Obvious Bar Tips: Easily Master the Old Fashioned Cocktail Template

Mid-century modern image of a bartender making an old fashioned

Mastering the art of cocktail making starts with understanding key templates, and the Old Fashioned cocktail template is a cornerstone. By learning its basics, you can easily create personalized drinks. Here’s a deep dive into the Old Fashioned cocktail template and tips for crafting your own variations.

The Old Fashioned: A Timeless Template

The Old Fashioned cocktail template is one of the oldest known cocktails, dating back to the early 19th century. Its simplicity and elegance have kept it popular for over a century. The basic Old Fashioned template includes four key elements:

  1. Spirit: The backbone of the cocktail. Traditionally, this is whiskey (bourbon or rye), but modern variations can include rum, brandy, or even tequila.
  2. Sweetener: This balances the strength of the spirit. Classic choices are a sugar cube or simple syrup, but honey, maple syrup, or flavored syrups can add unique twists.
  3. Bitters: These provide complexity and depth. Angostura bitters are the go-to, but experimenting with orange, chocolate, or other bitters can create new dimensions of flavor.
  4. Water: Usually added in the form of ice, this dilutes the drink slightly and brings all the flavors together.

Creating Variations on the Old Fashioned Cocktail Template

Once you understand the basic Old Fashioned cocktail template, you can start to create endless variations. There are numerous examples of bourbon-based Old Fashioneds here on Bourbony, such as the Chocolate Chili Old Fashioned, the Peach Thyme Old Fashioned, and the Smokin’ Blackberry Old Fashioned.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

1. Maple Old Fashioned

  • Spirit: Bourbon (go for a lower-rye content bourbon, such as Maker’s Mark. Maker’s Mark is known for its smooth and mellow flavor profile, thanks to its higher proportion of corn and wheat in the mash bill, which minimizes the spiciness associated with higher rye content. It’s a popular choice for both sipping and mixing in cocktails due to its rich caramel and vanilla notes.)
  • Sweetener: Maple syrup
  • Bitters: Angostura and orange bitters
  • Water: Ice

This variation introduces the rich, caramel notes of maple syrup, which complement the vanilla and oak notes of bourbon.

2. Rum Old Fashioned

  • Spirit: Aged rum (a good choice is Ron Zacapa 23. Ron Zacapa 23 is a premium rum from Guatemala, known for its rich and complex flavor profile, which includes notes of caramel, vanilla, and dried fruit. It’s aged using the Solera method, which involves blending rums of different ages, giving it a smooth and well-rounded taste.)
  • Sweetener: Demerara syrup
  • Bitters: Angostura and chocolate bitters
  • Water: Ice

Using aged rum adds a tropical twist, while the demerara syrup enhances the molasses flavors in the rum.

3. Tequila Old Fashioned

  • Spirit: Añejo tequila (Don Julio Añejo is an excellent option. Don Julio Añejo is aged for 18 months in American white oak barrels, which imparts a rich, full-bodied flavor with notes of caramel, vanilla, and spice. It’s well-regarded for its smoothness and depth, making it a great choice for sipping or using in high-quality cocktails.)
  • Sweetener: Agave syrup
  • Bitters: Orange bitters
  • Water: Ice

This version showcases the smooth, oaky notes of aged tequila, with agave syrup adding a touch of sweetness that complements the spirit’s natural flavors.

Tips for Perfecting Your Old Fashioned Cocktail Template

First, always use high-quality spirits and fresh ingredients. The simplicity of the Old Fashioned means each component’s quality is paramount. Moreover, aim for a balance between the spirit, sweetener, and bitters. Too much of one element can overwhelm the others. Additionally, don’t be afraid to try new bitters, syrups, or spirits. The Old Fashioned cocktail template is incredibly adaptable. Finally, a simple garnish can enhance the presentation and aroma of your cocktail. Classic options include an orange twist or a cherry, but feel free to get creative with herbs or other fruits.


The Old Fashioned is more than just a cocktail; it’s a template that invites creativity and experimentation. By mastering the Old Fashioned cocktail template, you can start to build your own unique cocktails, tailoring them to your taste or the occasion. So, next time you’re at the bar, try mixing up an Old Fashioned variation and see where your creativity takes you. Cheers!

Bob Sawyer


Hi! I’m Bob!

If it’s got bourbon in it, I’m drinking it. And if it’s really good, I’m gonna figure out how to make it, and share it with you. Because I’m good like that.


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