9 Old Fashioned Variations You Need To Try

The Old Fashioned is the indisputable king of cocktails. It remains a mainstay on menus all over the world over a century after its birth and really inspires experimentation in mixology.

The Old Fashioned first popped up in Jerry Thomas's Bartender's Guide: How to Mix Drinks, in 1962, but the "old fashioned" he included was a gin cocktail, not the usual American whiskey common today. It was not until 1880 when Kentucky native and bourbon master, James E. Pepper, was credited by The Courier-Journal with requesting the first old-fashioned at the Pendennis Club (via Thrillist).

He asked the bartender to make him a cocktail in the "old fashioned way," in reference to the cocktail Thomas has written about in his book about 20 years earlier, this time with bourbon, and the Old Fashioned we know and recognize today was born. Fifteen years later, as the popularity of the old-fashioned grew wider and wider, the first modern recipe was published in George Kappeler's Modern American Drinks, in which he discusses the exact ingredients and method for making the cocktail.

The simplicity of the Old Fashioned is really what makes the cocktail so legendary. Just spirit, bitters, and sugar are all that's required, each coming together to create something greater than the sum of its parts. Plus, this simple template leaves the door wide open for experimentation and new riffs to be enjoyed and become popular on their own. Here are a few to get you started.

Oaxaca Old-Fashioned

The very first Old Fashioned riff on this list is courtesy of the iconic bar Death & Co. in Manhattan in 2007, per Punch. Not only did this variation inspire countless other bars to begin experimenting with the Old Fashioned template, it even propelled mezcal from an underused, widely unfamiliar spirit, to a modern cocktail powerhouse.

Phil Ward, a bartender at Death and Co. actually used two spirits in this take on the Old Fashioned, which consisted of one and one half parts reposado tequila and one half part mezcal along with agave syrup, in place of sugar, and the classic Angostura bitters. As for the name, the bar's owner, David Kaplan, is credited by Ward and is in reference to the Mexican city of Oaxaca and the cocktail's clear and proud utilization of Mexican exports.

The Oaxacan Old Fashioned was actually just the third cocktail Ward ever mixed that had mezcal in it. That's how lesser known the spirit was at the time. Well, after the drink was quick to catch on in the bar, the simultaneous renewed interest in the traditional Old Fashioned resulted in the riff, and mezcal as a whole, skyrocketing in popularity across bars in New York City and beyond. Now, mezcal drinks can be found on the menu of any cocktail bar thanks, largely in part, to the Oaxacan Old Fashioned being a perfect introduction to the sweet and smoky spirit.

Rum Old-Fashioned

Also, thanks to the cocktail Renaissance of the early 2000s, rum and the many styles it comes in contribute its own unique and indulgent take on the Old Fashioned. The different styles of rum are important to note, by the way, as a Rum Old Fashioned really only works with an aged rum. Using a white rum or even a gold rum to make an Old Fashioned will not do very well to translate the richness of the cocktail.

The reason aged rums are best for a rum Old Fashioned is that they carry many of the same flavor notes as bourbon or rye while keeping true to their sugar cane roots and tropical vibes. Bourbon, rye whiskey, and aged rums are all matured in barrels, which is what gives these spirits their oaky aromas and flavors with those hints of vanilla and caramel. These play especially well if another substitution is made in the cocktail, that is, swapping out regular sugar with cola syrup.

Just like how agave brings the Oaxacan Old Fashioned to a whole new level, the combination of cola syrup with the rum takes this tropical riff straight to the Caribbean. Garnishing with a lime twist takes this riff even further, so if you've ever wondered how you can utilize your bottle of aged rum other than rum and coke or sipping on the rocks, wonder no more.

Wisconsin Old Fashioned

If you order an Old Fashioned in a bar or restaurant, you can rest assured you will be given a glass filled with a mixture of American whiskey, Angostura bitters, and sugar that is garnished with an orange peel. If you order one in the state of Wisconsin, however, you will have the opportunity to try the next variation on this list which has been around since the turn of the 19th century.

