If you’re curious to know what an Old Fashioned tastes like, then you’re in the right place.
Discover the flavor profile of this classic whiskey cocktail – from the sweet & sour taste of bitters to the warmth of a rye or bourbon base.
An Old Fashioned is sure to be your new favorite.
What is an Old Fashioned?
An Old Fashioned is an iconic drink that is often referred to as the grandfather of all cocktails—with nearly 200 years of history behind it.
Originally a simple combination of whiskey, sugar, bitters and water, this classic was revolutionized by bartender Jerry Thomas in the mid 1800s, who added citrus zest and orange liqueur to the mix.
Today, many variations of this timeless tipple exist—a testament to its enduring popularity.
The Old Fashioned is typically made with a type of whiskey such as rye or bourbon.
Other liquors can also be used—such as rum or brandy—as long as they are not too sweet.
The sugar in the cocktail serves to balance out the complexity of flavors from the liquor base and bitters.
It is then topped off by putting a bit more sweetness into the drink by adding orange liqueur or citrus zest for garnish.
What Does an Old Fashioned Taste Like?
The Old Fashioned is a timeless classic of the cocktails world.
With its mixture of whiskey, bitters and sugar, the flavors of this drink are both sweet and strong.
The base of the cocktail typically consists of rye, bourbon or blended whiskey, while other aged brown spirits such as brandy or rum may be used as well.
In addition to the whiskey base, orange peel and bitters provide tartness while a sweetener such as simple syrup or cane sugar helps to round out the flavors.
All in all, it’s a unique sip that’s perfect for long sips on a hot summer night or chilly winter evening.
When tasting an Old Fashioned for the first time, expect to find notes of vanilla, woodiness, oak and spice from the whiskey.
Combined with these aromas from the liquor are hints of sweetness from the added sweetener (which can either be simple syrup made with natural sugars such as cane sugar), citrus from the orange peel and complexity from the addition of Bitters.
The exact flavor profile will naturally depend on what type and style of whisky used in making this beverage but collectively each sip should offer a unique blend that’s full-bodied yet tart at first before transitioning smoothly into distinct oaky notes on your palate.
Whether you try one with your own choice ingredients or like us order one at your favourite craft cocktail bar – enjoy.
The Ingredients That Give an Old Fashioned Its Flavor
An Old Fashioned is a timeless cocktail, enjoyed for centuries and remaining one of the most ordered drinks around the world.
Originating in 1806, the ingredients of this classic tipple provide its unique flavor profile.
The basis of an Old Fashioned is whiskey, typically bourbon whiskey or rye whiskey.
A lesser-known variant called a ‘Howie Special,’ uses Scotch whisky instead and was popularized during Prohibition.
The spirit is mixed with simple syrup and bitters – generally Angostura bitters – to provide sweetness and spice to offset the booze.
To add complexity and bring out the flavor of all these ingredients, a slice of orange peel or cherry will often be added; as well as a dash of soda water to soften it up further.
An Old Fashioned therefore consists of base liquor (bourbon or rye), bitters, citrus slice/peel, sugar/sweetener, and club soda (optional).
The combination provides a unique medley of flavors: smoky sweetness from the spirit; citrus bitterness from orange or cherry; herbal spices from the bitters; and freshness from the cranberry or club soda additions.
By understanding how each ingredient affects an Old Fashioned’s flavor profile, you can create variations to personalize your own favorite recipe just right.
1 – Whiskey
The classic whiskey of choice for an Old Fashioned is bourbon, though Canadian or rye whiskey can also be used.
A smoother and mellower flavor is best for this classic cocktail, as it is served within the same glass and highly concentrated, so more pronounced notes of the whiskey can come through.
Use a good quality bourbon to keep the drink balanced with sweet and bitter elements.
2 – Bitters
An Old Fashioned is a classic whiskey-based cocktail that has been around for more than two centuries.
It is traditionally made with a simple formula of four ingredients — whiskey (usually rye or bourbon), sugar, bitters and club soda or water.
The flavor profile of an Old Fashioned is robust and comes through in layers, with the bitters playing an important role.
Bitters is a type of aromatic alcoholic beverage used to add complexity and depth to cocktails like the Old Fashioned.
Its flavor varies depending on which type you’re using, but typically it contains aromatics like herbs, spices, bark and roots which give the cocktail its unique character.
Common types of bitters used in an Old Fashioned are Angostura Bitters or Peychaud’s Bitters.
A dash or two of bitters will add flavors of cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and other spices to your cocktail.
For a stronger sip, you can opt for more bitters or add orange zest for additional flavor notes like citrus and sweetness.
3 – Sugar
The third ingredient of an old fashioned is sugar.
The addition of this can give the cocktail some sweetness to soften the intense flavors from the whiskey and the bitters.
Traditionally, simple syrup is used for this recipe for the smoothest flavor, but granulated sugar may be used as well if that is what’s available.
The ratio of simple syrup or sugar to whiskey tends to vary depending on personal taste, with more being added as desired.
Whether using pre-made simple syrup or a homemade version, adding just enough will complement both components and result in a balanced blend of sweet and tart flavors.
4 – Water or Club Soda
Water or club soda is often added to an Old Fashioned, although the drink can be made either way.
