The origin of the Old Fashioned can be linked to two distinct places, but its recipe remains mostly the same: the smooth taste of your favorite whiskey mixing with bitters, sugar and an orange peel. We trace the tangled web of whiskey history in this blog to find the origin of this favorite cocktail.
To check out more whiskey history, including that of the Whiskey Rebellion, itself, click here.
Every bar has its own version of the classic Old Fashioned, and while some of us are purists and others are experimentalists, we can all agree that the creation of this cocktail is worthy of celebration. Follow along or scroll down to the bottom of the page where we’re sharing a recipe guaranteed to have you mixing up your own tonight.
The Old Fashioned was first referenced around 1806, but it wasn’t the Old Fashioned as we know it today. In fact, an Old Fashioned was the first name people started calling cocktails, and it referenced a style of mixology. (Yes, in 1806, there was still mixology.) These Old Fashioned recipes included all types of spirits from gin to mezcal, much like the Old Fashioned fusions of today.
This was the case into the 1860’s when it became even more common for people to order bitters, water and sugar with their favorite spirit of choice. In 1882, a bartender in Chicago reported that the most popular incarnation was an “old-fashioned” made with rye whiskey.
As with all history, and especially whiskey history, competing stories abound. Some say that the drink actually originated in Louisville, Kentucky in 1880 at a private social club called The Pendennis Club. The recipe is linked to bartender and bourbon distillery, James E. Pepper. Rumors link Pepper to The Pendennis Club before he allegedly brought the cocktail to the Waldorf-Astoria hotel bar in New York City. Some claim Louisville as the home of the Old Fashioned while others maintain it’s really NYC.
Either way, in 2015 Louisville declared the Old Fashioned its official cocktail, and even celebrates the popular drink with a two week event called the Old Fashioned Fortnight every June.
The first whiskey old fashioned recipe was printed in 1895 in Modern American Drinks by George Kappeler. His recipe instructs the reader to dissolve a lump of sugar in water, add two dashes of bitters, a piece of ice, lemon-peel and one jigger whiskey. The concoction should be made in a whiskey glass, mixed with a small bar-spoon and served with the spoon still in the glass.
However, in 1936 a man wrote in to the New York Times in celebration of the Old Fashioned and in his own grumpy way, made a statement about the real way an Old Fashioned should be mixed. The man reminisced on times when an Old Fashioned was crafted using Angostura bitter, a lump of ice, sugar, a bar spoon, and the mixture was plunked down next to the bargoer with a handle of bourbon for him to pour himself. “Forget master mixologists,” the writer seemed to say, “I just want to pour my own drink.”
If you can relate, try out some of our fun holiday cocktails or the mixture perfect for your next party.
Otherwise, check out the recipe below and try your hand at this legendary cocktail courtesy of our friends at Baltimore Spirits Company. You can check them out for yourself in the Baltimore Daytripper: 1 Day Pass.
Baltimore Spirits Co. Epoch Old Fashioned
- 2 oz Epoch Straight Rye
- .25 oz simple syrup
- 3 dashes bitters
- Stir and strain over a large ice cube
- Serve with an expressed orange peel
*to crank up the volume, stud your orange peel with cloves (3-4)