Old Fashioned: Easy & Quick Cocktail Classic [The Ultimate Recipe]

The Old Fashioned is a classic cocktail that contains whiskey, bitters, sugar, and water. This amber colored drink is served over ice in an old fashioned glass, garnished with an orange zest twist and sometimes a cocktail cherry. It offers a balanced blend of sweet, bitter, and strong flavors.

The Old Fashioned suits various occasions and pairs well with rich foods. Popular for its historical roots and cultural significance, the Old Fashioned remains a staple in mixology.


The classic Old Fashioned cocktail is made of 60 ml (about 2 oz) of whiskey, preferably bourbon or rye for their rich, robust flavor profile. Complementing the whiskey are 3 dashes of Angostura bitters, adding a layer of complexity with its herbal and spicy notes. The drink also includes 1 teaspoon of water to slightly dilute and integrate the flavors, and 1 teaspoon of sugar to balance the bitters’ intensity. A garnish of orange zest twist and an optional cocktail cherry tops off this iconic drink, creating a delightful aroma and visual appeal.

  1. Whiskey (Bourbon or Rye): 60 ml (2 oz)
  2. Angostura Bitters: 3 dashes (or to taste)
  3. Water: 1 teaspoon (or to taste)
  4. Sugar: 1 teaspoon (or to taste)
  5. Garnish: Orange zest twist, optional cocktail cherry

Ingredient Substitutes

For a twist on the Old Fashioned, various substitutes can be used without losing the essence of the cocktail.

Instead of the traditional rye or bourbon whiskey, try using other types of whiskey/whisky. For example, Scotch for a smokier flavor; or Canadian whisky for a smoother taste. If Angostura bitters are unavailable, orange bitters or Peychaud’s bitters make great alternatives, each lending a unique flavor profile. In place of plain sugar, consider using simple syrup for easier blending or brown sugar for a deeper sweetness. For a different garnish, a lemon twist can replace the orange zest, offering a fresher, more citrusy aroma.

  • Whiskey Substitute: Scotch (smokier), Canadian Whisky (smoother)
  • Bitters Substitute: Orange Bitters, Peychaud’s Bitters
  • Sugar Substitute: Simple Syrup, Brown Sugar
  • Garnish Substitute: Lemon Twist

Ingredient Proportions

The Old Fashioned cocktail is renowned for its balanced blend, striking the perfect harmony between strength, sweetness, and bitterness.

A good ratio is 60 ml (2 oz) of whiskey, 3 dashes of bitters, 1 teaspoon of sugar, and 1 teaspoon of water. This combination ensures a robust whiskey base, complemented by the herbal complexity of the bitters and the subtle sweetness of the sugar. However, these proportions are adaptable to individual taste. For example, some may prefer a sweeter or stronger drink, adjusting the sugar or whiskey accordingly.

The key is to maintain the equilibrium that defines the Old Fashioned’s classic taste.

  • Standard Ratio: 60 ml (2 oz) Whiskey, 3 dashes Bitters, 1 tsp Sugar, 1 tsp Water
  • Adjustable: Increase/decrease sugar for sweetness, adjust whiskey for strength
  • Balance: Aim for harmony between whiskey, sweetness, and bitters

Best Ingredients

The quality of ingredients in an Old Fashioned significantly influences the cocktail’s overall character.

For the whiskey, select a high-quality bourbon or rye that offers a rich and full-bodied flavor. The bitters should be of a reputable brand, with Angostura being a classic choice for its robust and complex profile. The sugar should be fine-grained for easy dissolution, ensuring a smooth texture. Lastly, fresh, organic orange zest and a high-quality cocktail cherry, if used, can elevate the drink’s aromatic and visual appeal.

  • Whiskey: High-quality bourbon or rye, rich in flavor
  • Bitters: Reputable brand, complex profile
  • Sugar: Fine-grained for smoothness
  • Garnish: Fresh, organic orange zest, quality cocktail cherry

Each ingredient plays a crucial role in crafting a premium Old Fashioned experience.

Flavor Profile

The Old Fashioned is a cocktail that delights the senses with its intricate flavor profile. It begins with the rich and often spicy notes of whiskey, rounded out by the herbal and slightly bitter essence of the bitters. The sugar adds a necessary counterbalance, bringing a subtle sweetness that doesn’t overpower the drink. The addition of water mellows the intensity, allowing the flavors to meld beautifully. The garnish of orange zest imparts a citrusy aroma, enhancing the overall experience.