While the Wisconsin Old Fashioned keeps the Angostura bitters and sugar, the whiskey is substituted with brandy, per Wine Enthusiast. Plus, ordering one will be followed with how you would like it, to which there are three possible answers; sweet, sour, or pressed. A sweet Wisconsin Old Fashioned is the brandy, bitters, and sugar combination topped with 7-Up, the sour is topped with Squirt, and the pressed is topped half with 7-Up and half with club soda.

The Wisconsin Old Fashioned is definitely a far milder, more approachable take on the classic old-fashioned. Brandy is a much sweeter spirit than bourbon or rye whiskey, as it has a base of grapes, and the topping of your preferred soda or soda combination adds extra dilution to the cocktail. In fact, the average Wisconsin Old Fashioned will end up consisting of about four full ounces of soda. For those who may prefer sipping an Old Fashioned in the colder months of the year, the Wisconsin Old Fashioned turns the cocktail into a summertime delight.

Fancy Free

The Fancy-Free is another variation on this list to be considered a classic cocktail, along with the Wisconsin Old Fashioned. This cocktail was first published in 1941 in "Crosby Gaige's Cocktail Guide and Ladies Companion," according to Cocktail Love.

The variation consists of the regular specifications of the classic Old Fashioned, with a simple substitution of the sugar for ½ an ounce of maraschino liqueur. The most popular maraschino liqueur is definitely Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur, which is used in other classic cocktails like the Hemingway Daiquiri and the Last Word. The absence of sugar certainly fortifies the proof of the whiskey, which can be bourbon or rye, by the way, but maraschino liqueur does do well to bring some added sweetness, itself.

If you have ever had a cocktail garnished with a maraschino cherry and eaten it after finishing your drink, this is the flavor you can expect in a Fancy-Free. The cherry flavor plays very well with the whiskey in addition to the bitters, split evenly between Angostura and orange.

The Fancy-Free is a boozier Old Fashioned riff because all of the ingredients contain alcohol, but the maraschino liqueur does mellow out the proof of the whiskey more than you might think in regards to flavor. The result is an exceptional classic cocktail that is a must-try if you like a classic Old Fashioned.

Irish Old Fashioned

As you can probably assume, the Irish Old Fashioned swaps out American whiskey for Irish whiskey. Other than that, however, the classic cocktail remains unaltered. There is no exact history behind the Irish Old Fashioned as its creation probably just came about naturally.

Irish whiskey makes for a great Old Fashioned because it is another spirit that is totally its own thing. Irish whiskey is more delicate than other whiskeys, but that actually has more pros than cons than you would think. Irish whiskey is generally sweeter than American whiskey, but there are different Irish whiskey styles that make more different Old Fashioneds.

For example, a single-pot still Irish whiskey would be a better option than a blended Irish whiskey. A single pot still carries a bigger character than a blended whiskey which allows it to stand up to the other ingredients in the cocktail without getting lost. Regardless, an Irish Old Fashioned will be more mellow than a traditional one, but this slightly less emphasis on the spirit is only redirected to the bitters and sugar. This is where an Irish Old Fashioned really becomes its own special cocktail because the split between Angostura and orange bitters can be highlighted using different brands of orange bitters to highlight those profiles supporting the whiskey.

If you're feeling festive next St. Patrick's Day, the Irish Old Fashioned is the perfect way to enjoy some Irish whiskey in a more approachable way.

Benton's Old Fashioned

The next Old Fashioned variation of this list is another modern classic from New York City. Invented by bartender Don Lee of the PDT, Benton's Old Fashioned is named after bacon producer and distributor, Allan Benton (via Eater). While you may be thinking what bacon has to do with an Old Fashioned riff, Lee really struck gold with this one.

The Benton's Old Fashioned is made using bacon-infused bourbon as the spirit, which is mixed with maple syrup and Angostura bitters to make the cocktail. The bourbon is infused with bacon flavor through a method called fat-washing, which is done, in this case, using fat from Benton's Smoky Mountain Country Hams. Fat does not dissolve in water, but it does dissolve when in contact with ethanol, which is found in alcohol. The liquified fat is combined with the bourbon and left alone to infuse for four hours. Then, the mixture is placed in the freezer for 12 hours, which freezes the leftover oils of the fat, leaving behind the bacon-fat-infused bourbon.

