6 Things You Didn’t Know About the Old Fashioned

Matthew Kelly / Supercall

You probably think you’ve heard all you can possibly hear about the Old Fashioned. You’re full to the brim with variations and esoteric debates about proper preparation. Your lowball runneth over with Old Fashioned information. But the oldest of old school cocktails still has a few secrets. Here, a few facts you didn’t know about the Old Fashioned.

It Doesn’t Have to Be Made With Whiskey

The earliest recorded definition of the term “cocktail,” as it appeared in the periodical The Balance, and Columbian Repository in 1806, refers to the mixed drink as “a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters”—essentially an Old Fashioned with any spirit of your choosing. The esteemed Mr. Boston Official Bartender’s Guide suggests that it was most commonly made with whiskey in the early days, so when bartenders began experimenting with new-fangled ingredients, curmudgeonly drinkers began requesting the drink in the “old-fashioned style,” made simply with whiskey. Long story short, making Old Fashioneds with other spirits is nothing new. So don’t scoff at that gin-spiked variation. It’s a more historically accurate cocktail than you might think.

In the Midwest, They Serve It With Brandy and “Bug Juice”

The Midwest has a staunch relationship with the Old Fashioned, but there it’s served with American brandy (usually Korbel) and “bug juice”—the local term for a mixture of sugar, water and Angostura—and perhaps a dash of 7-Up. This really shouldn’t come as a surprise, given that Wisconsinites also like their Grasshoppers in milkshake form.

It’s the Official Cocktail of Louisville, KY

The Pendennis Club in Louisville is often credited with officially naming the whiskey-based classic we know and sip today. Bartender Colonel James E. Pepper forever established the drink in cocktail history down south, before bringing the drink with him to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel bar in New York, where it spread like wildfire. But the Old Fashioned’s hometown still celebrates the drink in style, declaring it the city’s official drink in 2015 and honoring it with an Old Fashioned Fortnight every June.

It’ll Out You as an American

Bartenders around the world have come to recognize Americans not only by their glaring personalities and loud voices, but even their drink orders. Apparently we’re not shy about ordering our favorite whiskey cocktail.

It Used to Be Served DIY

In a letter to the editor of The New York Times in 1936, a self-admitted old grump rails against the degradation the Old Fashioned suffered throughout Prohibition and claims the drink emerged for the worse on the far side of The Great Experiment. The writer laments, “Time was when the affable and sympathetic bartender moistened a lump of sugar with Angostura bitters, dropped in a lump of ice, neither too large nor too small, stuck in a miniature bar spoon and passed the glass to the client with a bottle of good bourbon from which said client was privileged to pour his own drink. In most places the price was 15 cents or two for a quarter.”

Not only did the letter writer, who signed the letter “Old Timer,” out-snob any nouveau speakeasy geek of today, but he or she also indicated the Old Fashioned was once given to patrons with a full bottle of booze and just 15 cents a pop. Now that’s a practice we should revive.

It’s the Most Popular Drink in the U.S.

In a 2016 poll of bartenders at the 100 top bars in the country, Drinks International determined the Old Fashioned reigned supreme above all other mixed drinks as the most popular order. It beat out other classics like the Negroni and Manhattan, as well as new challengers like the Caipirinha.