Rocks glass filled with amber-colored cocktail over ice with a wooden skewer and twisted blood orange peel.
Photography, Art Direction & Food Styling: Anthony Contrino

Everyone loves a well-crafted cocktail, but sometimes when it comes to mixing a classic (think martini, Manhattan, or, in this case, an Old Fashioned), you may not always get what you’re accustomed to.  Bartenders do their best to craft a drink that is traditional, but (as with everything in the culinary world) it’s not so black and white. There are choices to be made.  

Sometimes it’s the spirit (for an Old Fashioned: bourbon or rye whiskey), sometimes the technique (shaken or stirred).  Even the choice of serving vessel can be debated (rocks or coupe?)!  Trying to figure out the most authentic recipe can be daunting.  To add another layer of stress, it’s often the simple drinks (and foods) that are the hardest to execute as the ingredients need to be combined perfectly.  

When it comes to an Old Fashioned, it’s all about the balance of the sugar, bitters and spirit.  In my opinion, in order to achieve the perfect balance you have to break a rule right off the bat.  I’m ditching the sugar cube.  First of all, who has them lying around?  (Full disclosure…  I do, but because they’re nice to have for food styling, but normal people?  Probably not.)  Secondly, and more importantly, it’s difficult to dissolve in this cocktail.  The solution is a potent simple syrup.  

So, bourbon or rye whiskey.  Choose what you like.  Most traditionalists would use rye whiskey, which has spicy tones, to add to the balancing act of the cocktail.   Of course I have to go against the grain and prefer to use bourbon since I always have it on hand for cooking and baking. 

Lastly, when you use so few ingredients, quality matters.  Use the best bitters and bourbon (or rye whiskey) you can get your hands on.  And, leave it to me to make something so simple, so complicated!

Old Fashioned

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Inactive Time: 1 hour
Servings: 1 cocktail


FOR THE POTENT SIMPLE SYRUP: (Makes about 1 ¾ cups)

  • ½ cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • Pinch sea salt


  • 2 teaspoons potent simple syrup, recipe below
  • 2 dashes bitters
  • 2 ounces bourbon
  • 1 orange, for serving


  • MAKE THE SIMPLE SYRUP. In a small saucepan, combine the sugar, salt and ½ cup of cold water.
  • Cook over medium-high heat, stirring often, until the sugar and salt have completely dissolved; do not bring to a simmer.
  • Remove from the heat and cool at room temperature for 30 minutes.
  • Transfer to a pitcher and refrigerate until cool.
  • Store in the refrigerator for up to 7 days.
  • MAKE THE COCKTAIL. In a rocks glass, combine the simple syrup, bitters and bourbon.
  • While holding the orange above the cocktail, use a vegetable peeler to remove a 2 inch length of the peel, aiming so that the oils are sprayed into the glass.
  • Add a few large cubes of ice and stir vigorously to chill; serve immediately.


If you’d like to kick things up a notch, make the simple syrup with organic cane for a more complex flavor profile.
Course: Beverages, Cocktails
Author: Anthony Michael Contrino