Rye Old Fashioned Cocktail

The Old Fashioned Cocktail was most likely originally made with rye whiskey. Test your favorite bartenders knowledge and technique with this simple but often badly made cocktail.


1/8 oz simple syrup

2 - 4 dashes Angostura Bitters

2 oz Rye Whiskey


Add simple syrup and Angostura Bitters to an old fashioned glass.

Add ice and stir to combine.

Add whiskey and stir.

Garnish with a large orange zest.


Lawrence Spies 30 Nov 2010
9:40 am

Wow and I just ordered a Rye Old Fashion last night, and of course, the bar tender ruined the drink by adding club soda!! I should have watched him closer, but I did send it back, and had it made right! I hope he got the message! Thanks Robert for getting it right!

Chewie 30 Nov 2010
12:25 pm

Lawrence, I personally see no problem with adding a splash of club soda to dissolve a spoonful of bar sugar - it won’t water the drink down any further than simple syrup would.
But of course, if they top it off with club soda, that will certainly change the drink..

Lawrence Spies 30 Nov 2010
1:26 pm

No…It was topped with club soda, and it was nasty. If I use a sugar cube, I soak it first with bitters, then use maybe a bar spoon/teaspoon of water to dissolve the sugar.  But starting to like the simplicity of using just a touch of simple syrup, as Robert did, and then the bitters. No problems with undissolved sugar that way :) Plus I am now using a orange peel instead of the lemon peel called for in the original old fashioned. The orange taste so much better with bourbon than the lemon does. That’s about as far as I wonder from the original recipe. IMHO I don’t think club soda should be any where near an old fashioned…If I want something fizzy, I will order a Bourbon and Coke. ;)

Chuck Burns 30 Nov 2010
3:37 pm

This is a drink you probably have to make at home. One of my favorite drinks is a Rye Manhatten so every time I go into a bar I ask if they have any Rye Whiskey. 80% of the time I’m told no.

When I first started making Old Fashions I was fascinated with muddling. I have moved away from that and know prefer Robert’s recipe. I also prefer using simple syrup instead of a sugar cube as does Lawrence.

For a old Fashioned horror story at a bar: at a local high end hotel I ordered an Old Fashioned. When it was served it was the color of a weak Cosmo. In inquired of the cocktail waitress what in the dickens was in the concoction. The bartender had put in two barspoons of the syrup from the jar of phony maraschino cherries; in addition to muddling a cherry! She did not use any bitters and had topped it off with soda water. It was perhaps the worst drink I have ever been served.

I am just about reduced to ordering beer at most bars. Are there any bartenders out there that take any pride in their work? I think many exhaust their repertoire at Jack and Coke.

goblue72 1 Dec 2010
9:13 pm

Its been a long while since I dropped by The Cocktail Spirit.  Have to say Robert - the clean shave/long hair is lookin’ good.  ;)

Better Cocktails at Home 2 Dec 2010
7:18 pm

This season of the Cocktail Spirit has been great. Love the style and flow of the new season and nothing wrong with revisiting a classic that is totally mangled by the masses.

Lawrence Spies 3 Dec 2010
10:29 pm

I agree Chuck, Brian “take any pride in their work”, “mangled by the masses” which I don’t understand! It is easier and quicker to make it right like Roberts recipe, than to mangle some orange and cherry in the glass, and then top it with club soda. If you want to make your claim as a good/ great bar tender, I would definitely go the extra mile, take the time and make it right! I know customers would wait a few seconds/minutes longer to get a great cocktail, then to get a nasty one in half the time.

Chuck Burns 4 Dec 2010
3:07 pm

Lawrence, I’ve never worked as a bartender - but in everything I do I try to become very proficient. I can’t you how may times I’ve had people over and made them a proper Martini, Old Fashioned (rye or bourbon), Manhatten, Margarita or Cosmo and seen them light up. It’s not uncomon to hear “that’s the best cocktail I’ve ever had”. If a rank amatuer can do it why not those who make their living doing it? Using quality ingredients, a good recipe, measuring so the proportions are right, stirring or shaking to get the proper cooling and dilution are not that hard.

