The History Of The Old Fashioned Cocktail

Made trendy once again by the rise in popularity of the hit TV show “Mad Men”, the Old Fashioned cocktail’s history goes even further back than that.

Lore says that the name actually goes back to people asking for a drink made the “old fashioned” way back in the 1800s. Traditionally made with bourbon or rye whiskey, sweetened with sugar, dashed with Angostura aromatic bitters, served over ice and garnished with orange zest, it has gone through a few changes in its time. Here’s a short and sweet history of the cocktail. 

The Birth Of The cocktail

The origin of the Old Fashioned goes so far back that you can’t really trust the establishments claiming to have invented it. But here’s what we do know. In the 1800s, it was simply called a Whiskey Cocktail, but the recipe is very similar to what we’re familiar with today – a sugar cube wetted with bitters over ice with American whiskey. It wasn’t until The Chicago Tribune printed an article calling it an Old Fashioned Cocktail that the drink got its true name.

Post-prohibition Resurgence

After the fall of prohibition, the drink went through a ‘dark’ spell. Bars reopened and bartenders got a bit creative with the recipe. Brace yourself… they added powdered sugar, soda water and threw in oranges, cherries and even pineapple, all to hide the taste of the poor liquor being used. In a letter to the editor of The New York Times in 1936, a purist gave a scathing review of the ‘new’ recipe which subsequently went viral (well, 1930s viral at least). Regardless of the disparaging remarks, this recipe was maintained for decades!

A 21st-century Drink

By the 70s, the popularity of The Old Fashioned started to wane with the rise of vodka and disco cocktails. Ironically, the Old Fashioned was considered, well, old fashioned. But things would soon change as by the turn of the 21st century people started drinking cocktails again and bars began to relook classic recipes. People noticed the quality of ingredients and the Old Fashioned was celebrated as it should be – the old-fashioned way. Today, you won’t find a bartender worth their salt that doesn’t know how to whip up an Old Fashioned –  and though barkeeps have gotten a little more experimental with the spirit of the drink, creating gin, vodka and rum versions of it – the most essential ingredient has always remained the same – Angostura aromatic bitters.

An Old Fashioned Week

From 1 to 10 November, bars across the world are celebrating the Old Fashioned. Launched in 2015 in Paris, Old Fashioned Week has since become a global event to showcase mixologists’ favourite cocktail and to show off their creativity while being true to the essence of the drink. Show your support by enjoying it at home or ordering from your favourite bar, but make sure it’s made with Angostura aromatic bitters because nothing else will do!

How To Make An Old Fashioned


  • 60ml bourbon
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 3 dashes Angostura aromatic bitters
  • 1 tsp water
  • Ice
  • Orange peel (for garnish)


Add the sugar, Angostura aromatic bitters and water into a rocks glass, and stir until sugar is nearly dissolved. Fill the glass with large ice cubes, add the bourbon, and gently stir to combine. Express the oil of an orange peel over the glass, then drop in.

Watch this Angostura #BittersForBeginners video to see just how easy it is to make the classic.

If you thought it couldn’t’ be easier, just wait… buy your Angostura aromatic bitters and Woodford Reserve kit online at Takealot and Norman GoodFellows.