This drink offers a smooth, nuanced, and highly enjoyable sip, making it a staple in the world of classic cocktails.

  • Primary Taste: Rich, spicy whiskey base
  • Complementary Notes: Herbal, bitter bitters; subtle sweetness from sugar
  • Texture: Smooth, well-blended
  • Aroma: Citrusy from orange zest
  • Overall: Balanced, nuanced, classic cocktail experience

Tools & Equipment

When crafting an Old Fashioned, you need a measuring device, such as a jigger, to ensure accurate proportions of whiskey and other components. Being true to its name, the Old Fashioned is built and served in an old-fashioned glass, also known as a rocks glass. A bar spoon is crucial for stirring the ingredients in the glass, providing a smooth texture. For the garnish, a peeler or sharp knife is needed to create the perfect orange zest twist.

Optional tools include a mixing glass and strainer, offering an alternative method for those who prefer to mix and strain before serving.

  • Jigger: Accurate ingredient measurement
  • Glass: Old-fashioned (rocks) glass for building and serving
  • Bar Spoon: Essential for stirring
  • Peeler/Knife: For orange zest garnish
  • Optional: Mixing glass and strainer for alternative preparation method

Instructions for Preparation

To build an Old-Fashioned cocktail, start by adding 1 teaspoon of sugar into a rocks (old-fashioned) glass. Pour in 3 dashes of bitters and 1 teaspoon of water, stirring until the sugar is almost dissolved. Add 60 ml (2 oz) of whiskey to the glass. Fill the glass with ice and gently stir for about 15-30 seconds, ensuring the mixture is well-chilled and diluted. For the garnish, express the oil of an orange zest over the drink and place it in the glass. Optionally, add a cocktail cherry.

Alternatively, this cocktail can be prepared in a mixing glass following the same steps, then strained into the serving glass.

  • Step 1: Add sugar, bitters, and water to rocks glass; stir to dissolve sugar
  • Step 2: Pour in 60 ml (2 oz) whiskey
  • Step 3: Add ice; stir gently for 30 seconds
  • Step 4: Garnish with orange zest, optional cocktail cherry

Stir or Shake

In the preparation of an Old Fashioned, stirring is the preferred method over shaking. Stirring gently blends the ingredients, ensuring a silky smooth texture without introducing excessive air, which can alter the drink’s density and appearance. Shaking, on the other hand, is more suited for cocktails with citrus or dairy ingredients that need vigorous integration. For an Old Fashioned, the art of stirring maintains the cocktail’s clarity and integrity, making it a crucial step in its creation.

  • Preferred Method: Stirring for smooth texture and clear appearance
  • Avoid Shaking: Prevents altering drink’s density and clarity

Ice (Chilling & Dilution)

When building an Old Fashioned, place one or more large cubes—or spheres—of clear ice in a pre-chilled rocks glass. These melt slowly, offering optimal chilling with minimal dilution. This ensures the drink remains cold while still preserving its strength and flavor over time. Pre-chilling the glass before serving adds an extra touch of sophistication, keeping the cocktail perfectly chilled from the first sip to the last.

  • Serving Ice: One or more large, clear cubes/spheres
  • Pre-Chilling Glass: Enhances drinking experience

If you are using a mixing glass to stir the cocktail, you can use regular sized (medium-large) ice cubes in the mixing glass.

Scaling (For a Group)

When scaling an Old Fashioned for a group, there are two effective approaches: stirring in batches to-order or pre-mixing in advance.

