The Old-Fashioned Guide | Tasting Guide

A choose-your-own-adventure approach to the bar

There might be no better measure of cocktail culture than the Old Fashioned.

The basic formula of spirit, bitters, sugar and water lends itself to improvisation, making the drink something of a chameleon, a mirror of its time.

We've created a handy guide to the drink, which pays homage to the classic form while drawing inspiration from the nouveau variations that bartenders around the country have perfected.

Its early days, circa 1800, were its most simple: Drinkers added bitters and a bit of sugar to a small amount of whiskey as a morning palliative. During Prohibition, the cocktail was used to mask the inferior quality of the spirits available, which tended to be bootlegged.

In the second half of the 20th century, the Old Fashioned became a saccharine fruit cup. Suspended in a glass of whiskey and soda were orange wheels, maraschino cherries, even pineapple chunks, mirroring the tendency toward overly sweet and unbalanced beverages. But in 2001 the first craft cocktail bars, dedicated to exact replications of yesteryear, stripped the drink back to its bones.

Now, some equilibrium: Bartenders are improvising, but with due respect to the original. With our guide as reference, make an old-fashioned Old Fashioned, or give the drink a modern spin.