My wife and I were at Colt and Gray in Denver recently and the bartenders were wonderful. We each had four drinks and they were prepared carefully and with top shelf ingredients. How many bars have Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth to use in a Manhatten? They had a very good selection of bitters - with some home made. They used fresh fruit and not nasty syrups. The two bartenders got an oustanding tip!

Lawrence Spies 4 Dec 2010
4:07 pm

The “make your claim” was a general statement and not directed at you…sorry. I have no doubt you make cocktails the right way.  I agree 100%, if we can do it at home for ourselves or friends why can’t bartenders who are making money and tips do it right? I will be going to Denver next year, hopefully, I will have to check out Colt and Gray before I head home.

Chuck Burns 4 Dec 2010
5:28 pm

No apology needed - I knew you were speaking generally. I guess my point is that those of us who are “in to it” and do it at home for pleasure find a way to do it right and that it simply amazes me that those who do it to earn a living (and for whom tips make a huge difference) take less interest in the craft than we do.

Is it that they think we won’t pay for a decent cocktail so they only stock generic stuff? There is not a bar in town that has anything better than NP or M&R Vermouth and most have something cheap like the Stock brand. But I have Dolin, Vya and Carpano Antica at home. I have not found a bar in town that has any Rye; but I have Whistle Pig, Thomas Handy, Van Vinkle Family Reserve, Sazerac 18, Baby Saz, WT, Rittenhouse and several others. Most bars in town don’t even have one bottle of bitters yet amatuer me has five different bitters.

I guess I just find it frustrating that I can’t go out and order a quality Old Fashioned or Manhatten well crafted and made with top drawers incredients.

Lawrence Spies 5 Dec 2010
10:55 am

I agree! I try and have the best liquor/ingredients i can get, for my budget, so i can make the best cocktail I can. Bartenders can be limited by the bar itself and the liquor it keeps on hand, but even with decent liquors on hand some bartenders still seem to miss the mark. I am sure cost has a lot to do with it, they buy cheap liquor, make bad drinks, then over charge the customer, and like you say, they think we won’t pay the cost of a great cocktail made with top shelf ingredients. If i have to shell out Mercedes prices for a cocktail, I want a 2011 Mercedes style cocktail, not a 1970 Gremlin!

blair frodelius 7 Dec 2010
4:39 am

Educating bartenders generally begins with the customer asking for a drink made a certain way.  I’ve done this at one of my local bars.  I go early in the evening mid-week when the pace isn’t jammed with guests, and chat with the bartenders about a classic drink I’d like them to try and make.  I will go so far as to tell the brands of spirits I’d like used, and the exact ratios and garnish.  I always encourage them to take a taste of it via a cocktail straw so they can see what it is I enjoy about the drink.  On more than one occasion, this has gotten them interested in experimenting on their own and learning more about the history of mixology.


Blair Frodelius

Robert Hess 7 Dec 2010
4:54 am

Blair, I think the “education” comes from both sides, from knowledgeable customers asking for a drink made a certain (proper) way, as well as from knowledgeable bartenders making a drink properly for their customers, thus making them knowledgeable, thus allowing them to then ask for the drink a certain way at other bars. It is sort of a vicious, or victorious, cycle.

The Old Fashioned has long been my touchstone drink. I first “discovered” this drink when orignially learning about cocktails by mixing them up at home. When I ordered it at bars, I had the abismal concoction that many of you have. Initially this got me to swear off anything except beer and wine when at bars, but a lucky meeting with a bartender who really know their stuff showed me that there was a glimmer of hope. And this is when I essentially became the “cocktail evangelist” that I am today. Going out to bar, after bar, after bar, trying to find one who could make a good, if not great, Old Fashioned, and trying to provide a little nudge in the right direction when I couldn’t.

