• Richard Murff

What Can Happen to an Old Fashioned?



There is a gag in the classic movie It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World where Jim Backus (played by the fella who played Thurston Howell III on Gilligan’s Island) hands over the controls of the plane he’s flying to go make an Old Fashioned.


“What if something happens?”


“What can happen to an Old Fashioned?"


It still makes me laugh.


The bourbon Old Fashioned is the yankee’d version of that original cocktail from New Orleans, the Sazerac, but without the Gallic weirdness of absinth. Like the original cocktail it is a snort of whisky that has been sweetened with sugar and seasoned with bitters. The first one shows up in print in 1806. If nothing else, it is old fashioned.


You wouldn’t want to wreck your Pappy Van Winkle making it into a highball, but on the other hand, unlike say the bourbon and coke, you wouldn’t really want to use rotgut either. With the Old Fashioned, you want to keep it, if not on the higher end, at least something that you’d sip on its own. Old Dominic makes a good high-rye bourbon that is actually perfect for both the cocktail and sipping. Or, for that matter, just go with straight rye that swaps out the corny sweetness of bourbon for more peppery spice.


A note on the sugar: It’s a hell of a lot easier to use simple syrup – it mixes easier and more consistently – since it’s just sugar water, you can buy it in the mixers section of most grocery stores. Although purists will tell you that muddled sugar or a cube gives the cocktail a weightier texture. My advice is don’t be precious – but you be you.


The Old Fashioned:

½ teaspoon Sugar

3 dashes Angostura bitters

1 teaspoon Water

2 oz Bourbon

Garnish with an orange peel


1. Sugar & bitters into rocks glass, add water and stir until dissolved.

2. Fill the glass with ice cubes – large American cubes – add bourbon and gently stir.

3. Express the oil of an orange peel over the glass, drop it in and try to look cool when you do it.


The recipe is fairly straight forward, but like making a roux correctly, there seems to be some sort of mysterious trick to it. This is the go-to for both my brother-in-law and my cohort on the Drunk as Lords podcast, David Seale and as a matter of accuracy they both make a better one than I do. If this lack of savior fare or general laziness applies to you, try Bittermilk’s Cocktail Mixer No 1 Bourbon Aged Old Fashioned. Mixing 1 measure of Bittermilk to 4 measures bourbon over ice, garnish with a peel of orange.


It works beautifully, put I don’t have much of a sweet-tooth, and Old Fashioned can get sweet, fast. With most store-bought mixes, even the really good ones, I will go 1 to 5.

Although, legal wants me to point out that you really ought not fly a plane after you've had a couple.