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Classic Cocktails Every Bartender Should Know: Old Fashioned

The Behind the Bar section is aimed to not only entertain but to educate, and not just patrons but bartenders alike. Every bartender in the world will claim to properly know how to make an Old Fashioned or Manhattan. They will try to make a Martinez or Negroni. However, the unfortunate truth is that they were most likely taught the improper method to prepare the drink in the classic and in most cases best way.

Classic Cocktails Every Bartender Should Know is a guide for bartenders. We want to teach bartenders how to make the classics. There are many more than just 20, but we chose our 20 favorite to share with you so you now know the classic method. We will mention, that while there is a right and wrong when it comes to classics, there isn’t always a right and wrong when it comes to many mixed drinks. Methods vary as to taste preferences, but the classics have been around for a century and deserve a certain respect. So without further ado… #1: Old Fashioned.

We chose to start our series off with one of the most classic cocktails in the history of cocktails. It’s simple, easy and since the 1880’s one of the most delicious recipes ever invented.

But first, a little history on what makes up a cocktail… A cocktail is made up of four simple ingredients. Spirit, sugar, water, and bitters. That’s it. No more, no less. Once you understand that basic concept you can then begin to develop your own recipes and concoctions. The Old Fashioned is no different.

Originally, the Old Fashioned was made with one of two spirits. Either whisky or brandy. Bourbon eventually won out the popularity content and became the standard. However, rye whiskey has always been a very popular alternative. The drink is allegedly originally named at Pendennis Club, a gentlemen’s club founded in 1881 in Louisville, Kentucky by a bartender that later brought the drink to the world famous Waldorf-Astoria Hotel bar in New York City.

Over the past century plus, the drink has taken on many life forms. Thankfully, with the recent turn to classic and craft cocktails, many drinks such as the Old Fashioned and other classics are finally being made in the proper fashion once again. Remember the basics… four ingredients. Spirit, sugar, water, and bitters.

The Recipe: Old Fashioned


  • 2 oz – Bourbon or Rye Whiskey
  • A sugar cube (or in most cases simple syrup)
  • 2 dashes – Angostura bitters
  • Ice (in this case, from dissolution)
  • Orange Peel (or Lemon Peel)

Tools and Glassware:

  • Muddler
  • Bar spoon
  • Stirring glass
  • Strainer
  • 10-12 ounce cocktail or highball glass

How to prepare the drink:

First, fill a stirring glass with a sugar cube and two dashes of Angostura bitters. Muddle the sugar and bitters together. Then add 2 ounces of your favorite bourbon or rye whiskey and fill the stirring glass with ice. Slowly stir the drink for 3-5 minutes. The point of stirring is dissolve the ice into the drink and add about 20% water to the recipe. Leave the spoon in the glass.

Once finished that step, take a fresh highball glass and fill with fresh ice. Strain the drink from the stirring glass over the fresh ice. Take an orange peel and zest the drink then drop it in the drink. That’s it. Stop. You are finished. Do not add a cherry or club soda. For a variation, you may use a lemon zest. The original featured a lemon instead of an orange, but the orange brings out much more of the citrus flavor and adds to the drink a nice contrast.

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