Chuck Burns 7 Dec 2010
6:42 am

Robert, I find a lot of variability in the willingness of bartenders to “take instruction” from a customer. I certainly agree that it should only be done during slow times and needs to be handled delicately; after all he is the pro behind the stick. I recently had to spend a week in Dallas and stayed at a high end hotel. I succeeded in teaching one of the bartenders how to make a proper Manhatten (bourbon unfortunately as they had no rye - and after a search he found a bottle of biters) but the other was hopeless. I ordered beer from the hopeless one. Guess who got the better tip?

To defend bartenders, of whom I tend to be critical, I have come across a number who would have liked to do a better job but a hampered by management. I was at the Cruise Room in Denver which is a prominent known bar, we sat at the bar and chatted with the bartender. He had no absinthe to use in the Sazerac I ordered and had to substitue Sambuca, he had only one Rye (generic), and he had nothing but generic well vermouth so a high quality Manhatten or Martini was out of the question. He said he would like to have the things I mentioned by corporate management wouldn’t let him. Does anybody out there understand the dramatic effect a quality vermouth like Dolin, Vya, or Carpano Antica can have on a cocktail?

FWIW Wild Turkey Rye is excellent at it’s price point but try using Baby Saz or Sazerac 18 in an Old Fashioned or Manhatten - outstanding.

blair frodelius 7 Dec 2010
7:16 am


I’ve also encountered some “that’s the way we’ve always done it” and “i know what you want, so don’t tell me differently” bartenders.  Granted, they are blessedly few and far between.  But, it does make for a hit or miss evening out when trying a new venue when out of town.

Yes, those vermouth brands are top notch.  Love ‘em!  But, many, many times the bar stock is literally that, Stock brand.  You’re doing well if they carry Noilly Prat or Martini & Rossi.  If they do have them, they’re usually sitting on the back bar quietly going bad; instead of keeping cool in a refrigeration unit. 

I could go on and on about the problems I’ve encountered over the years, but instead I’d like to point out that in general, the quality of cocktails and the ingredients in them is on the rise.  Thanks to the efforts of great people like Robert Hess and Jamie Boudreau here on the Small Screen Network, along with experts like Dale DeGroff, Ted Haigh, Tony Abou-Ganim and Gary “gaz” Regan who are authoring superb cocktail guides; the home enthusiast is able to experience truly great drinks with a little effort at home.  This knowledge will only create a ripple effect out in the field.



Trevor 7 Dec 2010
4:15 pm

Instead of twisting the orange peel over top of the drink, I muddle a quarter+ size piece of orange zest into the sugar/water/bitters solution, before adding the ice.  I wonder which way would give better orange flavor, or if it makes a difference at all?

Robert Hess 8 Dec 2010
4:28 am

I personally think the twist of orange peel over the drink does a better job of expressing the oils into the drink, but a lot could depend on the freshness of the orange itself.

Chuck Burns 8 Dec 2010
6:10 am

Of course if your ideal Old Fashioned had a strong orange taste you could experiment with reducing, or eliminating the simple syrup, and replacing it with a like amount of Grand Marnier or Marie Brizzard Grand Orange. I don’t think I’d try it with a cheap generic TripleSec.

FWIW I really like the Marie Brizzard products. We’ve been making Brandy Alexanders on some of these winter nights and the MB Brown Cacao makes a huge difference relative to using the cheap Dark Creme de Cacoa’s.

Lawrence Spies 8 Dec 2010
6:27 am

Also Gran Gala Orange Liqueur from Italy is a great choice too. It makes a great Margarita!

Robert Hess 15 Dec 2010
4:40 am

When you approach the Old Fashioned by seeing it as an example of the “original” cocktail (Spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters), you can use it as a springboard to go into a variety of directions.

Obviously using any spirit, but also taking the sweet component and using the liqueur of your choice, as well as any one of the plethora of bitters that we have today (who would have thought five years ago that we could use the word “plethora” when referring to cocktail bitters?).

And who’s to say you have to use a single spirit, or a single sweetener? Or even a “simple” sweetener? Chartreuse, Benedictine, etc are complex products which also lend a sweetness. Or Campari which brings both a sweet and bitter component to the drink?

