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The History of the Old Fashioned: The Life of a Classic Cocktail

The Old Fashioned is one of the most popular mixed drinks in the world. This classic, rich drink is well-loved for a reason — it’s one of the best ways a person can enjoy a good whisky.

But where did it come from? And why is it called an Old Fashioned?

Let’s go through the history of the Old Fashioned cocktail.

The Origins of the Old Fashioned

In the early 1800s, it was called the Whisky Cocktail.

The original cocktail formula was a simple mixture of whisky, sugar, and bitters, with lemon as a garnish. It was often used as a hangover cure, but during Prohibition, the practice of drinking a Whisky Cocktail for breakfast somewhat fell out of favour.

Once Prohibition was repealed, the Whisky Cocktail came back with a vengeance. Bartenders started experimenting, adding other liquors like absinthe to the mix.

Who Invented the Old Fashioned Cocktail?

In 1880,  James E. Pepper invented the first true Old Fashioned, at the Pendennis Club in Louisville, Kentucky.

That’s according to the Pendennis Club, of course -—accounts have varied over the years, but certainly, their claim is one of the longest-lasting. In 2015, Louisville declared the Old Fashioned the official drink of the city!

This true form of the Old Fashioned consisted of whisky, sugar, and bitters, sometimes adding a fruit garnish or citrus muddle as well.

Pepper was a Colonel and a whisky distiller who he had bartender Martin Caneo make the drink.

Pepper eventually brought the Old Fashioned to the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, and the rest is history.

The Old Fashioned is short for “old fashioned style whiskey cocktail”. Referring back to before Prohibition, it was simply the Whisky Cocktail.

The first Old Fashioned recipe to be printed was in George Kappeler’s Modern American Drinks in 1895. The drink was mentioned in the New York Times as early as 1936, in a column about how to properly mix a drink.

The Old Fashioned Cocktail Today

The Old Fashioned has remained a popular cocktail for many years. It’s a simple, easy to make drink that many people enjoy, even if they like to get a little fancy with their cocktails nowadays.

That’s part of what makes the Old Fashioned so great and why it’s persisted as a popular drink for so long. It’s so simple.

But what makes it so appealing is that if you get bored of it, you can tweak the Old Fashioned recipe so it becomes exciting once again, such as a fruit twist for a fun addition.

Changing what whisky you use as a base or what bitters you use to flavour the drink can totally change the taste of your Old Fashioned.

However, an Old Fashioned should always be in a classic Old Fashioned glass. The two go so hand in hand that there’s a glass named after the famous drink. This short tumbler glass is perfect for an Old Fashioned with just the right amount of space for ice cubes. No other glass can really compare!

So, if you’re preparing to start making Old Fashioneds in your home, make sure you invest in a quality whisky, good bitters and proper Old Fashioned glass.

How to Make an Old Fashioned

If you’re just starting out in the cocktail making game, it’s best to keep it simple with your Old Fashioneds. Whisky, sugar syrup, bitters, and orange garnishes are your best bet. You can even use an Old Fashioned cocktail kit to make things easier for yourself.

If you’re looking to get a little fancier, there are plenty of simple ways to change it up. A maraschino cherry makes for a fabulous twist on the classic Old Fashioned cocktail. Adding a splash of club soda can help the components in the drink meld together more easily (just a splash, though!).

A sprig of dried rosemary can add a herby feel to the classic cocktail. Adding extra lemon, grapefruit, and orange can bring out the citrusy notes of a good whisky.

Mixing a little cognac with the whisky can add some complexity to the drink. Adding multiple complementary types of bitters can really take your Old Fashioned to the next level.

If you’re looking to truly take it up a notch, you can switch out the classic whisky for some tequila, and mix with agave syrup. Switch the whisky for rum if you’re looking for a sweeter twist on the classic drink.

If you fancy something even sweeter, add some marshmallow syrup and chocolate bitters for the perfect dessert tipple.

Or, if you’re just not a citrus person, switch out oranges and other citrus fruits for apple garnishes and honey for a delicate twist.

No matter what, make sure you’re using a quality whisky, quality bitters, and keeping your drink nice and cold with plenty of ice cubes.

The History of the Old Fashioned is Just the Beginning

Clearly, the Old Fashioned is one of the tastiest drinks out there. But, it’s just the beginning when it comes to classic drinks. Make sure that you look into all of your various cocktail options for all of your sipping needs, at every point in the year. There are so many options available for you, so don’t limit yourself to just one cocktail!

Are you interested in making Old Fashioned cocktails and other classic drinks? Make sure you check out some of our classic cocktail kits today for easy mixing at home.


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