An Old Fashioned made with bacon-infused whiskey would have been delicious and unique enough for a variation, but the regular sugar swapped for maple syrup immediately immortalizes this cocktail as a must-try and all-time great. There is truly nothing else like it, and if you ever come across it on a bar menu or are willing to infuse a bottle of bourbon yourself, either is guaranteed to provide a one-of-a-kind experience.

Port Old Fashioned

The classic Old Fashioned cocktail is the perfect cocktail for the winter months. Its emphasis on the whiskey and the small additions to it makes it the perfect easy sipper to bring some comfort and warmth. This effect is enhanced even further with the next variation on this list, the Port Old Fashioned.

The Port Old Fashioned is a classic Old Fashioned with the simple addition of Port wine, and the other ingredients remain unchanged. Per Bar & Restaurant, Port wine gives the cocktail more body, and the notes from the wine not only deepen the complexity of the cocktail, they actually work to compliment the notes of the whiskey. For example, the oakiness from the barrel notes of the bourbon is strengthened by the oak and nutty notes of the Port wine, but also the wine's dark fruit flavor profile brings something entirely new to the mixture.

Port wine is typically enjoyed as an after-dinner, dessert wine, which makes the Port Old Fashioned an even better digestif cocktail. According to Wine Folly, Port is a fortified wine, originally made in Portugal. There are multiple types of Port wine, including red, white, rose, and Tawny, which is an aged Port wine and the best option for this cocktail. The best part, making this Old Fashioned variation at home requires no special technique, just the ingredients you would normally use for the cocktail plus a bottle of this delicious, rich wine.

Apple Cider Old Fashioned

This next Old Fashioned variation is another seasonal riff that fits perfectly into this exact time of year. To many who are unfamiliar with cocktails or mixology, there are pretty much endless types of bitters that can be used by made by many different brands. In the Apple Cider Old Fashioned, the typical Angostura or orange bitters are replaced by black walnut and almond bitters. These may not be the easiest find in your local liquor store, but they are definitely accessible online, and chances are you will not regret ordering them to make this drink.

The whiskey and sugar you normally use in your Old Fashioned need no replacement, but, in addition to the bitters mentioned above, apple cider comes into the mix as well. The amount of apple cider you add is up to your own preference, so if you want to preserve the whiskey, maybe add ½ an ounce to a full ounce, or add an equal amount of cider to bourbon to really dig into the autumnal spirit.

Another way to make this drink your own is to switch up the two bitters to your liking. Using only almond bitters will translate to a sweeter drink, and using only the black walnut creates a more spice-forward cocktail. There are also cinnamon bitters out there to try utilizing, as well. For garnishing, a whole cinnamon stick or a sprig of thyme are both super aromatic, simple, and sophisticated choices.

Christmas Old Fashioned

The last Old Fashioned variation is another yet example of how the Old Fashioned template makes it a wonderfully experimental cocktail with unmatched potential for timely customization.

This Christmas-inspired Old Fashioned does not require any additional alcoholic features, just the addition of fresh cranberries and a sprig or two of rosemary to bring this cocktail some holiday spirit. Your preferred American whiskey, bitters, and sugar will do just fine mixed in a glass with muddle cranberries and some bruised rosemary. Usually, Old Fashioned is best built directly inside the glass you will be drinking from, but with the presence of the muddled berries and herbs, it is probably best to set this one up in a mixing glass and strain over fresh ice in a clean glass. As mentioned earlier, the bitters you use is entirely up to your preference, so using half Angostura and half cinnamon bitters may be another way you can push the festivity of this drink even further.

Garnishing this cocktail really offers an opportunity for aesthetic appeal. You can vie for the typical orange peel, of course, but any leftover rosemary sprigs or cranberries can be used for some elegant finishing touches. For example, piercing a sprig of rosemary through a cranberry or two and placing it inside the drink will make the cocktail just scream Christmas, and using the two along with an orange peel, which is another fruit in season during the winter, is another excellent option.