Cool Sips From “The Old-Fashioned: The Story Of the World’s First Classic Cocktail With Recipes & Lore”

The Old-Fashioned is a complete history of one of the world’s most iconic and beloved cocktails—now the poster child of the modern cocktail revival—with 50 recipes for classic variations, regional specialties, and contemporary twists. 

This playful, unexpected, and informative guide by New York Times spirits columnist Robert Simonson explores the history of the Old-Fashioned: its birth as the “ur-cocktail” in the late nineteenth century, ascension in the 1950s and 1960s (as portrayed and re-popularized by Don Draper on Mad Men), and renaissance as the star of the contemporary craft cocktail movement.  Perfect for any whiskey-lover, the book is sleek and stylish with striking photography.

Not since the martini craze of the 1990s has there been a drink so singularly adored and debated.  Today, the Old-Fashioned has even eclipsed the martini as the quintessential drink of the contemporary cocktail movement—every serious cocktail program has their own version.

Cocktails are elegant, accessible, and delicious with recipes for such drinks as The Clint Eastwood (with green Chartruse), Absinthe Old-Fashioned, The Bartender (with Fernet Branca), Genever Old-Fashioned, and of course the classic Rye/Bourbon Old-Fashioned.  Recipes paired with a thrilling and fun history, The Old-Fashioned is destined to become a classic on par with its namesake beverage.

Old-Fashioned cover

Reprinted with permission from The Old-Fashioned  by Robert Simonson, copyright (c) 2014.  Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Random House LLC.  Photography (c) 2014 by Daniel Krineger.  Support your local bookstore, or buy the book through our affiliate link at

Old rye bourbon


Today’s widespread experimentation notwithstanding, when you’re talking about an authentic Old-Fashioned, the central debate is always this: rye or bourbon.  In the late 1800s and early 1900s, preferences were probably fairly evenly split and depended heavily on region.  In the decades after Prohibition, bourbon slowly but surely developed an edge, and rye, thought old-fashioned and somewhat disreputable (The Lost Weekend , etc.), fell into eclipse.  In recent years, rye has made a big comeback, so drinkers once again have a choice.  Doctrinaire purists tend to insist on rye, thinking it the more historically authentic choice, but both function admirably.  Simply put, bourbon will give you a mellower and sweeter cocktail, whereas rye will deliver a bit more spice and kick.  Among American whiskeys that provide the best value for their price—and make an outstanding Old-Fashioned—I recommend Elijah Craig 12 Year Old and Henry McKenna Single Barrel (make sure it’s the bonded) bourbons, and Rittenhouse 100-Proof and Bulleit ryes.  (McKenna, which can be difficult to find outside Kentucky, strikes a nice balance, spice-wise, between the Elijah Craig and Rittenhouse).

2 ounces rye or bourbon

1 sugar cube

2 dashes Angostura bitters

Orange twist

Muddle the sugar, bitters, and a barspoon of warm water at the bottom of an Old-Fashioned glass until the sugar is dissolved.  Add the rye or bourbon.  Stir.  Add one large chunk of ice and stir until chilled.  Twist a large piece of orange zest over the drink and drop into the glass.

Old malacca


Bobby Heugel, Anvil Bar & Refuge, Houston, 2010

Malacca was a softer style of gin that Tanqueray released in 1997.  It didn’t catch on, though, and it slowly vanished from liquor store shelves.  A few years later mixologists realized that the lost Malacca was probably just the thing for all the nineteenth-century cocktail recipes they were trying to re-create that called for Old Tom gin.  Tanqueray finally responded in 2013 with a one-time-only run of Malacca.  “It’s a pretty basic cocktail,” says Heugel, “as I was asked to make a drink with a limited supply of the Malacca before the rerelease.  I tried to really just showcase the gin without altering it much.”  If Tanqueray stays true to their word, the Malacca supply will eventually run out.  When and if that happens, you can swap in the sweeter but similar Hayman’s Old Tom gin, which is here to stay.

2 ounces Tanqueray Malacca gin

1 barspoon Demerara syrup (page 73)

2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters

1 dash Angostura orange bitters

Lemon twist

Combine all the ingredients except the lemon twist in an Old-Fashioned glass.  Add one large chunk of ice and stir until chilled.  Twist a large piece of lemon zest over the drink and drop into the glass.

Old absinthe


Doug Petry, Rye, Louisville, Kentucky, 2012

This cocktail wasn’t on the menu the night I walked into Rye, an excellent and adventurous young restaurant in Louisville’s East Market District.  But after a short chat with the bartender, the drink came up in conversation.  I ordered it as a sort of dare, to see if it was possible that lethally strong absinthe could function as the base of an Old-Fashioned.  “We wanted to do a menu based on the Old-Fashioned with the basic recipe coming down to base spirit, bittering agent, and sweetening agent,” said Petry.  “We wanted to try it with some spirits that weren’t typical and thought absinthe would be a fun way to go with it.  After a few missteps, we found a recipe that we liked and went with it.”  It takes an equal measure of sweet stuff—in this case a combination of simple syrup and elderflower liqueur—to tame the fiery power of the absinthe.  But tame it, it does, while also nicely toning down the licorice flavor.  The Peychaud’s adds a needed dry note as well as provides some color to the milky green liquid.  Still, don’t make the mistake of drinking two of these.  In fact, make it your final drink of the night.  You won’t need another.

1½ ounces Kübler absinthe

1 ounce simple syrup (page 73)

½ ounce St-Germain elderflower liqueur

3 or 4 dashes Peychaud’s bitters

Combine the absinthe, simple syrup, and St-Germain in a mixing glass filled with ice and stir until chilled.  Strain over a large chunk of ice in an Old-Fashioned glass.  Float the Peychaud’s bitters on top.

From Page 73:

SIMPLE SYRUP (makes 1 cup)

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

Heat the sugar and water in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar has dissolved.  The moment the water begins to boil, remove from the heat, let cool, then refrigerate.  Stored tightly sealed in the refrigerator, the syrup will keep for 1 week.


Simonson_RobertRobert Simonson is a leading authority on spirits and cocktail culture in the U.S. and has written about cocktails, spirits, bars, and bartenders for the Times (including an early piece on the resurrection of the Old-Fashioned) and its food and drink blog, Diner’s Journal.  His writings have also appeared regularly in GQ, Wine Enthusiast, Wine Advocate, Imbibe, Edible Manhattan and Edible Brooklyn, and Time Out New York.  The author of four books, he will be featured in an upcoming documentary about the cocktail renaissance filmed by 4th Row Films.

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