Pre-prohibition cocktails and modern twists on classics

Old Fashioned (Classic)

Old Fashioned


2oz Rye

1 Sugar Cube

.25oz Water

2 Dashes Angostura Bitters

Lemon Twist


Add the sugar cube to a chilled double Old Fashioned glass and top with bitters and water. Muddle to dissolve the cube. Add a large cube of ice, let sit for a minute or so and then stir gently. Garnish with a lemon twist.


A spirit, sugar, water, bitters and citrus, the Old Fashioned is simple to make yet timeless in taste. The sugar, bitters and lemon accentuate the rye dominant taste of this classic cocktail.


The most classic of cocktails, the Old Fashioned, likely dates back to the early 1800s. The earliest known definition of a cocktail was in an 1806 response from the editor in The Balance and Columbia Repository from Hudson, NY, which defined a cocktail as:

“…a potent concoction of spirits, bitters, water, and sugar. A kind of bittered sling”

Sugar and Bitters

Some would say that by this definition, the Old Fashioned is the original cocktail, as this essentially describes the Old Fashioned. It is most likely that this cocktail existed at the time of this definition; however, this description leaves things open to interpretation as often other spirits such as brandy or gin could be used. After all, this was the description of a “cocktail,” not specifically the Old Fashioned.

As cocktails and mixology became more popular in the early 1800s, many different types of drinks were created. The name Old Fashioned more likely referred to drinking cocktails in the “old fashioned” way, i.e. sticking to spirits, bitters, water and sugar.

There is actually much debate about when this combination using whiskey was definitively named the Old Fashioned. Variations were added to this original description and were published in various cocktail books throughout the 1800s with the name Old Fashioned. There were also recipes published with the ingredients of the classic Old Fashioned, but with other names, such as “The Whiskey Cocktail” in Jerry Thomas’ 1887 Bar-tenders Guide.

Old Fashioned2

The Pendennis Club recipe lacks the club soda used in the more modern version.

The Pendennis Club in Louisville, Kentucky claims to be the origin of the Old Fashioned. A bartender at the Pendennis Club, Martin Cuneo is said to have invented the cocktail sometime between 1989 and 1895.  The recipe from the Pendennis Club is slightly different than the recipe above, as it includes a cherry, lemon twist and orange slice, which are muddled in simple syrup and Angostura bitters, then bourbon and ice are added. This recipe is similar to and likely the predecessor of the Modern Old Fashioned, which is what most establishments would serve if you were to ask for an Old Fashioned today.

So the debate is what recipe truly qualifies as the Old Fashioned. Is it the original recipe for a cocktail from 1806, with whiskey as displayed above? Or is it one of the many drinks published throughout the 1800s with the name Old Fashioned? Or maybe name of the Whiskey Cocktail was changed to the Old Fashioned?  Perhaps it is the version created at the Pendennis Club in the late 1800s? As in most cocktails, there is a lack of descrete evidence as to the exact source of the drink, with many claiming different origins.

In the case of the Old Fashioned, it all depends on how you define what makes a cocktail a cocktail. If you define a drink based on the ingredients, the Old Fashioned is far older than when it received a name. If you define it on the name, it could be any of the variations presented throughout the 1800s. If you define it on closest recipe to the name, then maybe the Pendennis Club has it. Or we could stop debating and just enjoy this timeless taste of history.


Some would say that essentially every cocktail is a variation or permutation of the Old Fashioned, but we will keep it to drinks of the same vein. Swap the rye for scotch, brandy/cognac or even gin or tequila, most base spirits will do nicely. You could try literally almost any other type or combination of bitters. Swap the sugar cube for maple syrup, agave nectar, or any other sweetener. The possibilities are endless, although some ideas will be featured on The Straight Up.

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15 Responses to “Old Fashioned (Classic)”

  1. Mint Julep | The Straight Up

    […] What’s more interesting about this 1803 publishing of the word Julep is that the first “published” description of the word cocktail did not occur until after this book, in 1806. More on that here. […]

  2. The Study | The Straight Up

    […] around, we end up with something in between two of my favorite cocktails, the boulevardier and the Old Fashioned. The peated scotch rinse (I prefer Peat Monster from Compass Box), really adds a great smoked […]

  3. Smoke Signal | The Straight Up

    […] I wanted to pick a classic cocktail that lends itself well to almost any variation, then experiment with adding smoke to it in different ways. While there are many that can make great variations, one stood out in my mind as being perhaps the most versitle cocktail ever made: The Old Fashioned. […]

  4. Keith

    “You could try literally almost any other type or combination”

    As opposed to metaphorically “almost any other type”? should have left out the word “literally” as it is used incorrectly.

    BTW I noticed you don’t mention a rum variation….an aged rum makes a really nice Old Fashioned with lime & orange peel, demerara syrup, and orange & Angostora bitters

    • The Straight Up

      Not sure how this comment slipped through the cracks….sorry bout that.

      I meant “Literally” in the exaggerated informal sense.

      I do like a rum variation, much like what you mentioned, it’s definitely good stuff!!


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