The History of the Old Fashioned

The History of the Old Fashioned

Old Fashioned Cocktail Recipe

An Old Fashioned is a classic cocktail recipe. Its appeal lies in its simplicity and combination of flavors, but also in its adaptation. You can do a surprising amount with a cocktail that’s essentially only got 4 ingredients.

Let’s take a look at the history of the Old Fashioned before covering a recipe and some of the most popular variations.

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The History of the Old Fashioned

Despite not receiving its name until nearly 80 years later, the Old Fashioned is believed to have been the first drink linked to the word cocktail. A reader sent in a letter to the New York magazine, The Balance and Columbian Repository, asking for a definition of “cock-tail”. The response was “a drink made of potent spirits, water, sugar and bitters”, which is essentially an Old Fashioned.

However, it wasn’t until the early 1880s that the drink got its official name. The story goes that The Pendennis Club in Louisville, Kentucky, invented the drink for one of its patrons. Colonel James E. Pepper was a local bourbon distiller who produced Old Pepper Kentucky whisky.

The name is believed to be a shortened version of “old fashioned whisky cocktail”, considering people were drinking it in the late 18th century. However, it could also be a nod to Pepper’s whisky brand, which would fit with the idea of it being an honorary drink.

Pepper then took the cocktail recipe with him to New York City, as he was a frequent visitor of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. During the 20th century, cocktails became even more popular than before, and the Old Fashioned cemented its place as a classic among the greats.

In fact, a 2020 survey concluded that it’s the best-selling cocktail internationally. Louisville also celebrates the drink with an annual event in June called “Old Fashioned Fortnight”. It includes cocktail and bourbon events, parties, and National Bourbon Day, which is June 14.

Old Fashioned Recipe


Cocktail Critters Old Fashioned Recipe Instagram Reel


The recipe for an Old Fashioned is pretty simple, although you’ll want to practice it a lot to get the flavors right. Here’s our Old Fashioned recipe:

  • 60ml (2oz) Scotch Whisky
  • 10~15ml (1/2oz) Sugar Syrup
  • 3 dashes of Bitters
  • Garnish: Orange Twist

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and stir until well diluted & chilled. Strain into a chilled rocks glass over our Scotch Ness Critter Whisky Stone (or ice.. I guess) spritz an orange twist and garnish.

In his 1895 book, Modern American Drinks, George Kappeler suggests several variations. They’re pretty simple, as they just involve replacing the whisky with another spirit. Popular alternatives include Plymouth dry gin, brandy, Holland gin, and Curacao.

Finding the Best Old Fashioned

If you want to drink the best Old Fashioned, it seems logical to go to its birthplace of Louisville, Kentucky. One review states that Down One Bourbon Bar offers the best, closely followed by Bar Vetti and B Catch 23, which has more than 100 different bourbons to try!

Perfecting Your Old Fashioned

Scotch Ness Critter Whisky Stone

Now that you’ve got the best recipe for an Old Fashioned, you’ll need to spend some time perfecting the balance of bitters and sugar. An Old Fashioned should always be enjoyed cold over ice, but we recommend using our Scotch Ness Critter whisky stone. It keeps your drink cold but doesn’t dilute the perfect balance of flavors. Check it out for your Old Fashioned experiments!

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