Make the Best Old Fashioned You've Ever Had With These 15 Whiskies

Your choice of whiskey can make a real difference in this classic, simple cocktail.

The Old Fashioned is as classic a cocktail as exists in the American canon, yett over the generations, the core concept of combining spirit, sugar, and bitters has gotten muddled (sorry-not-sorry for the pun!). Too often, an order of an Old Fashioned results in what I like to call a boozy fruit salad, with mushed-up orange slices releasing intense pith-derived bitterness into the drink, a constellation of neon-hued cherries making the liquid itself little more than a hangover-inducing delivery system for sugar. But a great one can take three standard ingredients and create magic.

Best Whiskies for an Old Fashioned

Nicole Kandi / Getty Images

In order to compile this list of top whiskeys for Old Fashioned cocktails, I took a measured approach: I carefully measured out the same amount of syrup for each and every one of the dozens of Old Fashioneds I made (I used pre-made Demerara syrup from Twisted Alchemy, which is a nice middle-ground between white and brown sugar, and highlights the wood-aging notes of the whiskeys, in my experience), as well as Angostura bitters. I tasted everything garnish-free and then with oils expressed from an orange peel, which covered up many of the more minute differences between the whiskies. The notes below are based on iterations of the drinks prior to the addition of the orange oils.

Several things became clear over the course of my tastings. Anywhere between 95 and 105 proof seemed to be something of a sweet spot for the whiskeys, allowing the cocktail’s components to express themselves nicely — the added alcohol percentage prevented the drink from getting too diluted as the ice melted. Time and again, barrel-strength whiskies that are spectacular on their own just didn’t shine as brightly as I’d hoped in my Old Fashioned tastings. This could be a personal preference, but the spirit-forward character of them, which I love when sipping, just didn’t lend itself to a particularly harmonious Old Fashioned.

I also was surprised to find that several whiskeys that I love neat or on the rocks just didn’t sing in an Old Fashioned. Some came off as too sweet or unbalanced, while others felt too focused on the spice of the bitters. 

There are several whiskeys that make terrific Old Fashioned cocktails that are not included here, but could have been, and should also be part of your Old Fashioned rotation. Among those are delicious bottles from Uncle Nearest, Hirsch, Cooper’s Craft, Woodford Reserve, Old Forester, Michter’s, Yellow Rose, Milam & Greene, Old Elk, Old Grand-Dad, Old Overholt, Elijah Craig, and TX Whiskey, among others. I also didn’t include any flavored whiskeys, but the Journeyman Distillery Pit-Spitter Cherry Flavored Whiskey is one to look for, and makes a great Old Fashioned that’s reminiscent of dark-cherry-filled chocolate ganache. There’s also been a great leap forward in pre-batched Old Fashioned cocktails; among the best I’ve tasted recently comes from Bluebird Distilling.

I focused my tasting on American whiskeys, stressing a balance between familiar bottles and less-famous ones that are well worth space on your shelf, though there are any number of fantastic rye-forward Canadian whiskeys that make great Old Fashioned cocktails, such as Crown Royal and Alberta Premium. Among Irish whiskeys, the new Powers Rye makes a spectacular version. (Rye, incidentally, is a great go-to for Old Fashioned cocktails, as its inherent spice serves as a smart counterpoint to the sweetness of the added sugar.)

Finally, a note about price: It’s good to keep a range of whiskeys on hand – in case of emergency! I personally like to stock a handful of budget-friendly ones and, once in a while, treat myself to an Old Fashioned made with what might be called special-occasion whiskey. Some days it’s Evan Williams Bottled-In-Bond, and others it’s something pricier from Widow Jane. Variety, in whiskey as in life, is key.

2XO The Innkeeper’s Blend Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Best Whiskies for an Old Fashioned

Brooke Forte

Dixon Dedman’s new release makes for a powerful, spice-forward Old Fashioned in which the chocolate notes are reminiscent of Tootsie Rolls in the best possible sense.  The spice arrives wrapped in flavors of espresso. 

Angel’s Envy Rye Whiskey Finished in Caribbean Rum Casks

Best Whiskies for an Old Fashioned

Courtesy of Angel's Envy

The first time I had an Old Fashioned made with this whiskey, my tasting notes referenced graham crackers and caramel. That still holds true today, and this whiskey also helps this cocktail to ring with warm vanilla and milk chocolate. It’s a fantastic iteration both before and after dinner, and could serve as a great dessert on its own.

Basil Hayden Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Best Whiskies for an Old Fashioned

Courtesy of Basil Hayden

This high-rye bourbon makes for a notably elegant Old Fashioned, with silky and fresh flavors of dried apricots dusted with cinnamon and drizzled with caramel. Orange oils shine brightly when expressed on top, likely given the very moderate 80-proof of the whiskey itself. 

