What’s in an Old Fashioned? Outsider-Approved Recipes for Your Favorite Whiskey Cocktail

by Amy Myers
(Photo by Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post via Getty Images; food styling by Lisa Cherkasky forThe Washington Post via Getty Images).

Usually, whiskey lovers don’t tend to browse the cocktail menu when out for a drink. Instead, they might order two fingers of their favorite bourbon with a bit of water or a couple of ice cubes, but the Old Fashioned has been the tried-and-true recipe that both cocktail and whiskey fanatics alike can enjoy.

Unlike some whiskey-based cocktails, the Old Fashioned doesn’t try to distract from the bourbon’s natural, mature flavors. With just a touch of sweetness and citrus, the extra ingredients play to the spirit’s full finish, satisfying every tastebud on your tongue and having you flag down the barkeep for another round.

The Classic Old Fashioned Recipe We All Know and Love:

  • 1 1/2 ounce bourbon or rye whiskey
  • 1 sugar cube
  • 2 dashes angostura bitters
  • Splash of water

It’s best to muddle the sugar cube at the bottom of your glass and then add the bitters to infuse the sugar. Afterward, add the whiskey and water and finish with a garnish of either an orange peel or cherry.

How the Old Fashioned Got Its Name

Back in the 19th century, when the Old Fashioned was brand new, cocktails were on the edge of a new age. Ingredients like Maraschino cherries, curacao, absinthe, and other popular enhancements were gaining popularity. And while the younger generations of drinkers loved the new varieties, some preferred when cocktails were predictable. In an 1806 issue of The Balance and Columbian Repository, Harry Croswell penned a definition of a cocktail that epitomized the classic Old Fashioned recipe. According to Croswell, a cocktail consists of “a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters.” 

Replace “stimulating liquor” with a shot of 1792, and you’ve got yourself an Old Fashioned.

While this may go against the purpose of an Old Fashioned, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of adaptations to the cocktail recipe. And depending on the whiskey you use, these extra ingredients and alternatives can really bring out those hidden flavors of the spirit that otherwise would have been lost on your palate.

Our favorite variation of the popular cocktail is, of course, the Outsider Old Fashioned, complete with orange and angostura bitters, a touch of maraschino cherry syrup, and a sense of adventure.

Check out our demonstration below.

@weareoutsider Cheers, Outsiders. #whiskey #cocktail #oldfashioned ♬ FEEL THE GROOVE – Queens Road, Fabian Graetz

Creative Outsider-Approved Old Fashioned Recipes

If you’re looking for more ways to experiment with your favorite bourbon cocktail, here’s a tip: less is more. When you add too many elements to an Old Fashioned, you lose the integrity of the main ingredient, the star of the show. Remember, the best cocktails enhance the spirit, not overpower it.

Take a look at some of these recipes that add a modest yet refreshing twist to a classic.

Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth: Maple Old Fashioned Recipe

Sometimes, you need just a touch more sweetness in your Old Fashioned. You could just add an extra sugar cube to the bottom of your glass, but when an Old Fashioned is your go-to recipe, this can get a little boring.

If you’re looking for something more exciting to sip on after dinner, this Maple Old Fashioned might be the drink you didn’t know you were craving. The brown sugar and touch of maple syrup hit your palate first, quickly followed by the richness of the bourbon. And to finish off the sip, Peychaud’s bitters give off a light and fruity finish.


  • 1 1/2 ounce bourbon
  • 1 brown sugar cube
  • 2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
  • 1/2 teaspoon maple syrup
  • Splash of water

Smoky and Smooth: Cedar-Smoked Old Fashioned Recipe

This recipe is for the truest of whiskey fanatics. On those nights when you need something strong to warm your bones and shake off a long workday, the Cedar-Smoked Old Fashioned is the perfect remedy. It’s best to use a barrel-aged bourbon for this drink, as the smoky flavors will match those from the cedar plank. And with a dash of tobacco bitters, this Old Fashioned could really be renamed to the Cowboy Cocktail.


  • 1 1/2 ounce bourbon
  • 1 brown sugar cube
  • 2 dashes tobacco bitters
  • 2 dashes angostura bitters
  • Splash of water
  • 1 cedar plank

For this cocktail, you’ll need to do a bit of prep work. Using a kitchen lighter, ignite one side of the cedar plank until it begins to smoke. Then place your rocks glass rim-down onto the plank and leave for two minutes. Once the glass absorbs those flavors, flip it over and build the remainder of the Old Fashioned recipe.

Summertime Sippin’: Blackberry Old Fashioned

Some of the best flavor pairings for whiskey are with dark, jammy fruits that have the same depth as the dark spirit. That’s why cherries have become one of the staple garnishes in an Old Fashioned recipe. For this variation, though, we wanted to incorporate some of those fruits that make you think of a pie cooling on a sunny windowsill.

To ensure that the sugary fruit flavors don’t overpower the bourbon, we’ve removed the extra sweet ingredient that usually comes in the form of sugar cubes or simple syrup.


  • 1 1/2 ounce bourbon
  • Muddled blackberry
  • 2 dashes orange bitters
  • 2 dashes lemon bitters
  • Splash of soda water

To add an extra bit of citrus to this drink, take a thin slice of an orange peel and run it on the rim of your glass before building your Blackberry Old Fashioned. Then once you’ve added all the ingredients, twist the peel to express the citrus oils and place it on top of your cocktail.

If after you’ve tried these variations, you want to keep exploring, take a trip to your pantry. A rogue cinnamon stick can turn a regular Old Fashioned into a holiday cocktail. A touch of honey can bring out those warmer flavors in your favorite bourbon.

And if you tried out any of our Outsider-approved variations, show off your mixology skills online… and don’t forget to tag us!