Old Fashioned Cocktail — Recipe and History

There’s hardly a more quintessential drink than the Old Fashioned. It’s the classy, tuxedoed friend of the late-night circuit, a bartender’s staple, and a bargoer’s greatest ally.

As the name implies, the history of the Old Fashioned goes back a good way. But is the Old Fashioned as old-fashioned as we think?

Read on for the answer and a recipe that will knock your Don Draper hair wax off.

Table of Contents

The Origins of the Old Fashioned

In 1862, a magical book hit the printing press: Bartenders Guide: How to Mix Drinks. This volume, penned by one Jerry Thomas, provided all the secrets one needed to know to serve libations to the merry folk of yore.

The book is a window into early bartending etiquette, but it contains something else notable: one of the first mentions of the Old Fashioned. In the text, it’s called an Old Fashioned Holland Gin Cocktail:

“Crush a small lump of sugar in a whiskey glass containing a little water, add a lump of ice, two dashes of Angostura bitters, a small piece of lemon peel, one jigger Holland gin. Mix with a small bar spoon. Serve.”

One thing that may strike you about this recipe is that it does not mention actual whiskey, which we now consider indispensable to the Old Fashioned. Instead, he opted for gin.

Conflicting Accounts

As with almost every other cocktail out there, there are mixed accounts of who/what/when/where, and so forth. In 2005, an article in The Courier-Journal credited a private Kentucky club called the Pendennis Club as the originator of the Old Fashioned.

The man behind the hardwood was James E. Pepper, famed for his bartending skills and his aristocratic scholarship of bourbon. He is claimed to have invented the Old Fashioned there in Louisville, though he soon migrated to New York City. Here he got a gig slinging drinks at the Waldorf-Astoria, where he officially premiered his supposed invention.

The very same year, an article by the Chicago Daily Tribune stated that Samuel Tilden — who at the time was running for president — would no longer be doing so. Tilden had served as the 25th mayor of New York City and was running as a Democrat. To provide ceremony for his withdrawal, they had served a familiar drink: “Hot-whiskies, Scotch and Irish, particularly the latter, sour-mashes, and old-fashioned cocktails were drank in honor of the event.”

The Old Fashioned Through History

In 1895, George Kappeler published Modern American Drinks in the USA. Numerous fantastic recipes were contained within its leather bookends, among them the Old Fashioned Whiskey Cocktail.

The recipe reads:

“Dissolve a small lump of sugar with a little water in a whiskey-glass; add two dashes Angostura bitters, a small piece of ice, a piece of lemon-peel, one jigger whiskey. Mix with small bar-spoon and serve, leaving spoon in glass.”

Our story concludes with New Year’s Day, 1936. On this day, the New York Times published an article ruminating on the years following the repeal of Prohibition. Among the myriad recipes is one for the Old Fashioned:

“Consider, for instance, the Old-Fashioned cocktail. Time was when the affable and sympathetic bartender moisted a lump of sugar with Angostura bitter, dropped in a lump of ice, neither too large or too small, stuck in a miniature bar spoon, and passed the glass to the client with a bottle of good bourbon from which said client was privileged to pour his own drink.”

Note the ending there — the client could pour as much gin as they wanted. Now that’s bartending.

old fashioned cocktail recipe

How to Make the Perfect Old Fashioned

Enjoy one of our favorite recipes: the Old Fashioned.

  • Prep Time 5 Minutes
  • Cook Time 1 Minutes
  • Total Time 6 Minutes
  • Serves 1 People
  • Calories 151 kcal

Ingredients

  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 3 dashes of Angostura bitters
  • 1 tsp water
  • 2 oz bourbon
  • Orange peel (for garnish)

Instructions

  1. Start by dissolving sugar, bitters, and water in a rock glass.
  2. Stir thoroughly until the sugar dissolves.
  3. Next, add large ice cubes and pour the bourbon.
  4. Stir it gently to combine it.
  5. Squeeze the orange peel’s oil around the glass and drop it in.

Notes

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Brooklyn native, accent-having, travel lover, wordsmith and bud enthusiast. Versed from the streets of NYC, mixed with some world influence, writer/editor and medical user extraordinaire, JJ is here to tell you like it is and guide you to the finest. Brooklyn's favorite feminine stoner, your neighborhood contributor, wrapping leaves like a bandage and bringing you along for the ride.

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