Mix It Up

9 Ways To Take Your Old Fashioned To New Heights

From smokey and spicy interpretations to those that feature coffee, here are nine riffs on the classic whiskey cocktail to try.

Photo of Old Fashioned Cocktail with a cherry and orange slice
Nicole Kandi / EyeEm/Getty

The old fashioned is perhaps the most well-known cocktail in the world, an enduring classic. It’s old, and yet still fashionable to this day, having survived over a century of cocktail trends since its inception in 1880 at The Pendennis Club in Louisville, Kentucky. The basic recipe is simple: muddle a sugar cube with Angostura bitters, add in whiskey, stir with a couple of ice cubes, and garnish with orange peel and/or a maraschino cherry. But the resulting cocktail — sweet and aromatic, yet spirit-forward — hits all the right notes.

Of course there are many variations of the standard old fashioned recipe. Don Draper, who did his part to popularize the cocktail, once made it with rye (which adds a bit more spiciness) and the addition of soda water, to suit his taste. But excellent versions of the classic cocktail can be found at bars all over the world, as its base recipe is ripe for interpretation. A few inspired modifications — say, sherry instead of whiskey or maybe an interestingly flavored sweetener, a bit of smoke, or unique bitters — can transform the drink entirely while still keeping it familiar.

So, if you’re looking to add some new variety to your old fashioned, the nine variations below — favorite interpretations offered by bartenders and spirit experts — are a great place to start.

1. The Midnight Cowboy

I wanted to make a big, rich, stirred drink with layers of flavors. Sherry gives it that body I wanted, and the mezcal adds that nice herbal note with some light smoke,” says Ryan Dunton, bartender at Esters, Maui’s first craft cocktail bar, in Wailuku. “And who these days doesn’t like a smoked old fashioned?”

Ingredients

Directions

Stir the rye, mezcal, sherry, and bitters in a mixing glass with ice until chilled, then strain into a rocks glass with a large cube, and garnish with an orange twist.

2. The Great Jones Applewood Smoked Old Fashioned

While some bartenders use mezcal for its inherent hint of smokiness, others prefer using actual smoke. “Smoke is nothing but microscopic particles of ash and adds an aromatic quality to the cocktail,” says Esteban Ordonez, mixologist and brand ambassador for the Great Jones Distillery in New York City. “But it also changes the flavor as it dissolves and integrates with the liquid, giving it this dry orchard fruit and hints of vanilla and tobacco that is oddly familiar and pleasant in most people’s palate.” In addition to smoke, his Old Fashioned recipe features the use of brown sugar syrup, bourbon, and both orange and Angostura bitters.

Ingredients

  • 2oz. Great Jones Straight Bourbon
  • ¼oz. brown sugar syrup
  • 3 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 2 dashes orange bitters
  • A piece of cherrywood or applewood
  • Ice
  • Orange twist, for garnish

Directions

Ignite the piece of wood until it starts to show some burning and smoke, and then capture the smoke in a glass jar by holding the jar upside down over the burning wood. Mix the bourbon, syrup, and bitters into the jar to obtain the smokey, fruity flavors, then stir with ice. Pour into a rocks glass with ice. Garnish with an orange twist.

3. The Jilo Old Fashioned

While some palates have a preference for smokiness, some gravitate towards sweetness, and this variation delivers a hint of sweet corn by way of corn whisky and Nixta, a corn liquor from Mexico. “Let the robust and toasted notes of corn warm your body, while the light hint of chamomile, honey, and cocoa rounds everything out with a long finish,” says Cesar Sandoval, brand ambassador of the spirit. “This gives you a small taste of Mexico in the comfort of your own home.”

Ingredients

Directions

Add the Abasolo, Nixta, and bitters to a mixing glass. Add ice and stir until cold and diluted. Zest the citrus over a rocks glass and add fresh ice. Then strain the drink into the glass, and roll zest into attractive curls atop the ice as garnish.

4. The Skrewball New Fashioned

Peanut butter whiskey is the uncommon ingredient in this riff on the traditional old fashioned — and it’s well-worth trying for the peculiar but tasty notes. “We like this recipe because of how surprising it really is,” says Brad Gertz, the bar manager at Chicago’s Hub 51. “Customers come in and never expect to see a flavored whiskey in a classic cocktail, so this cocktail surprises — but never disappoints.”

Ingredients

Directions

Stir the whiskeys and bitters in a mixing glass. Then pour into a rocks glass with one large ice cube. Garnish with a cherry and orange twist.

5. The Marzalossa Fashioned

The inspiration for this old fashioned variation by Jessica King, co-owner and master mixologist at Knoxville’s Brother Wolf, came from a jaunt through Italy for a friend’s wedding.

