How to Make an Old Fashioned the Right Way

how to make an old fashioned cocktail
Dan Baker/The Manual

The Old Fashioned, as the name indicates, is a pretty old cocktail. To get to its origin, we have to go back to the first documentation of the word “cocktail,” which happened in the early 1800s. In response to a reader’s question, The Balance and Columbian Repository of Hudson, New York, explained that a cocktail was a mix of booze, sugar, bitters, and water. Simple, right? It’s basically the Occam’s Razor of the cocktail world.

Over the next couple of decades, the Old Fashioned popped up in various places, most notably in Jerry Thomas’ seminal cocktail book Jerry Thomas’ Bartender’s Guide, where he writes of an Old Fashioned Holland Gin Cocktail. In the following years, any number of spirits were used in an Old Fashioned. In fact, it was not uncommon for liqueurs such as curaçao to be added.

how to make an old fashioned cocktail
Dan Baker/The Manual

It wasn’t until the 1880s that the bourbon-based Old Fashioned that we know and love today was invented. At the Pendennis Club in Louisville, Kentucky, a bartender is said to have used bourbon in honor of James E. Pepper, a local distiller. This concept was brought to New York City and the rest, as they say, is history.

With such a storied past, it’s important to know how to make an Old Fashioned the proper way. You want something spirit-forward that allows the bourbon to shine. Here, we are using Belle Meade Bourbon, and we also enlisted the help of Anna Maceda, beverage director of Grand Army Tavern in Portland, Oregon.

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For those that find themselves in Portland, Grand Army Tavern (located in the Woodlawn neighborhood) is hog heaven for pork and cocktail lovers, with selections ranging from house-made charcuterie to porchetta and spiced butt roast sliders (bonus points if you can say the name without giggling). Those dishes, as well as the wide array of vegetarian options, go perfectly with the drink program, which ranges from light and Sunday morning-ready to spirit-forward.

How to Make an Old Fashioned

Glass: Old Fashioned glass (aka rocks glass)
Tools: Muddler, stirring spoon, large ice cube maker


  • 2 oz Belle Meade Bourbon
  • 3-4 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 1-2 dashes water
  • 1 sugar cube
  • Orange peel

Method: Add sugar cube, bitters, and water to Old Fashioned glass. Muddle together. Add bourbon and a large cube of ice. Stir. Express orange peel over the top of the glass and drop in.

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