If you choose to add water, it will dilute the intensity of the liquors and bitters slightly, making for a lighter-bodied beverage.
Alternatively, you can use club soda for a similar effect.
The addition of soda also adds a bubbly texture to the cocktail and alters its flavor profile slightly.
Some bartenders like to add cold seltzer or tonic water as well.
These ingredients will alter the flavor of your Old Fashioned significantly, so you may want to experiment before using any other type of liquid in your recipe.
5 – Garnishes (e.g. Orange Peel, Cherry)
The garnishes that are used in an Old Fashioned can really bring out the flavor of the cocktail.
While some prefer not to use a garnish, adding one can add an extra layer of complexity to the drink.
Common garnishes used in an Old Fashioned are an orange peel, lemon twist, cherry and Angostura bitters.
Orange Peel: The oils from an orange peel will give your cocktail a pleasant citrus aroma and hint of sweetness.
This is also a great way to add some color to your drink.
Lemon Twist: A lemon twist will have a slight acidity that complements the other flavors in the Bourbon or rye whiskey-based drink.
The twist also provides visual appeal with its yellow rind and oily texture.
Cherry: Maraschino cherries can be added to Old Fashioneds for sweetness, texture and a light fruity flavor after they’ve been macerated in the drink.
They can also serve as an edible accent if left whole or partially skewered onto a swizzle stick served alongside the cocktial.
Angostura bitters: This type of bitters omits pungent aromatics like star anise, cinnamon and nutmeg which all help contribute complexity to your Old Fashioned’s flavor profile.
If you choose to leave out these other ingredients, Angostura bitters could serve as their replacement for both taste and presentation purposes – though be sure not to overuse them as too many drops could damage the balance of the cocktail’s taste.
How to Make an Old Fashioned?
An Old Fashioned is an American whiskey cocktail traditionally made with sugar, bitters, and water.
Variations of the cocktail can be made with different types of alcohol or liquids, and they can be flavored with fruits or herbs.
To make a classic Old Fashioned, you’ll need bourbon or rye whiskey, Angostura bitters, and simple syrup.
Begin by adding two teaspoons of simple syrup to a rocks glass.
Then add two to three dashes of Angostura bitters.
After that pour in two ounces of bourbon or rye whiskey.
Swirl the ingredients around the glass until all sides are coated with the spirits and bitters.
Fill the glass with ice cubes until almost full and stir for about 10 seconds until properly chilled.
Finally top off the beverage with a splash of club soda (optional) before garnishing it with an orange slice or maraschino cherry on a cocktail pick if desired.
The resulting drink has an boozy aroma paired with subtly sweet and herbal notes from the bitters and syrup, as well as hints of citrus from the orange garnish (if added).
The taste is smooth and slightly syrupy combined with lingering spices from the whiskey that play off the herbal flavors in a delightful way.
It’s sure to satisfy your taste buds.
Other Variations of the Old Fashioned
The Old Fashioned cocktail is a classic that has stood the test of time thanks to its smoky, sweet and slightly bitter taste.
That said, it’s an incredibly versatile concoction and there are endless variations that alter its flavor profile.
Here are some of the more popular variations:
- Amaretto Old-Fashioned: This variation replaces whiskey with a sweet Italian liqueur and adds two dashes of orange bitters for added complexity.
- Ginger Old-Fashioned: The addition of freshly grated ginger heightens the palate kick while still keeping the sweetness intact.
- Bourbon Vanilla Old-Fashioned: By adding one ounce of bourbon vanilla extract to two ounces of bourbon, this variation offers a rich and pungent experience – enhanced with a dash or two of simple syrup for sweetness.
- Apple Cider Old Fashioned: A dash or two of apple cider adds just enough tartness to counterbalance the spirit’s natural heat and smokiness – making it an ideal drink for cooler weather months.
- Rye Whiskey Old Fashioned: With subtle hints of spice from rye whiskey, this variation is truly fiery in flavor with just a bit more bite than traditional versions.
In conclusion, the taste of an Old-Fashioned depends on how it is prepared.
The classic recipe includes sugar, bitters, rye or bourbon whiskey and some type of citrus fruit.
However, in recent years mixologists have added their own unique twists to the traditional recipe and substituted ingredients such as orange juice and pineapple juice in place of the citrus.
The sweetness can also be adjusted by using simple syrup instead of sugar.
Despite the variations to an Old-Fashioned’s flavor profile, all iterations share commonalities: they are sweet and aromatic with a hint of bitterness that lingers in the background.
By using quality ingredients and experimenting with quantities and combinations you can craft up your own version that suits your taste buds best.
Carrie is a food writer and editor with more than 15 years of experience. She has worked for some of the biggest names in the food industry, including Bon Appétit, Food & Wine, and Martha Stewart Living.
As the Editor in Chief of IntroChicago.com, Carrie oversees all of the content on the site. She also manages the team of contributing writers and editors, who help to create delicious recipes, helpful tips, and informative articles that you’ll find on the site.
A native of the Chicago area, Carrie is passionate about all things food. She loves trying new restaurants and experimenting with new recipes in her kitchen. She’s also a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, so she knows a thing or two about food!