whiskey old fashioned with an orange peel in glass

Words and recipe by Ross Drummond

With World Whisky Day just hours away, I thought that beginning with a good Old fashioned would be a perfect gateway to malts, single barrels and all manner of whiskies. First, though, a wee history lesson.

Let’s clear something up; if you’ve ever wondered whether it’s spelled whiskey or whisky, remember this: there’s an ‘e’ in the spelling for Irish and American whiskey, and no ‘e’ for Scotch or Scotch-style.

Now, back in the early 1800s, otherwise known as “the day”, the USA had it good – at least when it came to whiskey; it was tax free because the US government’s main source of income was its import taxes. This meant that home-grown rye whiskey was cheap; a drink for the masses. It also tasted – how can I put this? – God-awful. However, this was nothing that a few dashes of bitters, some sugar and a drop of water (no ice, that was still a luxury) couldn’t fix though.

If you still weren’t tough enough to deal with the sensation of burning nostrils, then a little orange or lemon peel would quickly fix such a sensation. It was with these humble beginnings that the basis for what we call the Old fashioned was created.

Eventually the US government awoke from their 80-proof stupor and began taxing whiskey and relaxing the taxes on wine – suggesting that the “medicinal” benefits of wine were better for the American citizens than the rocket fuel they were currently consuming.

As the price of whiskey went up so did the quality, and the ingredients of the Old fashioned that once concealed the alcohol burn were now being used to help enhance the flavours in a different way.

The keen Googlers among you (like, page 18-of-many-keen) and other budding Old fashioned historians might want to dispute this, but the Old fashioned whiskey cocktail with its fruit, muddled (the practice of grinding herbs or fruit with sugar in the bottom of a glass with either a spoon or pestle-like tool called a muddler before adding liquid) sugar and bourbon base was first recorded and ordered at the Pendennis Club, Kentucky, in 1881.

“Bourbon? What?!” I hear you cry – well there, whiskey wizard, Kentucky in 1881 had a more barren rye whiskey landscape than it does today and there were plenty more good bourbons at a bartenders’ disposal than ryes.

Regardless of your preference (we don’t discriminate here kids) and where you look, a classic Old fashioned recipe will have a bourbon or rye whiskey at its heart, but don’t sweat it too much and feel free to experiment. In the Midwest they sometimes even use brandy (OK, I might discriminate a little there).

But enough history, let’s get into the drink itself. I’m giving you my non-fruit-muddled recipe, but if you want to be more fruity and muddle the orange peel I’ll turn a blind eye this time. Here are my ground rules for a good Old fashioned.

  • Make each drink individually as opposed to in batches
  • Use an Old fashioned glass, also known as a lowball or rocks glass – or, basically, a tumbler with a thick bottom for when you get your muddle on
  • Use a teaspoon of caster sugar or a sugar cube – it depends how much you want to muddleUse just a little hot water, if muddling
  • If you don’t fancy muddling, buy sugar syrup – it’s what I do as it means you don’t need to dilute your whiskey!
  • Use Angostura bitters and muddle the sugar water and bitters until well blended
  • Don’t eat or muddle your fruit garnish, if using
  • Cut a large strip of orange peel and twist it over the glass – this will add a drop of citrus oil to your drink
  • Use as few ice cubes as possible, or even get yourself some fancy whisky stones, which chill like ice but of course don’t dissolve and dilute

I take inspiration from a ‘60s-style Old fashioned, though I lose the maraschino cherries they used because they’re a fruit too many for me.


  • 1 teaspoon sugar syrup
  • 3 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 50ml quality bourbon
  • Twist of orange peel

Pour 1 teaspoon of sugar syrup into a glass. Add 3 dashes of Angostura bitters…old fashioned

…then 50ml of bourbon.

old fashioned

Add a few cubes of ice and stir slowly.

old fashioned

Garnish with your orange peel, gently rubbing over the rim of the glass if you wish, and serve.

old fashioned

Now keep it down – we’re trying to drink over here.

About the author

Ross Drummond

Ross is a Scotsman who, perhaps unsurprisingly, loves whisky. When he's not doing techy IT stuff for Jamie Oliver he's playing guitar and singing in his bands Cheap Meat and Echoes & Wires.

Ross Drummond