For most of us whiskey drinkers, we order an Old Fashioned in memoriam of 60’s advertising genius Mad Man Don Draper. It was with this rebirth of mid-century fascination that brought whiskey cocktails back into the bar scene across America. However, the Old Fashioned did not start with Mr. Draper. No, in fact, the drink itself boasts a conception that dates back to the late 19th century. Specifically, in a weighty tome known as Modern American Drinks – printed in 1895 and containing close to 400 cocktail recipes – lies the famed Old Fashioned recipe.
Dissolve a small lump of sugar with a little water in a whiskey glass, add two dashes of Angostura bitters, a small piece of ice, a piece of lemon peel, and one jigger of whiskey. Mix with a small bar spoon and serve. –Modern American Drinks
Perhaps the most interesting bit from the original cocktail recipe is the similarity to the modern interpretation of the drink. However, one detail was left out of the equation. That is, what type of whiskey is recommended? We all know there are various forms of whiskey out there but that in turn begs the question, what’s the preferred type? Well, it’s highly suggested that either bourbon or rye serve as the whiskey of choice for this cocktail, rye serving as the ideal option. However, if rye isn’t your forte we made sure to include a few bourbon options as well in this list of the best whiskey for an Old Fashioned. Cheers.
Made from a mash of at least 51 percent rye, this whiskey is known for its prevalence in the interior Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region. Pittsburgh, in particular, was at one time the premier rye whiskey producer during the early 19th century at which point the industry boomed up until Prohibition. Few brands survived those times, unfortunately, though Old Overholt managed to be one of the lucky few that stuck around. Today, much of the rye whiskey available on the market is distilled in Kentucky.
As far as flavors are concerned, rye whiskey imparts more of a fruity and spicy flavor than its bourbon counterpart. This is, of course, due to the predominately rye mash bill as opposed to corn (known for its sweeter characteristics). Bourbon is also more full-bodied than rye, which is one of the reasons why bartenders initially adopted rye whiskey as the spirit of choice for popular cocktails such as the whiskey sour, Manhattan – and yes – the Old Fashioned.
Strictly American in its history and composition, bourbon must be made from a mash that’s at least 51 percent corn. The spirit got its start in the hills of Kentucky, where even today devotees will claim that if it’s not distilled and cut with Kentucky limestone water, then it’s not real Kentucky bourbon. And while this may be a point of contention, it’s useful to know that when ordering an Old Fashioned, it’s perfectly acceptable to opt for this sweeter whiskey as the main ingredient.
Because of bourbon’s more full-bodied nature, a bourbon-based Old Fashioned tends to be sweeter and rounder than its rye counterpart. Especially if you prefer sweets spices, we recommend you stick with good old bourbon for your Old Fashioned. And while quality is always a must, high-end bourbon isn’t a necessity here. Instead, opt for various “call whiskies” that still work to impart an enjoyable flavor profile but don’t leave you feeling guilty for mixing it up in a cocktail. Also, it’s important to opt for higher proof whiskey here as well, the reason being that the higher alcohol content (100 proof for example) will allow the whiskey to maintain its character during the inevitable dilution from melting ice.
Best Bourbons Not From The Bluegrass State
For those looking for something other than a cocktail, or wanting to switch things up a bit, check out these bourbons not from Kentucky that are sure to satisfy the curious mind.