“As we carefully maneuvered through crooked vineyard rows lined with 40+ year old Primitivo vines, we crossed a fig tree with fat fruit ready for picking.I filled the front of my t-shirt with as many juicy figs as I could carry, and headed back to our historic masseria to experiment,” she recounts, reminiscing about her contemplation on incorporating local ingredients into classic drinks. “I’m quite happy with what I was able to produce from someone else’s inventory and a bit of adaptation.”

Ingredients

Directions

Muddle the fig — with skin removed if you prefer — with the demerara syrup in a double rocks glass. Then add the whisky, bitters, and ice. Stir until it’s cold and well-mixed.

6. The Wisconsin Korbel Old Fashioned

When ordering an old fashioned in Wisconsin, a bartender will ask you to specify which one: the original old fashioned or the Wisconsin old fashioned, because by default, the state’s recipe is a tad different. Wisconsinites use brandy in lieu of whiskey, plus they add soda. “Instead of orange peels, we like to use orange slices. We muddle the fruit and sugar cubes, add ice, add the alcohol base and top it with straight 7 Up,” adds Tami Lax, owner of The Old Fashioned Tavern and Restaurant in Madison, a place so known for this cocktail they’re close to serving their one millionth one.

Ingredients

  • 2oz. Korbel brandy
  • 2 cubes of brown sugar
  • ½ slice of orange
  • 4 dashes of bitters
  • 7 Up lemon lime soda
  • Ice
  • ½ slice of orange and 1 maraschino cherry, for garnish

Directions

Muddle the sugar and orange with the brandy until it's slurry. Then pour it into a glass of ice and top it up with 7 Up. Garnish with the orange and maraschino cherry.

7. The Bold Fashioned

“I really enjoy this variation on the old fashioned, as it includes flavors often used in Latin culture,” says Sergio Serna, brand ambassador for Woodford Reserve. Growing up in a Mexican household, spice was always a big component to any dish or beverage Serna encountered. “Aromatic and chile spices are a great additive to coffee as well as to mole, which are all flavors that can be detected in Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey,” he says. “The brandied cherry is a nice treat to snack on as the garnish.”

Ingredients

  • 2oz. Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
  • ½oz. ancho chile infused coffee liqueur*
  • ½oz. cinnamon syrup**
  • 2-3 dashes chocolate bitters
  • Ice
  • 1 brandied cherry, for garnish

Directions

Combine the whiskey, chile-infused coffee liquor, cinnamon syrup, and bitters in a mixing glass. Add ice and stir until the outside of the glass is chilled, then strain into a rocks glass. Add one big cube if available—if not, three regular cubes will work—and garnish with the brandied cherry.

*For the ancho chile infused coffee liquor

Add 4–5 chilies to a bottle of coffee liqueur and let it sit at room temperature for 3–4 days, then strain.

For the cinnamon syrup

Add 1 cup of water, 1 cup of granulated sugar, and 4–5 cinnamon sticks in a saucepan and bring it to a boil until sugar is dissolved. Let it cool at room temperature and then strain.

8. The Starward Cold Fashioned

If you want your cocktail to have a little pick-me-up, then this one might be up your alley. “​​The Cold Fashioned simply replaces the sugar component in your classic Old Fashioned with coffee liqueur,” says Sean O’Connell, brand ambassador for Starward Australian Whisky. “We like an equal parts combination of Starward Two Fold and Mr. Black with a dash of orange bitters. This also leaves room to be creative.”

Ingredients

Directions

Combine the whisky, coffee liqueur, and bitters in a mixing glass and stir with ice until very cold. Pour into a rocks glass over 1 large ice cube with orange zest.

9. The Proper Old Fashioned

This Irish whisky riff of the old fashioned is so Irish that there’s Guinness in it — and it also happens to be an ideal cocktail for the autumn season. “The Proper Old Fashioned delivers the perfect combination of fall spice, malted sweetness, and the delicious vanilla and honey flavor of Proper No. Twelve,” says Nick Fogel, beverage director of New York’s Late Late Bar & Spirit Grocer. “This brooding cocktail is sure to bring out the best evenings of all who enjoy it!”

Ingredients

  • 1½qt. Guinness
  • 1qt. demerara sugar
  • 2 sticks of cinnamon
  • 2tbsp. pink peppercorn
  • 2oz. Proper No. Twelve Irish Whiskey
  • ¼oz. Amaro Nonino
  • 1 dash walnut bitters
  • Orange zest, for garnish

Directions

Combine ¼oz. of the Guinness syrup** with the Irish whisky, amaro, and bitters in a mixing glass with ice, and stir to chill. Then strain it into a rocks glass, and garnish with the orange zest.

**To make Guinness syrup,

Bring the Guinness to a simmer in a saucepan and allow it to reduce by approximately half. Add in the cinnamon and pink peppercorn, then whisk in demerara sugar. Stir and simmer for five minutes, allowing the mixture to thicken. Then let it cool and save it for future recipes.