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An old fashioned cocktail in a rocks glass garnished with a strip of orange peel.
Photo by Joseph De Leo, Food Styling by Michelle Gatton
  • Prep Time

    2 minutes

  • Total Time

    2 minutes

The invention of the classic old-fashioned is frequently (and probably inaccurately) credited to a bartender at the Pendennis Club in Louisville, Kentucky, who, around the turn of the 20th century, reportedly made the drink for Colonel James E. Pepper, a member of the club and by some accounts a prominent bourbon distiller.

There’s a strikingly similar cocktail in Jerry Thomas’s 1862 How to Mix Drinks, or the Bon-Vivant’s Companion, called the Whiskey Cocktail. What probably happened at Pendennis, says Robert Hess, founder of and cofounder of the Museum of the American Cocktail, was that the bartender served a Whiskey Cocktail made the old-fashioned way—that is, the spirit combined with sugar, bitters, and water, the way cocktails were made as early as 1806.  

Like a manhattan or a martini, the best old-fashioned recipe for you is the one you love. It’s a stirred drink generally made right in the glass you’ll sip it from. Some prefer to swap the simple syrup for a muddled sugar cube or granulated sugar (doused in the warmly spiced Angostura bitters). That allows the flavor to evolve as you sip your way down the drink, starting bracingly strong and winding up softer and sweeter. A careful muddle is needed to prevent grit. You could also play around with the sweetener, using maple syrup or even the liquid from a jar of cocktail cherries instead. As for the bitters, making a simple old-fashioned cocktail with a different brand of aromatic bitters—or even swapping them out for Peychaud’s, orange bitters, or whatever you fancy—is a wonderful way to observe how the different seasonings play along in a drink.

An orange peel (or lemon peel) garnish, expressed over the top of the drink and then dropped in, offers citrusy aroma and a touch of bitterness to balance the drink, while an orange slice moves things into juicier territory. Some love bourbon here, others prefer peppery rye whiskey—either way, it improves the drink to start with higher-proof spirits. (Here’s our guide to the best whiskey for cocktails and sipping.) Swap in gin for the whiskey in the old-fashioned recipe below, and you’ll have an excellent gin old-fashioned. For more variations, see this guide to riffing on classic cocktail recipes—and a list of more essential classic cocktails to try at home.


Makes 1 cocktail

⅛ oz. simple syrup
2 dashes Angostura bitters, plus more to taste
1 half dollar-size slice orange peel, including pith
2 oz. good-quality rye or bourbon
1 maraschino cherry (preferably a Luxardo cherry)
  1. In an old-fashioned glass, combine ⅛ oz. simple syrup and 2 dashes Angostura bitters. Fill glass halfway with ice, then stir about a dozen times. Add enough ice to fill glass. Squeeze 1 half dollar-size slice orange peel, including pith, over glass to extract oils, add peel to glass, then add 2 oz. good-quality rye or bourbon. Stir just until drink is cold and the bite has softened, about a dozen times. Garnish with 1 maraschino cherry (preferably a Luxardo cherry)

    Editor’s note: This old-fashioned recipe first appeared on Epicurious in August 2006. Head this way for more of our favorite easy cocktail recipes

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  • Try replacing the simple syrup with maraschino cherry juice from the jar. Further, regular old blende whiskey gives it more taste as pricey whiskies are wasted with the sweet and bitter ingredients. Bourbon especially makes it too sweet for me.

    • Anonymous

    • 10/8/2022

  • I like this version. 2 oz of your favorite rye mine old overholt. Tablespoon of maple syrup 4 to 5 shakes of bitters. Combine in mixing glass with a couple cubes of ice stir for 20 turns. While you are doing this smoke a glass with big ice Once done mixing pour into smoked glass and garnish with a slice of bacon 🥓

    • Jay

    • 12/20/2021

  • Yummmm… dry smooth, just the right amount of sweetness, I use dried mandarins since I don’t usually have fresh oranges around.

    • Heidi

    • Turner, OR

    • 10/12/2021

  • One of the best recipes I've come across for an Old Fashioned. I also enjoy Epicurious' discussion regarding the drinks I prefer.

    • Dave W

    • Indianapolis

    • 8/29/2021

  • Love it, thanks for sharing this recipe. :)

    • michellecatapang123

    • 12/9/2020

  • My father would make Old Fashions for family gatherings, laying out the glasses in a row and ceremoniously serving them to all. He started out using simple syrup but it was easier to use the maraschino cherry juice, a couple shakes of bitters, bourbon, ice, and an orange slice and cherry. Even though he is gone, we still make it this way as best we can for family occasions.

    • peglind

    • Portland, OR

    • 2/21/2020

  • 2 shots Jameson’s, 1 shot Triple Sec, 1/2 shot Crown Royal Black, 1/2 shot Cherry Brandy, 1 BadaBing Cherry - shake with ice, strain, over ice, add cherry - Amazing & Super Smooth!

    • nwinther

    • Simi Valley, CA

    • 3/22/2019

  • Sound great- I tend not to like things too sweet and often find myself a little low on fresh oranges- I have been known to use a splash of Grand Marnier with great success. And no simple syrup or sugar- the Grand Marnier is sweet enough.

    • bora555

    • PortlandPppppppPpppPo

    • 4/7/2017

  • We stirred the drink in a cocktail shaker with ice and then poured over ice in a smoked glass. The cedar chip smoke added a nice additional flavour

    • guyaderl

    • BC

    • 1/20/2017

  • Perfect!

    • saoakman2

    • 1/1/2017

  • I don't always have an orange around so I'll throw in a scant splash of OJ. The bourbon and bitter's taste still comes through.

    • howiebear

    • San Diego

    • 11/2/2016

  • I made this Old Fashioned, I was out of oranges but used a fresh lemon instead. It was the best Old Fashioned I have ever tasted. I used Texas Spirit Bourbon, some of you may be bourbon snobs but I love anything made my Texas Spirit and it costs a lot less than many other brands. Anyway this recipe was really really good.

    • Anonymous

    • Houston, Tx

    • 9/15/2016

  • I don't know what a wisconcin old fashioned is but the classic (traditional) old fashioned is made with whiskey (bourbon or rye whiskey)

    • mikecanavan

    • Virginia

    • 6/15/2011

  • At college in Wisconsin, there were "brandy old fashion sweets" and "brandy old fashion sours". Since I was drinking at the time, I never learned the actual ingredients - or I may have, but lost the recipe after too many nights of old fashions. They are truly a Wisconsin staple.

    • Anonymous

    • boston, ma

    • 5/22/2008

  • The Wisconsin Old Fashioned sounds interesting, (I'll try it this evening) but The Old Fashioned is a classic! My family switches to them in the winter, particularly around Christmas. Try it with Woodford Reserve!

    • jeffdenniscampbell

    • 9/25/2006

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