Jeremy Kasler

The Old Fashioned Cocktail

This may be a divisive issue, but I believe the Old Fashioned is the quintessential bourbon cocktail. It’s simple to make, it tastes delicious and it lets bourbon be the star of the show, as it should be. 

I’ve traveled the world and have enjoyed many cocktails, but I will admit to having one of the best Old Fashioneds in Kentucky, the birthplace of bourbon. On my recent trip to the Bluegrass State to visit some bourbon distilleries, I was impressed with the cocktail craftsmanship found at some Kentucky bars.

They embrace the simplicity of the Old Fashioned, but then they add just a touch of originality to keep it interesting. One in particular that I enjoyed was at the upscale River House Restaurant & Raw Bar in Louisville, situated on the banks of the Ohio River. 

The views were stunning, the food was flavorful and the drinks were spot-on. The Booker’s Smoked Old Fashioned was made with Booker’s, a high-proof bourbon from Jim Beam, Demerara syrup and Angostura Bitters, and it came served inside an authentic Booker’s box, which trapped the smoke inside as it mingled with the cocktail. 

The smoke added a nice touch to the classic drink, even adding some rich smoky flavors found in many scotches. It was a treat for sure, and it was hard not to order a second round.

Smoking an Old Fashioned is just one of the creative ways Kentucky bartenders have added twists to the cocktail. Other establishments I visited sometimes added flavor to the bitters (blackberry, orange and even bacon-infused), while others experimented with flavoring the simple syrup just a bit. 

Also, I learned it’s important to choose a strong bourbon for the Old Fashioned, one that is at least 100 proof. Apparently, you need that extra kick to stand up to the sugar and bitters, because, in the end, you want the bourbon to dominate the overall taste.

The Old Fashioned Cocktail Recipe

  • 2 ounces of bourbon
  • 1/2 ounce of simple syrup
  • 2 dashes of bitters

Directions: In a rocks glass, combine 100-proof (or higher) bourbon, simple syrup and bitters. (Some recipes also call for muddling a cherry and slice of orange first.) Fill glass a third of the way with ice (or use one large cube) and stir 12 times. Squeeze orange peel over the glass and then add it to the drink. Add a Luxardo cherry.

History Of The Old Fashioned

While there is no definitive origin of the Old Fashioned, many people believe it was invented at Louisville’s exclusive Pendennis Club in the late 1800s by African-American bartender Tom Bullock.

Bullock eventually moved to St. Louis and began working at the St. Louis Country Club, where he perfected his craft and shared the recipes he created in Kentucky. In 1917, he penned the cocktail book “The Ideal Bartender,” which included a foreword by George Herbert Walker, the grandfather and great-grandfather of U.S. presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. 

The Old Fashioned is now made all around the world, enjoyed in swanky lounges, dive bars or even just your living room. The classic drink is also the official cocktail of Louisville, Ky., which is probably a good reason why they taste the best there.