The Old Fashioned cocktail is one that has stood the test of time, with its classic dark and delicious flavour proving popular decade after decade. 

Old Fashioned whiskey cocktails

Although there have been many variations on the classic whiskey cocktail over the last 200 years, the original recipe is still known as one of the most popular cocktails and is the number one selling cocktail in many bars around the world. While the origins of this cocktail are a bit of a mystery, we’re here to unravel as much of it as possible for those who are curious about where it came from. Plus, learn all about how you can make it yourself at home and which ingredients are best to use, all in this ultimate guide!

History of the Old Fashioned Cocktail

The Old Fashioned was first created in the 1800s, so dates back to the earliest days of cocktails. Although, then it was known simply as Whiskey Cocktail, a drink which followed the basic formula for cocktails which included a spirit, sugar, water and bitters. As it was quick and simple to make with just some standard readily-available ingredients, it was originally enjoyed first thing in the morning as a hangover cure.

In the 1870s, bartenders were experimenting with drinks a lot more due to new liqueurs being accessible to them. This led to the simple Whiskey Cocktail being transformed again and again, using absinthe, curacao and Maraschino to enhance the flavours. Eventually, it reached a point where the Whiskey Cocktail was a completely different drink every time someone ordered it. This, understandably, was frustrating for regular bar-goers, so they started to request that the drink was made in the ‘old-fashioned’ way.

Old Fashioned cocktail

Over time, the drink fell out of fashion but regained it’s popularity in 1880 when bartender James E Pepper claimed to have invented the modern version of the cocktail. Though many people have tried to claim it was their creation, Pepper’s story is the most notable one. It’s said that he created the drink while working in a private social club in Louisville, Kentucky before bringing the recipe to the Waldorf-Astoria hotel bar in New York City. Despite being the most popular theory, the truth is, no one can officially claim they invented the drink as began life in its most basic form, so any ownership will never be truly established. 

What Goes in an Old Fashioned Cocktail?

While the Old Fashioned doesn’t require many ingredients, it can be tricky to get the balance just right. This cocktail combines whiskey, sugar syrup and Angostura bitters topped with ice in a lowball cocktail glass. To enhance the flavour, adding an orange twist or a lemon slice or even some Maraschino cherries will do the trick.

Here at NIO, we have 3 pre-mixed, ready-to-drink Old Fashioned cocktails including our core drink which blends Bulleit Bourbon with Liquid Sugar Toschi and a dash of aromatic and orange bitters for a perfectly balanced, smooth-sipping cocktail. Our Old Fashioned with Singleton is elegant yet sharp, with a hint of dryness but rich in spice and nutty flavours, a true Scottish profile. And, our Teeling Old Fashioned sits in the middle but is anything but average, beautifully rounded, neither too sweet nor too sharp, rich in spice and fruit...a real gift for the palate!

Old Fashioned whiskey cocktails

What is the Difference Between a Manhattan & Old Fashioned Cocktail?

As an Old Fashioned and a Manhattan cocktail contain similar ingredients, people can easily, and often do, confuse the two. While both are excellent drinks, it’s important to know the difference between them, especially if you order a Manhattan expecting the bittersweet taste of the Old Fashioned and vice versa. Where an Old Fashioned contains whiskey, sugar and Angostura bitters, Manhattan substitutes the sugar with sweet vermouth which creates an entirely new complex, bitter cocktail.

A Manhattan is also served differently. Rather than mixing the ingredients together in a lowball glass, instead, a Manhattan is mixed with ice and strained into a classic coupe glass. Take a look at our Manhattan cocktail guide to learn more about its history and how it’s made.

You can also explore our other premium whiskey cocktails we have available in our whiskey cocktail collection. Or, for the perfect gift for a whiskey enthusiast, we also have a whiskey cocktail box filled with 6 delicious cocktails