  1. Stirring in Batches To-Order: Multiply the standard recipe (60 ml whiskey, 3 dashes bitters, 1 tsp sugar, 1 tsp water) by the number of servings. Mix each batch in a large mixing glass with ice, stirring gently to chill and slightly dilute. Serve immediately in rocks glasses, each with one or more large ice cubes and garnished with orange zest and an optional cherry.
  2. Pre-Mixing in Advance: Prepare a batch by multiplying the ingredients as needed, and consider adding a little extra water to account for the dilution usually provided by ice. Store the mixture in a sealed container in the fridge. When ready to serve, stir the chilled mixture gently, then serve over ice in rocks glasses, garnished as usual.
  • Option 1: Stir in Batches To-Order
    1. Multiply ingredients, mix in large mixing glass with ice
    2. Serve immediately in rocks glasses with fresh ice and garnish
  • Option 2: Pre-Mix in Advance
    1. Multiply ingredients, add extra water for dilution
    2. Mix and refrigerate in a sealed container
    3. Serve whenever need arises, stirred over fresh ice in rocks glasses, garnished as usual

Troubleshooting (Biggest Mistakes)

Common mistakes in making an Old Fashioned include over-dilution, imbalance of flavors, and improper garnishing. To avoid over-dilution, be cautious with the amount of water and the duration of stirring. An imbalance can occur if the proportions of whiskey, bitters, or sugar are not measured correctly. Lastly, a heavy-handed approach to garnishing can overpower the drink’s delicate balance. The orange and cherries garnishes should not dominate the flavor profile.

  • Over-Dilution: Control water amount and stirring time
  • Flavor Imbalance: Precise measurement of ingredients
  • Overpowering Garnish: Light touch with orange zest, optional cherry should not dominate


The presentation of an Old Fashioned plays a crucial role in its overall enjoyment. The right glassware and garnish not only enhance the visual appeal but also contribute to the drinking experience.


The traditional choice for an Old Fashioned cocktail is the, very aptly named, “old-fashioned” glass, also known as a rocks glass. Its size and wide brim are ideal for the volume of the drink, including one or more large ice cubes. To achieve a more modern aesthetic, a stemless wine glass can be used.

  • Classic: Rocks/Old Fashioned glass
  • Alternatives: Stemless wine glass, coupe


The classic garnish for an Old Fashioned is a twist of orange zest, adding a bright aroma and a touch of elegance. As a creative option, consider incorporating a flamed orange peel, which adds a subtle smoky note. A cocktail cherry is another traditional garnish, offering a hint of sweetness and color. Experimenting with different citrus peels, such as lemon or grapefruit, or adding a sprig of fresh herbs like rosemary or thyme can introduce new aromas and flavors, providing a unique twist to this classic cocktail.

  • Classic: Orange zest twist, cocktail cherry
  • Creative: Flamed orange peel, various citrus peels
  • Experimentation: Fresh herbs like rosemary or thyme for unique aromas

Variations & Riffs

The classic Old Fashioned cocktail serves as a foundation for numerous variations and riffs:

  • Manhattan: Whiskey, sweet vermouth, bitters, cherry.
    • Sweet vermouth adds richness, different from Old Fashioned’s simple sugar.
  • Boulevardier: Bourbon, Campari, sweet vermouth.
    • Incorporates Campari, offering a bittersweet profile.
  • Mint Julep: Bourbon, sugar, water, fresh mint, crushed ice.
    • Fresh mint and ice create a more refreshing, cooler variant.
  • Sazerac: Rye whiskey, absinthe, Peychaud’s bitters, sugar cube, lemon peel.
    • Absinthe and Peychaud’s offer a unique, herbal twist.
  • Rob Roy: Scotch whisky, sweet vermouth, Angostura bitters.
    • Uses Scotch and vermouth for a smoky and herbal divergence from the Old Fashioned.
  • Rusty Nail: Scotch whisky, Drambuie.
    • The addition of Drambuie introduces a honeyed, herbal contrast.
  • Godfather: Scotch whisky, amaretto.
    • Amaretto lends a nutty, sweet difference from the traditional Old Fashioned.
  • Whiskey Sour: Whiskey, lemon juice, sugar, egg white (optional), cherry.
    • Adds lemon for a tart contrast to the Old Fashioned.

These adaptations maintain the spirit of the original while introducing new flavors and ingredients.

Experiment (Create Your Own Riff)

Crafting your own riff on an Old Fashioned invites creativity in mixing and matching ingredients.

Start with the base spirit; while whiskey is traditional, experimenting with brandy, rum or even tequila can offer exciting flavors. For sweetness, swap sugar with honey, maple syrup, or agave nectar. Bitters can range from classic Angostura to more exotic flavors like chocolate or orange. The garnish, too, offers room for innovation; think beyond the orange zest to aromatic herbs and spices, such as a cinnamon stick.

