For almost as long as we have been enjoying whiskey, we have also been making old fashioned cocktails. While the exact origins of the “modern” old fashioned are lost to history, according to the Whiskey Rebellion Trail, mentions of old fashioned cocktails date back to the 1800s, and are believed to have originated either in Louisville, Kentucky or in New York City.
One thing we can all agree on, however, is the simple addition of sugar, bitters, and ice can elevate your favorite dram of whiskey into a completely different drinking experience. What started as more of a necessity, when the quality of whiskey was questionable at best and fraudulent at worst, has evolved into a classic cocktail enjoyed across the globe. We have gone from trying to make consuming whiskey a little more palatable to crafting something delicious.
Bourbon has traditionally been the most common style of whiskey to be transformed into an old fashioned, but today there is nothing stopping you from mixing up different whiskey styles, bitters, and sweeteners to create something unique and pleasing to your palate. Below are some of our favorite unique whiskeys to use in an old fashioned cocktail.
Although you may not fully know why, you are probably aware that not all bourbons are created equal. Whether it be the time they were aged, the quality of ingredients, or the climate the barrels were stored in, all these factors change the flavor. One of the most important components of bourbons flavor is the grain recipe, or mashbill. All bourbon is required to be made up of 51% corn, but the other 49% may contain more corn, barley, rye, wheat, or other less common grains. We’ll cover two unique mashbill categories to make different but delicious.
First, wheated bourbon, which includes a high proportion of wheat in the mash. The resulting flavor profiles of these bourbons tend to be smoother and sweeter than other bourbon recipes. If you prefer your old fashioned cocktail on the sweet side, grab one of these bottles. We recommend: Maker’s Mark 46, Redemption Wheated Bourbon, or W.L. Weller Special Reserve.
High Rye Bourbon
If you like your drinks a little bit spicier, than the bourbon you are looking for should be a high rye bourbon. While still retaining the vanilla, caramel, and oaky notes that make bourbon such a popular style of whiskey, the addition of rye to the mash adds spicy, peppery, and herbal flavors as well.
High rye bourbons pack a bit more of a flavor punch generally but stand up well to the added sugar content in an old fashioned. The resulting cocktail is a bit more well-rounded and fuller flavored. We recommend: Basil Hayden, FEW Bourbon Whiskey, or Four Roses Small Batch Select.
Want even more pepper and spice? Go straight for the American rye whiskey. Another staple in classic old fashioned cocktail making, rye in the US must be made of 51% rye grain, with the other 49% of the mash coming from other grains, like bourbon’s definition.
The juxtaposition of rye spice and sugar works surprisingly well in this cocktail. This is further accented with decent dose of bitters, creating a slightly more complex tasting drink. We recommend: High West Double Rye, Old Forrester Rye, or Rittenhouse Rye.
There is no reason you need to stick with just whiskey produced in the United States when crafting your perfect old fashioned. While Canadian Whisky has gotten a bad rap, in part due to the mass produced and watered-down product exported during the American Prohibition, there are some quality bottles from up north, if you can get your hands on them. Canadian Whisky is also very rye heavy, although the standards and blending process are different than American rye.
While the typical Canadian flavor profile is a bit more subtle than bourbon or American Rye, there are some more flavorful options out there. We recommend: Alberta Premium Cask Strength, Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye, or Lot No. 40 Dark Oak.
Bonus. Want to make it a really Canadian old fashioned? Replace your sugar or simple syrup with a high-quality barrel aged maple syrup. You won’t regret it!
Can Irish Whiskey be used in an old fashioned? Sure, why not! The flavors common in many Irish Whiskeys sit somewhere in between bourbon and single malt Scotch. Due to the unique distillation process and use of single pot stills, a unique, gingerbread cookie type flavor note is produced that gives Irish Whiskey a distinct sweet flavor.
Similar to the wheated bourbon group, if you have a sweet tooth when it comes to your favorite old fashioned, substituting a dram from Ireland may be right up your alley. We recommend: Jameson Caskmates Stout Edition, Redbreast 12 Year Old, or Teeling Single Grain.
Many Japanese Whiskies are blended explicitly for mixing, but traditionally they are used in a highball cocktail with soda water, and not old fashioned cocktails. Japanese Whisky often features delicate, subtle flavor notes that can easily be overpowered by the sugar and bitters added. That may be okay for you and your taste preference, but just be aware that less is more when adding things to Japanese Whisky. We recommend: Nikka Coffey Malt, Suntory Whisky Toki, or Yamato Whisky.
There is a whole world of whiskey from Scotland out there, but we are just going to highlight one unique style that will turn your old fashioned on its head. Most popular from distilleries in the Islay region of Scotland, although produced elsewhere, is peated Scotch. If you aren’t a Scotch drinker and think you hate Scotch, this is probably why.
The malted barley used is dried over peat fueled fires. Peat is essentially a very fertile, organic dirt, but when used in Scotch production, adds a distinct smokey and earthy flavor to the Scotch that people absolutely love or hate.
Peated Scotch is generally enjoyed neat or on the rocks, but don’t let that stop you from trying to turn it into an old fashioned. The combination of sweet and smokey is truly a one-of-a-kind flavor experience. We recommend: Ardbeg Wee Beastie, Johnnie Walker Black, or Laphroaig Quarter Cask.
While it is called an “old fashioned” for a reason, modern mixologists and whiskey enthusiasts have continued to push the envelope of flavor by mixing up the ingredients included. Try using your favorite whiskey, no matter the style. Swap out the traditional demerara sugar for maple syrup or agave. Standard Angostura bitters are great, but there are literally hundreds of unique bitters flavors out there you can replace it with or add to it. This simple, easy to make cocktail has limitless possibilities!
Sean Sirianni is the CEO and co-founder of Abov App and is on a mission to help you find your next favorite whiskey. Abov is an application that lets you scan a whiskey bottle, see user reviews, add to your collection, see where to buy, and share your ratings of the whiskeys you have tried. Interested in learning more about whiskey? Head over to www.abovapp.com to find out more!