The Old Fashioned is one of the most popular and delicious cocktails and is a true classic in the world of increasingly intricate alcoholic beverages and microbrews. The beauty of the old-fashioned is partially its simplicity as well as its well balanced flavors and the longstanding history of the drink.
Indeed, the old-fashioned predates the idea of the cocktail itself, and was conceived before advanced bartending and modern techniques were developed for creating the more difficult and complex cocktails.
While simple, the old-fashioned remains one of the world’s most popular cocktails, and it's enjoyed by people all over the world.
If you’re interested in enjoying the occasional old fashioned meal in your own home, it's a great choice as it doesn’t require too many ingredients, and can be prepared quickly and without fuss.
To make an old-fashioned at home however you will need to collect your ingredients, chief amongst them being a good whiskey.
Traditionally rye or bourbon whiskeys are used for making an old fashioned, but finding the right whiskey for you can be really difficult as there are a lot of different whiskeys on the market today.
In this guide we’re going to look at 10 of the best whiskeys for use in a good old-fashioned, taking into consideration several factors such as flavor and quality to ensure you get a whiskey that delivers a perfect beverage every time.
What Is An Old Fashioned?
The old-fashioned is a cocktail made by mixing sugar with bitters and water, adding in rye or bourbon whiskey, and garnishing with either an orange slice or some zest and a cocktail cherry for a little bit of sweetness and color.
Usually, old fashions are served in a tumbler, also known as a rocks glass.
What Qualities Should A Whiskey Have For An Old Fashioned?
The whiskey you choose to use for your old-fashioned can drastically change the flavor profile of the drink. Whiskey has a lot of subtleties even within the different styles, and there can be significant differences between different brands of bourbon or rye whiskey that you can tailor to your own preferences.
It's hard to give an exact specification due to the importance of making a cocktail that suits your own taste, but a quality made by a reputable and well established brand is the first thing to look for.
After this, you can find whiskeys with hints of coffee, or various fruits and herbs, such as mint or even apple, whatever suits the particular notes you enjoy in your whiskey and which will work well with the sweetness of the sugar and the bitterness of the zest.
Now that we’ve gotten the introduction out of the way, let's look at some of the whiskeys themselves. We’ve collected some of the very best whiskeys available which are preferred by countless cocktail bars and establishments, as well as some personal favorites to give you plenty of options to choose from.
OUR TOP PICK
Maker’s Mark is a very thick whiskey with a sweet and aromatic scent that has notes of caramel, honey and fruit. The whiskey isn’t harsh, and is delicious with hints of delicate sweetness.
The whiskey isn’t too light or too full bodied, and is very well balanced due to the notes of vanilla and molasses cut through with a layer of oak bringing everything together.
This is a very elegant whiskey, as the flavors finish treating you with some hints of spice to cleanse the palate of the sweeter notes and prepare you for that next irresistible sip of whiskey.
When paired with the other ingredients of an old-fashioned, Maker’s Mark really shines as its other ingredients and notes are heightened without anything falling out of balance, and is a very fitting start to our recommendations.
Almost every list of whiskey recommendations for an old-fashioned will feature Four Roses Small Batch or Four Roses single barrel, due to the unique and delicious flavors that this whiskey offers.
It perfectly compliments an old-fashioned by bringing hints of red berries, butterscotch, and caramel, all cut through by notes of spice to deliver a flavor that is both intriguing and enjoyable.
When drunk with a healthy helping of bitters and zest in an old-fashioned way the whiskey becomes very crisp, while the sugar helps reinforce the elements of vanilla, caramel, and butterscotch to ensure they aren’t overwhelmed by the more bitter ingredients creating an ideal balance.
Wild Turkey has been made by the same family for decades, and has a wide and well loved array of whiskeys that are particularly popular among lovers of bourbon.
Wild Turkey 101 packs a hell of a punch, even among other strong whiskeys, and is a great choice for people who like their old-fashioned to come out swinging, thanks to its 50.5%alc proof.
In terms of flavors, hints of vanilla, butterscotch, toasted nuts, and spice come through very well and meld beautifully with well muddled ingredients for an old-fashioned.
Bourbon is traditionally made from various different grains depending on the specifications of the particular distillery, but Woodford Reserve’s recipe uses a relatively high rye content, with the percentage coming in at 18% to provide enhanced spice and cocoa notes, as well as hints of cinnamon and even tobacco flavoring to provide a fairly full bodied whiskey.
The addition of the sugar, zest, and bitters accompanying this whiskey in an old-fashioned will help balance these flavors without hiding the signature notes that this refined whiskey is known and loved for.
Another very strong whiskey, Elijah Craig is a Kentucky bourbon that is 66% abv, however, it doesn’t rely solely on getting you tipsy to mask its flavors. Hints of cinnamon, oak, butterscotch, and apple make this whiskey delicious AND boozy, a perfect combination for a strong old-fashioned.
Again, the simple but well chosen accompaniments in an old-fashioned manner simultaneously heighten the enjoyment of the flavors while making the overall beverage a little more elevated and enjoyable than drinking the whiskey straight or with water.
If you’re looking to use a whiskey with really unique and interesting flavors, Balcones Baby Blue is a great choice for you and will create a really interesting and different experience to your usual whiskey.
This whiskey is distilled from heirloom blue corn which was originally made by the Native American Hopi tribe, and this is combined with fruity tropical flavors, cinnamon, and smoked paprika which leads to a surprisingly buttery and smooth whiskey that blends amazingly well with the sweet and sour flavors of the old-fashioned.
Bulleit Rye is one of the only non bourbon whiskies that we feel works really well in an old fashioned, and this is due to the higher percentage of rye used in the distilling process, that can create an excellent balance between the sweetness of the old-fashioned and the whiskey.
Using whiskeys that rely too much on sweet and fruity flavors can lead to a sickly cocktail for some people, so using something that can strike a finer balance between the sweetness and other important flavors is a great way to create a richer, more satisfying old-fashioned than most people will be used to.
Knob Creek Whiskey is a bourbon that is aged for nine years. Nine, years. That’s a very long time, even in the whiskey world, and is one of the oldest aged bourbons on the market.
The result is a fuller, more developed flavour as the natural sugars in the casks work their way into the process for longer. It's 100 proof so it's very strong, and has subtle hints of grass and grain.
It's a real top shelf whiskey, which is bold and mixes very well as its strong flavors stand out well even mixed in a cocktail, which allow the whiskey to command the flavor profile while still balancing well against the other ingredients.
This is a whiskey to sip and enjoy in a relaxed manner. After all, it took 9 years to age, so it should take longer than 9 minutes to drink and enjoy
Buffalo Trace is a 45% abv Kentucky distilled whiskey with interesting notes of oranges, molasses, and honey. It is America’s oldest continuously working distillery.
This bourbon is a rich and simple whiskey which isn’t as high in alcohol as some offerings, but is a quality option with delicious notes of orange and spices that are balanced nicely with the sugar and cherry of a real old-fashioned.
If you’re looking to make an old-fashioned to be proud of, all of these whiskeys are a perfect option for you and will make a perfect start for your own home bar.
The beauty of the old-fashioned is its simplicity, and it doesn’t take much for even the smallest bar to make an old-fashioned as good as some of the best bars in the world.
All it takes is quality ingredients and a little know how.
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