best bourbon for an old fashioned

A Bartender’s Secret: The Best Bourbon for an Old Fashioned

Whether it’s James Bond’s Martini or Charlie Harper’s Margarita, cocktails represent the essential party beverage. They are the perfect blend of sweet and bitter, ideal for drinking in every setting. And while there are perhaps more famous cocktails, very few are more attractive than an Old Fashioned.

However, this beverage can be very tricky to make, especially when it comes to the choice of bourbon. So what is the best bourbon for Old Fashioned? You can find the answer to that question and some other interesting details about this cocktail below.

What’s an Old Fashioned?


Old Fashioned is the quintessential cocktail that every mixologist has to master.

When cocktails first came about, they were a mixture of only sugar, water, spirits, and bitters. Bartenders used these four ingredients to make simple yet supremely refreshing beverages, and Old Fashioned was the most popular one. It has been around for centuries, and if you dig through the books, you will find that the original term ‘cocktail’ referred to the Old Fashioned.

How to Make an Old Fashioned


But enough of history for today. How do you go about making this lauded drink? First, let’s cover the ingredients. You will need:

• 1/2 teaspoon sugar or a sugar cube
• 3 to 4 dashes of bitters
• 1 teaspoon of water
• 2 ounces of bourbon
• An orange peel

There are also some variations to this recipe. If you want to add a modern twist to it, you can use syrup instead of sugar. However, keep in mind that the sugar gives the cocktail a subtle texture that you don’t have with syrup. Another modern ingredient you can add to the mix is a maraschino cherry. And finally, the whiskey. Bourbon is the spirit most people choose, but you can also experiment with rye and blended whiskey.

If you want to make an Old Fashioned according to the original recipe, you should do the following.

First, take a whiskey glass and put the white sugar cube inside. Then add three to four dashes of your bitters and a bit of water to help the sugar cube dissolve. The next step is to add whiskey and ice.

For this cocktail, use the biggest cube of ice that can fit into the glass. After, stir the mixture but be careful not to overdo it as that can affect the final product. Finally, take the orange peel, twist it, and go around the rim of the glass with it. That way, you will express all the essential oils from the peel, which will give the drink a nice, zesty taste.

And there you have it, your perfect Old Fashioned for a laidback Saturday night.

Why Can It Be Hard to Make an Old Fashioned?


While many people assume that there are no major issues when making such a straightforward drink, they would be mistaken. There are only a few ingredients, yet many bartenders have trouble getting the mixture right.

Apart from various flavor combinations and ways of making the cocktail itself, the main stumbling blocks are the whiskey and dilution of the drink.


When talking about the spirit, the problem is finding the one with the right flavor profile. You want a whiskey that compliments both the sugar and the bitters. It has to have weight to it to subdue the sweetness of the other ingredients. But, on the other hand, you don’t want an overpowering bourbon, where you won’t taste anything but the whiskey.

The key to a great Old Fashioned is a balanced bourbon. You can do everything else right, but the bourbon can make that go to waste.


Apart from that, the dilution can be even harder to hit spot on. Old Fashioned is a drink meant to be savored and not chugged, and it’s crucial to find the perfect balance between alcohol and water.

One trick that can help is not putting small pieces of ice in the glass. If you put one big piece instead, it will melt slowly, and the alcohol won’t lose its kick as fast.

Secondly, the amount of stirring also affects the dilution. The principle here is simple — the more you stir, the more watery the mixture gets — a situation you may want to avoid.

While everyone has their preference, and some might want their Old Fashioned more diluted, it’s still best to keep it punchy. That means stirring just until the ingredients combine nicely and the alcohol gets that silky texture from the slightly melted ice.

Should You Use Good Bourbon in an Old Fashioned?


No, this is not a trick question. And yes, the answer is what you think it is — you should use good bourbon in an Old Fashioned. But let’s also understand why.

You can encounter many problems when making an Old Fashioned, and most mishaps occur when you choose the wrong whiskey. The key aspect when searching for the right spirit is the blend.

You want bourbon that has a complementary flavor profile to the other ingredients. It can be mildly sweet, which will go great with the sugar in the cocktail. On the other hand, it can be on the opposite side of the spectrum and have an oak flavor. That way, you will offset the sweetness, which will give the drink a refreshing, balanced taste.

