentioned old-fashioned drinks as early as 1869.

In truth, the old-fashioned formula dates back to the 1850s, if not earlier. It was made with whiskey, brandy, or gin (Old Tom or "Holland," better known today as genever). It was quite simply liquor, sugar (not syrup), and ice. Add bitters, and you have the original definition of a cocktail.

Follow the Historical Advice on Ice

Within Wondrich's old-fashioned notes is a fascinating section about the proper ice to use in this drink. It turns out that ice balls and 2-inch cubes are nothing new; they just got lost in the American bar until a relatively recent revival. The large cube's reference dates to 1899, when "...mixologically ambitious saloons preferred to refrigerate their old-fashioned with ice cut into 'perfect cubes about two inches on a side.'"

It follows the same theory used to chill and slightly dilute straight whiskey. Those fancy ice machines that are so convenient today and produce tiny, fast-melting "cubes" ruined it for many years. If you are an old-fashioned devotee and have not made the switch to 2-inch ice, it's the last step in perfecting this drink.

How Strong Is the Old-Fashioned?

The old-fashioned is definitely a strong drink. With little dilution and no significant mixer, it's not much lighter than a straight pour of whiskey. The alcohol content of an old-fashioned made with an 80-proof whiskey falls around 32 percent ABV (64 proof). Those old-timers would be happy to know that it still has that kick they were looking for.