Now, What’s Your Favorite Cocktail?

The question I’m asked most often—right after “What’s your favorite whiskey?”— is: “What’s your favorite cocktail?” I always avoid the first question by making some goofy statement like, “Well, obviously, it's the next whiskey I taste.” While I'm eager to talk about distinctive features of good whiskeys, including those made by several friends who are distillers, I would not want to pit one against the other.

When it comes to cocktails, however, I do have a favorite—the Old Fashioned. Now, some of my friends will say I like the Old Fashioned because it's as old as I am. This simply is not true. I am considerably younger than this venerable cocktail, as can be seen from a quick look at the history of the cocktail.

Cocktail History

Before taking up the Old Fashioned, it's helpful to look first at the birth of “The Cocktail.” In his book, Imbibe, David Wondrich points out that the term cocktail was mentioned in newspapers as early as 1803. Not until 1806, however, was it defined as “… a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters…” (p. 219). From this time until the mid-1850s, you were pretty sure of what you'd get when ordering a whiskey cocktail. The whiskey was most often rye, but depending where your concoction was being made, bourbon could be had.

Then, notably, the term “mixologist” first appeared in 1865, which was about the time cocktail recipes were changing significantly. These mixologists proceeded through the 1880s to create a multitude of new libations that had the basic whiskey cocktail ingredients, but with various fruit syrups rather than lump sugar, plus the oil of citrus rinds, maraschino bitters, curaçao and absinthe. A chunk of pineapple often was included.

The Old Fashioned

The term “Old Fashioned” first appeared for a cocktail in 1880 and is seen as a plea for the simpler time when a whiskey cocktail was not made differently at each bar with unexpected ingredients, compiled by a bartender trying to make a name for himself and his establishment. The customer wanted a cocktail with just the basic ingredients—whiskey, sugar, water, and bitters—combined the “old-fashioned” way.

But now there are hundreds of variations of the Old Fashioned. However, I am going to cut to the chase and give you the variation that I make for myself and my friends. It's based on the original recipe and also can be tailored for your friends who prefer bourbon rather than rye whiskey.


Old Fashioned Recipe

  • Sugar cube

  • 3-4 dashes of Angostura bitters

  • Splash of club soda

  • Ice cube

  • 2 oz. rye whiskey (or bourbon)

  • One-inch wide slice of lemon peel (include as little white pith as you can because it's bitter)

Put sugar cube in bottom of Old Fashioned glass, douse with the bitters and a splash of club soda. Use just enough club soda to make a paste when you muddle the sugar cube and not so much as to make slurry. Muddle the ingredients. Next add one large ice cube (or 2 to 3 regular cubes). The bigger the ice cubes the slower the melt and the longer you can enjoy a minimally diluted drink.

Now, add the whiskey and then stir for at least 20 seconds. Stir time is important because it takes a while to blend and balance the ingredients. Don’t skimp on the stirring. A great thing about this cocktail is that it can be made with either rye or bourbon according to each drinker's whiskey preference.

Finally, twist the lemon peel over the liquid, with the skin side over the glass to get as much lemon oil in the drink as possible. I like to run the peel around the glass edge and then drop the lemon peel in the glass as a garnish. Give another light stir and serve. (Note: I've seen several authors use lemon peel with rye and orange peel with bourbon. Some use both peels with either spirit.)


For this blog post, I prepared the cocktail with 10th Mountain Rye Whiskey and with Feisty Spirits Better Days Bourbon. I think I'll have to make me a couple more, though, before deciding which I like the best. Hey, it’s called research! (Check the Guidebook to Whiskey and other Distilled Spirits in Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming, p. 150 and p. 74, respectively, for more information about these two Colorado distillers and their various products.)


Let me know which variations on the Old Fashioned that you prefer.

Have a great holiday season and as always:

“Keep the wind to your back and a smile on your face”

Howell F. Wright