The name implies something antique and, in a way, it is; the Old Fashioned is pretty highly valued for its historical significance. Just like the Negroni, this cocktail is an absolute classic, although it’s certainly experienced a few transformations over the centuries.
Read on as we dig a little deeper into the origins of an Old Fashioned and attempt to scratch the surface of its cultural significance. We’ve also shared some of the best Old Fashioned recipes (alcoholic, low and no alcohol) to satisfy that craving you’re bound to have after you have learnt more about what an Old Fashioned really is!
A history intertwined
The history of the Old Fashioned is closely intertwined with the history of cocktails as a whole. In fact, the first documented definition of the word “cocktail” included a breakdown of its constituent parts, which basically described the composition of an Old Fashioned: spirits, sugar, water and bitters. Simple.
Nevertheless, the ingredients listed were used to define a general “cocktail”, also referred to as a “Bitter Sling”, and it wasn’t until after the development of more complex cocktails that the name “Old Fashioned” landed on everyone’s lips.
Why is it called an Old Fashioned?
Cocktails were becoming more complex in the mid-19th century with the addition of absinthe, orange curaçao and other exotic cocktail ingredients. According to David Wondrich’s book Imbibe, those pining for simple cocktails would request drinks that reminded them of the old days. A number of “old-fashioned” cocktails started to emerge on the scene, the most popular of which was allegedly made with whiskey.
Therefore, the name Old Fashioned materialised after customers made requests for simple cocktails made in an old-fashioned way.
Who invented the Old Fashioned?
Of course, many fine drinking establishments have laid claim to the invention of the Old Fashioned that we know and love today, such as The Pendennis Club. But the mention of whiskey old-fashioned cocktails in an 1880 Chicago Daily Tribune article (before The Pendennis Club had even existed) suggests otherwise.
The truth of the matter? Well, the Old Fashioned is essentially the Bitter Sling reborn. Since we don’t know who invented this style of cocktail and if it really was the first cocktail recipe, we’ll probably never know who invented the Old Fashioned.
Who drank Old Fashioned?
From Don Draper to Sterling Archer, there have been numerous (and often male) characters throughout the ages whose drink of choice was an Old Fashioned. But, while it’s often portrayed as a “gentleman’s drink”, this classic cocktail is growing in popularity with all genders and many empowered spirit drinkers are fighting back against decades of marketing that has established these gender stereotypes.
Female bartenders are even embellishing their own versions of this simple cocktail, such as Monica Berg’s Northern Old Fashioned with a Scandinavian twist:
How to make an Old Fashioned
What are the basic ingredients?
The fundamental ingredients of an Old Fashioned include whiskey, water, sugar and bitters. You could use bourbon or rye whiskey and Angostura and Peychaud's are both popular types of bitters to use in this classic cocktail.
Old Fashioned (alcoholic)
Well, you could always follow Monica’s recipe in the video above but for a more traditional whiskey-based Old Fashioned, here’s one of the earliest published recipes from George Kappeler’s book published in 1895:
Old Fashioned Whiskey Cocktail
- In a whiskey glass, dissolve a small lump of sugar in a small amount of water
- Add a small ice cube, some lemon peel, two dashes of Angostura bitters and one jigger of whiskey
- Stir with a bar spoon and serve with the spoon still in the glass
NoLo Maple Old Fashioned
If you’re moderating your drinking, we’ve got just the thing! Roasted sugar, orange and hints of herbal hibiscus create a full 'sipper' with this cocktail - simply swap half the Dandy Smoke for whiskey to make it low! We recommend using Dandy Smoke instead of alcohol-free whiskey (click on the link to find out why).
NoLo Coffee Old Fashioned
If you’re looking for an alcohol alternative that tastes like an Old Fashioned but still gives you that kick, then this cocktail, with its deep and rich java notes mingled with sweet spice and smoky flavours, is exactly what you need. Once again, to make it low, sub half of the Dandy for your favourite whiskey!