POPSUGAR Celebrity

There's Nothing Old or Out of Fashion About the Old Fashioned Cocktail

Nov 20 2015 - 6:00am

Until I read Imbibe [1] by David Wondrich, a wonderfully nerdy book about the history of boozin', I thought an old fashioned was bourbon served over ice, sugar, bitters, and a muddle of oranges and maraschino cherries. But turns out, that fruit-laden recipe is pretty much the antithesis of what an old fashioned cocktail was intended to be.

When bartenders first started serving cocktails, they were ridiculously simple: some type of spirit (usually bourbon or gin), gum syrup, bitters, and a shaving of nutmeg. But by the 1870s, so many variations had been introduced — the "fancy cocktail" with curaçao, the absinthe "improved" version — that purists wanted a return to the original formula. Hence, the old fashioned cocktail, with the slightly fancier lemon peel taking the place of nutmeg.

It may sound off-puttingly simple, but I think you'll be surprised at how complex this old fashioned tastes. If you have simple syrup made, you can use that instead of the water and sugar, but either one works. As a great showcase for bourbon, it would make an ideal drink for a Kentucky Derby [2] party.

Old Fashioned Cocktail

Old Fashioned Cocktail


Granulated sugar, sugar in the raw, or simple syrup can be used to sweeten the cocktail. Use whatever you have on hand.

Recipe For Bourbon Old-Fashioned Cocktail


1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
2 dashes Angostura bitters
2 ounces bourbon
1/2 teaspoon water
1 twist of lemon peel


  1. In a whiskey glass, add sugar and bitters. Add bourbon and stir with a small barspoon until sugar dissolves. Fill glass with ice and a splash of water. Stir once more and garnish with a lemon peel twist.
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