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5 Best Bourbons for a Next Level Old Fashioned

The Old Fashioned is sometimes called ‘the world’s first cocktail’. It doesn’t quite have the ability to claim that title. However, the Old Fashioned is arguably the world’s most classic cocktail. 

In the 1870s, when bartenders were beginning to experiment with new ways to create cocktails, ordering a ‘whiskey cocktail’ could have gotten you any number of concoctions. As such, people began ordering their whiskey cocktails “the old-fashioned way”: whiskey, sugar, water, and bitters. And so, the Old Fashioned was born.  

Elevate Your Old Fashioned Cocktail 

The Old Fashioned continues to be a staple cocktail today. Thanks to the rise in demand for bourbon and the subsequent establishment of many new distilleries, there is no shortage of options when it comes to bourbons you can use in your Old Fashioned. 

All the below recommendations have been tried and tested by myself (it’s a tough life). Make sure that you have some sugar syrup, Angostura Original Bitters (you can use orange and cocoa if you want, but classic Angostura just cuts through better), ice, and a garnish of your choice. Orange is classic, but sometimes lemon can work just as well. 

Old Fashioned Cocktail Recipe 

Below are my personal steps for an Old Fashioned, but feel free to add or take away amounts in any section:

  • 50ml bourbon of your choice
  • 12.5ml of sugar syrup 
  • 3 dashes of Angostura
  • Stir down in a glass over ice, or in a mixing vessel full of ice until the outside begins to condense, or the ice becomes ‘loose’ as you stir.
  • Strain over a big ice cube in a glass of your choice.
  • Pull a big peel from an orange or lemon, pinch it over the glass and then throw it in as garnish. Or not, sometimes it does just get in the way. 

Anything by Four Roses, 40%-50% ABV

For the sake of this article, get some of that single barrel in your house! An absolute bargain of a bourbon, no matter which way you cut it, Four Roses Single Barrel is the gold standard of single-barrel bourbon whiskey. 

There is something ever so buttery about Four Roses, this is outside of their two different mash bills and five different yeast strains, supplying ten distinct styles of bourbon. 

No matter which one you end up with (the letters will be on the front of the bottle), it is always so buttery and rich. 

Bottled at 50% ABV, this is a must-have for any whiskey fan, let alone a fan of Old Fashioned cocktails or bourbon. 

Woodford Reserve Double Oaked, 43.2%

BUY NOW: $38.95 

A more expensive alternative to the standard, but a whole different platform of flavour. Woodford Reserve is known across the world for being good. There’s no simpler way to put that, it’s just a good bourbon, in the best ways possible. It’s available, affordable, mixes well, and drinks well neat. It’s ideal in any situation. But an upgrade is always a nice option to have. 

Double Oak, matured in charred casks and then finished on toasted barrels, is the ideal bourbon for those of you who like indulgence! 

This bourbon on its own is caramel sauce, pineapple and cinnamon. In an Old Fashioned cocktail, it takes on a whole different level of depth and charm. It’s a cocktail that you will sip slowly and revel in the layers of flavour that it offers you. 

Makers Mark 46, 47%

BUY NOW: $29.99

An underrated bourbon for what it does. The wheated whisky that we can all source but don’t have to spend an absolute fortune to get, and for you scotch whisky fans, an American whiskey that can source its origins back to Scotland. This is the reason Maker’s Mark spells their whisky without an ‘e’.

I mentioned that this is a heated bourbon, in the sense that it still contains corn and barley, but the ‘flavour’ grain isn’t rye, it’s wheat. This gives you less spice overall but can run with even more creamy chocolate notes, and loads of vanilla and liquid caramel, too. 

Wheated bourbons are becoming few and far between when it comes to either availability or the absurd prices that you’ll have to pay to get them. 

Maker’s Mark keeps its consistency across the numerous batches I’ve tried, and it won’t destroy your wallet when you want a good quality bourbon to drink neat, on ice, or in an Old Fashioned cocktail. It is wonderful. 

Basil Hayden, 40%

Most people aren’t aware that Jim Beam has a huge collection of whiskies under their belt, outside of the standard Jim Beam range. Which even in itself is pretty sizable. 

Basil Hayden, named after a priest who distilled illicitly, is the ‘high rye’ style of bourbon from the folks at Jim Beam. 

Rye is a grain that gives you more spice, it’s that slightly drying element of bourbon that really cuts through all of the dessert flavours that the drink has to offer. 

All of the most famous bourbons in the world use rye, with the exception of brands like Maker’s Mark, Weller, Bernheim, Larceny, Van Winkle, etc. Whether you’ve had a glass of Jack Daniel’s, or a glass of George T. Stagg, they all have rye in them, and this just gives you a counterpoint of flavour. 

The way Basil Hayden develops, both on its own and in a cocktail, is very interesting. As a neat drink, it starts like a bourbon, sweet and soft. But the development and finish feel more like a classic rye whiskey. 

It’s drier, a little spicier, and has flavours of bread and carroway. Earthy. In an Old Fashioned, it almost flips. The start is a little more forward, the rye really pops out with the assistance of the bitters. Whereas now the finish becomes sweeter and more caramel-driven. 

Booker’s Bourbon, 60%+

Why not make your Old Fashioned cocktail cask strength? I did a tour of a very famous Kentucky distillery a few years ago, and I’m a big believer in being proud of what you make. 

The tour guide turned his nose up at the idea of making a cocktail with a cask-strength bourbon, and I can see why, don’t get me wrong. But, and it’s a big but, you’re only using 50ml of a whole 700ml bottle…so why not try!

Booker’s, named after Booker Beam himself, are the best selections of casks available from the folks over at Beam. That makes it pretty special. After all, experimenting with different cask selections is one of the joys of being a whiskey drinker. 

Never bottled below 60% ABV, this thing has a kick like a Kentucky mule having a bad day. Luckily though, it’s a kick that you want. It’s almost something you go looking for with a liquid like this. 

I’d highly recommend turning down the amount of bitters you use with higher-strength whiskey, perhaps even one dash of them just to let this spirit really shine with the other flavours.

Phil Dwyer

Having worked in whisky retail for a decade, and running Whisky Wednesday on YouTube for nearly as long, Phil has always wanted to learn, talk and tell everyone as much about whisky as he can.

Whisky can be overly complicated at times. Phil wants to end that. Brands have pushed far too much jargon into the drinking atmosphere; it's difficult to breathe when whisky is mentioned at times.

Phil also manages The Whisky Shop Manchester stocking some of the best drams on the market.

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