Drinking The Old Fashioned Way: A Brief History of The Old Fashioned

Posted by Kait Weir on

The Old Fashioned is a classic whiskey-based cocktail made typically with bourbon or rye, simple syrup, a few dashes of bitters, and optional cherry or orange wheel garnishes, though the recipe varies from bar to bar. The drink is often served in a rocks glass with a large ice cube. Widely accepted as the most popular whiskey cocktail in the world, the Old Fashioned has a legacy that will be remembered. But what led to that legacy? A rich history of trials and variations. Let’s take a look at the origin of the Old Fashioned.

Earliest Record of The Whiskey Lover’s Drink

The earliest mention of the Old Fashioned dates back to 1806, when a columnist for The Balance and Columbian Repository wrote back to a reader who asked about what exactly a cocktail is. The paper’s editor described the composition of a cocktail, which later came to be the core description of the Old Fashioned. Read the response below:

“Cock tail, then is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters. It is vulgarly called a bittered sling, and is supposed to be an excellent electioneering potion inasmuch as it renders the heart stout and bold, at the same time that it fuddles the head. It is said also, to be of great use to a democratic candidate: because, a person having swallowed a glass of it, is ready to swallow any thing else.”

In 1833, Author J.E. Alexander described the cocktail as containing as being rum, gin, or brandy, significant water, bitters, sugar, and a nutmeg garnish. The cocktail was also adapted around this time to include orange curaçao, absinthe, and other liqueurs.

Gin Old Fashioned

Fast forward to 1862, when the famed father of the bartending world, Jerry Thomas, published his Bartender’s Guide. In this rendition of the Bartender’s Guide, Thomas included the first official recipe for the Old Fashioned, which included Holland Gin as the base spirit. It’s interesting that the first written history of this widely popular whiskey drink wasn’t even a whiskey cocktail, but rather one made with Gin. 

We believe you’ll be pleasantly surprised by our rendition of the Gin Old Fashioned, which includes Creme De Violette that gives it a pretty pink color and a fragrant floral aroma. The Gin Old Fashioned will be released at the same time as the Classic Old Fashioned.

Hautely Debated Origins

But, back to our story. Next, we travel to the Pendennis Club in Louisville, Kentucky in the early 1880s. The recipe was said to have been invented by a bartender at the club in honor of Colonel James E. Pepper, a prominent bourbon distiller. It is said that Pepper then brought the Old Fashioned to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel bar in New York City. While the club claims to have invented the drink, The Chicago Tribune actually published the recipe before the club was even open, and it had been around the bar scene of several cities predating this mention. This part of the Old Fashioned’s history is cemented in traditions that take place today, as every year in June, Louisville Kentucky celebrates the “Old Fashioned Fortnight,” a two-week celebration of the cocktail.

Other Versions of The Cocktail

This highly celebrated drink has had many evolutions throughout time. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of variations on the cocktail. The Old Fashioned is like a fingerprint, you see. Each bartender has their own unique spin they put on it. In its history, some variations include club soda to add carbonation to this drink. Some mixologists muddle their fruit, while some opt for a muddled bitter-soaked sugar cube rather than the industry standard simple syrup. The state of Wisconsin has a variation that substitutes brandy for the whiskey in the drink. The most recent popular rendition of the cocktail is the Oaxacan Old Fashioned, which substitutes mezcal for the whiskey. 

Old Fashioned Series Release Information

This week, we’ll be releasing the long-awaited, ready-to-drink Old Fashioned Series. This series will contain a Classic Old Fashioned and two riffs: the Gin and Rum Old Fashioned. You’ll be able to purchase these alongside our limited-release barrel-aged Black Walnut Manhattan, perfect for the holidays. The cocktails will be available online with shipping to over 40 states, as well as in person at our tasting room and in select liquor stores.

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