The variations are endless.

Lawrence Spies 16 Dec 2010
8:43 am

Hmmmm….orange liqueur(in place of simple syrup) and cherry bitters would be a great choice.  I love Benedictine so I need to give that a try. Also Canton Ginger Liqueur would be interesting to try.  “plethora” when referring to cocktail bitters? Yeah really! So many to choose from now…I have cherry, grapefruit, Angostura, Peychaud,  and Regan’s Bitters on hand. Want to try Cranberry, Peach, Plum, and Old Fashioned bitters as well.

Lawrence Spies 16 Dec 2010
9:06 am

Oh and The Bitter Truth Creole Bitters is a must try as well…perfect for a Sazerac cocktail.

Steve Reynolds 6 Feb 2011
3:07 am

I’m curious about the differences in preparation between the drink in this video and the earlier Old Fashioned video from a few years ago.  The handling of the orange peel (added after the spirit in this video, prior to the spirit in the old one) seems relatively minor, and probably a stylistic choice more than anything else.  Of greater interest is the discrepancy in the quantity of simple syrup.  An eighth of an ounce is used here, as opposed to a half ounce in the earlier one.  I can understand maybe some slight difference depending on certain factors, and also that the amount of syrup used is going to vary based on personal preferences, but still, an eighth versus a half seems like a pretty large variance.  Is there any particular reason for this?  The older video uses bourbon as its spirit, versus the rye here – does this difference necessitate the change?  It appears as if demerara syrup is used with the bourbon drink, but not so with the rye, so perhaps this is also a factor?

Robert Hess 6 Feb 2011
8:14 am

Steve, The difference regarding the amoung of sugar is actually less then you might think. If you listen to both episodes, in the original episode I say “dollop” of simple syrup, and in this one I say “puddle”. Both of course are highly scientific measures :-> The transcription process of my spoken recipe to what you see listed on this page in print is where the problem lies.

The amount of simple syrup used should be “approximately” 1 tsp. The actual amount, should be up to you based both on your personal tastes, as well as the product being used. Some Bourbons are noticeably sweeter in character than some Ryes, so if you are using a Bourbon with a sweet character, then you would use less syrup in that then you would in a spicey Rye.

With this, as with any drink, a key notion to pay attention to is the “definition” of the recipe being used. By that, I mean the core constituents that make this drink an “Old Fashioned” as opposed to something else. The OF is a drink that should follow the original definition of a cocktail (”...spirits of any kind, sugar, water, bitters”), but exactly how much of each is sort of up to the bartender, as long as the final drink is not too far from the intended drink. The entire topic here is more then I can really go into in a post, but you can read more about this here: http://www.drinkboy.com/Articles/Article.aspx?itemid=35


Brad 30 Apr 2012
12:36 pm

I have been making the Old Fashioned like this for some time now and I won’t have it any other way.  My worst experience with this drink was on a recent trip to Seattle.  I was at the Met for steaks and decided to “test the waters” and order an Old Fashioned (pun intended).  I had noticed the bartender about to muddle the orange so I asked if she wouldn’t mind just putting in a thick zest of orange peel instead of muddling.  I turn my back for a second and to my disappointment the drink arrived at my table watered down with soda and had grated pieces of orange peel floating on the top???!!  “Swamp water” was the only thing that would come to mind.  If you’ve been turned off from the old fashioned due to atrocities like this, make it again the way Robert demonstrates and you will have a new go to drink.


Robert Hess 1 May 2012
8:09 am

Brad, yes, the “Met” (Metropolitain Grill, one of Seattle’s oldest steak restaurants), is unfortunately one of our bars where they will make your Old Fashioned wrong. It is my experience that 9 times out of 10, you will get your OF made incorrectly when you find yourself out on the town. What surprises me, is that it is so easy to make an OF correctly, and you actually have to take extra steps and extra trouble to make it poorly… and yet they always do.

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