But how do you know what bourbon to choose? After all, there are so many options on the market. Well, worry not! Here is a list that can help you pick the perfect bottle of bourbon for your next batch of Old Fashioneds.

14 Best Bourbon for Old Fashioned

1. Buffalo Trace Bourbon


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The saying “some things get better with age” definitely applies to whiskey as much as it does to wine. And no other brand embodies this sentiment better than Buffalo Trace Distillery. They are the oldest continuously operating distillery, with roots dating back to more than 200 years. And over the decades, they have perfected the bourbon formula.

Their bourbon is one of the best bottles of whiskey you can pick for an Old Fashioned. It has an impeccable flavor profile that blends nicely with this cocktail. You get the smoothness of vanilla, the freshness of mint, and the sweetness of molasses. On top of these notes, the whiskey has a fragrant orange essence that will go great with the orange garnish, typical for the famous cocktail.

2. Bulleit Bourbon Whiskey


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Next up is a whiskey that is a joy to drink on its own. Bulleit Bourbon Whiskey also comes from an experienced distillery, and it shows in the quality of the drink itself.

This bourbon is marvelous in every aspect, and it all starts from the color. Its rich amber tint looks very inviting, and it leaves everyone yearning for a taste. And the taste is something out of this world. The bourbon offers a subtle combination of spiciness and sweetness with notes of nutmeg, oak, and maple. Finally, you get a light aroma of toffee in the aftertaste, like a present at the end.

Many wouldn’t even think of adding a crushed sugar cube and some bitters to this premium bourbon, and they may be right. However, the principal ingredients of an Old Fashioned make a perfect base for Bulleit Bourbon Whiskey and will surely leave cocktail lovers wanting another round.

3. Four Roses Single Barrel


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Four Roses is a bourbon that brings a lot of fruit to the party. It owes its rich taste to a mix of pear, vanilla, and cocoa. Add a little bit of plum and cherry notes to that already fantastic combo, and you get a drink that goes well in many a cocktail, especially an Old Fashioned.

Additionally, people who like their liquor to pack a punch will be delighted with this bourbon. It is 100-proof makeup whiskey, which means it is 50 percent alcohol by volume. Because of that, it will still be strong when the ice begins to melt and dilutes the cocktail.

But something that is a big plus for Four Roses Single Barrel bourbon is its price. Unlike many competitors, this whiskey is very affordable for a single barrel. Supreme quality and a reasonable price tag make it one of the best deals on the market, worthy of being a regular on your shelf.

4. Jim Beam Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey


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Veterans of the whiskey business, Jim Beam is a household name with a great reputation. With its Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, they present a unique bourbon that won’t make a big hole in your wallet.

The brand decided to blend numerous taste notes into several combinations. Some of the most prominent ones are vanilla with hints of oak and caramel that together play nicely with the bitters of the Old Fashioned.

5. Eagle Rare Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey


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Eagle Rare Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is right opposite Jim Beam and Four Roses on the price spectrum. Another brilliant drink from Buffalo Trace, as it has everything you could want from a whiskey.

It is aged for at least ten years which amplifies its exquisite flavor. You can taste traces of oak, and leather, sweeter notes of honey and toffee, and also fruity aromas like orange and candied almonds. This bourbon is bold and dry and has many qualities that complement an Old Fashioned. That is, if you don’t fall in love with it and drink it as is.

6. Knob Creek Bourbon


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This bourbon is Knob Creek’s premium product that mixes fantastically well with the Old Fashioned ingredients.

The whiskey has a flavor profile that combines some well-known aromas centered around a familiar oak taste. The oak gives it strength and substance, while the smooth vanilla-caramel duo provides sweetness, making the bourbon a bit tamer. And when you add sugar, bitters, and orange to it, the mix goes to another level.

Knob Creek Bourbon is somewhat costly, but the price is, in this case, justified. This whiskey is a well-rounded product, and you won’t find a better deal at that price range.

7. Maker’s Mark Bourbon Whiskey


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What sets this whiskey apart from many others is the way it’s made. Maker’s Mark makes the bourbon from soft red winter wheat, which gives the spirit a special kind of flavor. And that’s not all. The people at the distillery make a point of being as involved in the creation process as possible. They turn the whiskey barrels by hand, and it’s aged by taste.