This experimentation allows for a personalized twist on the classic, making it uniquely yours.

  • Base Spirit: Try brandy, rum, tequila for varied flavors
  • Sweetener: Honey, maple syrup, agave as alternatives to sugar
  • Bitters: Explore beyond Angostura, like chocolate or orange bitters
  • Garnish: Aromatic herbs, cinnamon stick for innovative touches

Serving Occasions

The Old Fashioned is a versatile cocktail that complements a variety of occasions. Its sophisticated profile makes it perfect for formal events, like dinner parties or cocktail hours. Its simplicity and richness also suit more casual settings, such as a relaxed evening at home or gatherings with friends. The drink’s timeless appeal makes it an excellent choice for celebrating special occasions, anniversaries, or even a quiet, reflective moment alone. The Old Fashioned’s adaptability to different moods and settings underscores its enduring popularity.

  • Formal Events: Dinner parties, cocktail hours
  • Casual Settings: Home evenings, gatherings with friends
  • Special Occasions: Celebrations, anniversaries
  • Versatile: Suits various moods and settings

Food Pairings

Pairing food with an Old Fashioned enhances both the drink and the dining experience. Rich, savory dishes like steak or grilled meats complement the cocktail’s robustness. For a lighter pairing, consider aged cheeses or charcuterie, which balance the drink’s sweetness and bitterness. Chocolate desserts can also be a delightful match, playing off the Old Fashioned’s deep, complex flavors.

The key is to pair foods that echo the cocktail’s rich and nuanced profile, creating a harmonious dining experience.

  • Rich Dishes: Steak, grilled meats
  • Lighter Pairings: Aged cheeses, charcuterie
  • Desserts: Chocolate-based treats
  • Harmonious Pairing: Foods that complement the cocktail’s flavors

Why is it Called an “Old Fashioned”?

The Old Fashioned cocktail gets its name from its classic recipe and traditional method of preparation, which dates back to the early 19th century. As new cocktail styles emerged, and cocktail recipes became more elaborate, some patrons began requesting their drinks made the “old-fashioned way,” with whiskey, sugar, water, and bitters. This request for a simpler, more traditional cocktail led to the naming of the Old Fashioned. It embodies the essence of the original cocktail concept – a straightforward mix of spirits, sugar, water, and bitters, making it a timeless favorite in the cocktail world.

Old Fashioned Cocktail

Old Fashioned

The Old Fashioned, a timeless cocktail icon, combines whiskey, sugar, bitters, and water, resulting in a smooth, amber-hued drink with a balance of sweet and bitter notes. It is served in a rocks glass and garnished with orange zest. It's perfect for various occasions, excellently paired with rich foods, and celebrated for its historical significance and enduring popularity.
Total Time 3 minutes
Print Recipe Pin Recipe


  • 1 Measuring jigger
  • 1 Bar spoon
  • 1 Lowball glass (old-fashioned glass or rocks glass)
  • 1 Citrus peeler/knife


  • 2 oz Whiskey (preferably bourbon or rye)
  • 3 dashes Angostura bitters (or to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon Sugar (or to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon Water (or to taste)
  • Orange zest twist (for garnish)
  • Cocktail cherry (optional - for garnish)
  • Ice cubes (ideally one large cube or sphere of clear ice)


  • Place Sugar in Glass: Begin by placing a teaspoon of sugar directly into the serving glass.
  • Add Bitters and Water: Splash Angostura bitters and water over the sugar.
  • Add Whiskey: Pour in your choice of whiskey, traditionally bourbon or rye.
  • Stir Gently: Stir the mixture gently to integrate all the flavors.
  • Add Ice: Place a large ice cube in the glass. (Optionally, stir again to slightly chill and dilute the drink.)
  • Garnish: Cut a strip of orange zest, run it around the edge of the glass, express the oils over the drink, and finally drop the peel into the cocktail. Optionally, include a cocktail cherry for a classic touch.


Calories: 171kcalCarbohydrates: 5gFat: 0.01gSodium: 0.3mgPotassium: 1mgSugar: 4gCalcium: 0.2mgIron: 0.01mg
Calories: 171kcal
Course: Drinks
Cuisine: Cocktail
Keyword: whiskey
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