The Bartender Crosses Over to the Dark Side: The Old Fashioned

Our blog is now partway through its second year, and in looking back at my cocktail posts I realized that nearly all of my recipes have featured bright and cheery drinks made with “clear” liquors, namely vodka or gin.  But now that we’re in the dead of winter the time feels right for cocktails to turn a shade darker, to become a bit more brooding and moody.  This is the time of year when beer drinkers notice a preponderance of dark, bold “winter warmer” seasonal brews on the shelf.  Wine lovers put away their Sauvignon Blanc in favor of Cabernet.  And cocktails made with the darker spirits – whiskey, rum, Scotch, and the like – are headlining the menu of your local watering hole.  So, too, has the darkness fallen across our home bar.

I’ve recently been dabbling with a drink that hearkens all the way back to the early 1800’s:  The Old Fashioned.  While to some, the name of this cocktail may conjure up images of their great Aunt Edna and her bridge club, I contend that today is the right time for this historic libation to become a staple at your home bar.  Premium bourbons have been increasing in popularity for quite a while now, and while the preferred way to serve these is usually straight up, with a splash of water, or on the rocks, there are those who enjoy how the addition of a few subtle ingredients can serve to smooth, complement, and highlight their favorite brand while not masking its flavor.  The bitter-sweet-orangey foundation of the Old Fashioned, in my opinion, performs admirably in this supporting role.  Think of this cocktail as a shot of bourbon with training wheels.

As with so many classic cocktails, there are endless variations on the Old Fashioned, beginning with whether the base liquor should be rye, bourbon, Canadian whisky, or even brandy (for you Packers fans).  Any of the above will work just great, so it all comes down to your personal preference.  From there, recipes consistently use sugar, bitters (typically Angostura), water, some type of citrus fruit, and a cherry garnish.  I’m a big advocate of liberal use of fresh citrus in my cocktails, so my recipe includes muddling a chunk of orange along with the sugar and bitters to bring out the citrus highlights.  And while some like plain water, I’ve decided I prefer that my splash of water be carbonated.

Orange Slices

Cut up an orange

Teaspoonful of Sugar

Add a teaspoonful of sugar

A Few Dashes of Bitters

Shake in a few dashes of bitters


Then muddle it all together

I’ve become a huge fan of the Old Fashioned.  It’s a fun drink to mix, it’s a drink most people have heard of even if they’ve never tried one, and (thanks, probably, to Mad Men) it’s developing a certain coolness factor.  It’s a cocktail so historic that it even has its own glass named after it.  I’ll go so far as to say the Old Fashioned has become my “go-to” drink on these dark and cold winter days when it feels a little too right to start happy hour at 3:00 in the afternoon.  The intrigue (and the danger) of the Old Fashioned is found in its layered flavor.  It starts with the big robust slap of nearly-straight whiskey.  Then, a subtle bitter-orange sweetness begins to assert itself.  And by the last sip, the flavor has become so soft and mellow that it’s impossible to not want a refill.  And another.  And so on, until you’re curled up in a corner clutching your glass and begging for another round while someone phones you a cab.  Yep, the season of darkness is upon us.


Click here to get recipe

Old Fashioned

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2 responses to “The Bartender Crosses Over to the Dark Side: The Old Fashioned”

  1. Jim says:

    I love your focus on “old fashioned” and will now begin some cocktail hours as you have, at 3pm!

    jim in Austin

    • Bartender says:

      I’ve found the Old Fashioned seems to go particularly well with football (I *may* have drank the “prop” after our photo shoot yesterday). Thx for the comment!

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