And as far as the flavor is concerned, Maker’s Mark Bourbon Whiskey is rich in sweet and citrusy notes. On the one hand, you have a proven combination of caramel and vanilla, and on the other, there are fruity aromas that give the drink a certain freshness.

Finally, it wouldn’t be right to finish writing about this bourbon without mentioning its presentation. Maker’s Mark customers are already familiar with the unique look of the bottle, but for those who are new to the whiskey world, the brand dips every bottle into red wax. This gives it an elegant look that makes the bourbon feel even more premium.

Old Fashioned or on the rocks, Maker’s Mark’s bourbon is definitely an excellent choice for anyone, especially novices trying bourbon for the first time.

8. Old Grand-Dad Bonded


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The next bourbon on the list comes from a manufacturer that’s been in business since the 1800s. Aside from all that, this spirit is ideal for making an Old Fashioned on a budget. But having an affordable price doesn’t lower its quality.

Old Grand-Dad Bonded packs a wide range of aromas that go supremely well with the bitters and sugar of an Old Fashioned. It gets its sweetness from the vanilla, freshness from citrus fruit, and spice from pepper. When you combine these flavors, you get a mouthful of spicy sweetness that will undoubtedly leave you wanting more.

9. Basil Hayden’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon


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The unique feature of Basil Hayden’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon is that it is spiked with rye. This spices up the usually smooth taste of whiskey, improving its overall flavor. But what is its flavor profile?

Well, this spirit puts the freshness of peppermint and citruses in contrast to the sweetness of honey to create an impeccable aroma. The mixture is, in turn, an ideal match with an Old Fashioned, but you can also drink it neat or on the rocks.

Basil Hayden’s bourbon comes with an 80-proof label. However, this in no way means it is mild; on the contrary. Since it is a single small-batch whiskey, it is bald and has a savory taste.

10. Old Forester 100


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Old Forester is yet another 100-proof bourbon, which is a mark of quality in and of itself. But the punch also comes with a strong and rich flavor.

This whiskey has an immaculate mixture of aromas. You can taste coffee, butterscotch, and chocolate with a bit of licorice. But the flavor train doesn’t stop there. There are also cloves, sweet fruit, apple, and nutmeg notes. And when you combine those with a sweet and light finish, you get excellent bourbon for an Old Fashioned.

11. Larceny Small Batch


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The main selling point of Larceny Small Batch bourbon is its unique smell and taste. When you first open the bottle, you will be greeted with a toffee and bread aroma with a hint of butterscotch.

As for the taste, the brand combines smooth caramel with honey tones to give the bourbon a buttery feel in the mouth. Mix that sweetness with the citrusy and refreshing notes of an Old Fashioned, and you will get a well-balanced drink you can sip through on any occasion.

12. Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey


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Loved by bartenders across the world, Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is a spirit you should definitely put in your next Old Fashioned. And why is that, you might ask?

For starters, it’s perfect for every cocktail imaginable as its flavor profile contains more than 200 notes. The taste can be described as smooth and bold at the same time, with citruses infused with cinnamon and cocoa. Other prominent flavors include chocolate, spice, toffee, and caramel.

The overall aroma has hints of mint, oranges, vanilla, and even a bit of tobacco. So when you look at this whiskey in its entirety, you can see why it would be a perfect addition to any cocktail, including an Old Fashioned.

13. Hudson Baby Bourbon Whiskey


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Hudson Baby Bourbon Whiskey is one of the absolute best top-shelf bourbons you can find. New York’s very own whiskey has a familiar vanilla-salted caramel combination of flavors that mesh beautifully with Old Fashioned ingredients.

What’s more, it’s aged in small barrels, which gives baldness to the bourbon. It has intensity, and the taste stays strong in the mouth for some time. With that in mind, try and get a large piece of ice when making an Old Fashioned with this bourbon. It will cool quickly, which will allow the simple, yet savory flavor of the whiskey to come to life.

14. WhistlePig Rye 10 Year


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WhistlePig bourbon is the best rye whiskey you can find on the market. It’s edgy and creamy in the same breath, packing caramelly, citrusy flavors. It also has a chocolaty finish which is everything an Old Fashioned needs.

Additionally, it is a 100-proof bourbon, which won’t get diluted quickly after that big ice cube starts to melt. That will let the cocktail keep its strength for longer, so you can really take your time enjoying this delightful beverage.

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