Blade and Bow Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Best Whiskies for an Old Fashioned

Cameron Wilder

Chocolate pudding and vanilla pastry cream aromas set the stage for dried orange slices, yellow apple fritters, and tingling spice in this whiskey. Bergamot and pineapple upside down cake join the party to make for a  fruit-forward, dangerously delicious Old Fashioned.

District Made Straight Rye Whiskey

Best Whiskies for an Old Fashioned

Courtesy of District Made

Produced in Washington, D.C., from One Eight Distilling, this whiskey makes for an Old Fashioned that is a deep, rich iteration sings with cinnamon, molasses, and, unexpectedly, Halloween candy corn. You can also expect a grace note of cooked honey and Red Hots cinnamon candy through the vibrant finish.

George Dickel No. 12 Tennessee Whisky

This whiskey makes a wonderfully nutty Old Fashioned, full of pecans and toasted black walnuts that are layered with the darker spices of the bitters. The fruit remains in the background here, though hints of black-plum brown butter cake and caramel-drizzled cinnamon-baked apple peek through, making this particularly well-suited to colder weather and holiday gatherings.

Knob Creek 7 Year Old Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey

Best Whiskies for an Old Fashioned

Courtesy of Knob Creek

This is the first age-statement rye released from Knob Creek, and it’s a fantastic sipper, as well as a phenomenal base for a deeply honeyed Old Fashioned that’s also full of grilled white peaches, melted chocolate, graham crackers, and cloves.

Larceny Small Batch Wheated Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Best Whiskies for an Old Fashioned

Courtesy of Larceny

The bitters seem to stand out more prominently in this whiskey, which is an unexpected but  delicious result. You’ll also find aromas reminiscent of French toast topped with maple syrup and orange zest, which lead to a palate that shines with cardamom and bergamot. 

Maker’s Mark Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Best Whiskies for an Old Fashioned

Courtesy of Maker's Mark

The velvety texture of Maker’s Mark means that an Old Fashioned made with it is destined to have serious presence on the palate. Orange sherbet and cinnamon shortbread cookies find further weight with lightly browned butter and caramel-filled chocolates, like Rollo’s, making this whiskey optimal for an after-dinner Old Fashioned.

Nelson Bros. Classic Blend of Straight Bourbon Whiskeys

Best Whiskies for an Old Fashioned

Courtesy of Nelson Bros.

A higher percentage of rye in this whiskey means that there is an assertive pulse of spice framing the notes of butterscotch, peanut brittle, and melted milk chocolate. Mashed pears and yellow apples lend it roundness, but this Old Fashioned is more spice-forward than many bourbon-based ones often are.

Pinhook Vertical Series 7 Year Old Straight Rye Whiskey

Best Whiskies for an Old Fashioned

Courtesy of Pinhook

The buzz around Pinhook has been growing in impressive ways in recent years, and this whiskey is a delicious example of why. It’s terrific on its own, and makes an Old Fashioned of notable freshness: The cocktail shines with lemon drop candies, graham crackers, apricots, and dulce de leche, with a finishing note of coffee creme caramel.

RD1 Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Best Whiskies for an Old Fashioned

Manny Rodriguez

Sweet and marked by candied red apples and cardamom, this makes for a very complex, sweet yet spiced Old Fashioned. The 98 proof dilutes beautifully, resulting in maple syrup-like flavors, especially with the addition of orange oils, and picks up a note of melted dark and milk chocolate, as well as a touch of Amarena cherries. 

WhistlePig PiggyBack 6 Year Old Small Batch Bourbon Whiskey

Best Whiskies for an Old Fashioned

Courtesy of WhistlePig

With a balance of power and elegant woodsy spice, this whiskey highlights the vanilla pod, clove, and star anise side of an Old Fashioned, while structuring wood tannins lend it both length and precision. A touch of cigar tobacco and cedar peek through on the finish, where they’re joined by ancho-spiced chocolate and caramel.

Wild Turkey 101 Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey

Best Whiskies for an Old Fashioned

Courtesy of Wild Turkey

Deliciously balanced on the razor’s edge between assertive peppery spice and honey-drizzled caramelized white grapefruit, an Old Fashioned made with this whiskey shows caramelized pineapples and mangoes, ginger powder, and licorice.

Woodinville Straight Rye Whiskey

Pot distilled entirely from rye, this Washington State gem is great on its own and also makes a subtly nutty Old Fashioned that’s unexpectedly full of candied lime slices and fresh lemon oils, with peanut fudge and spiced apricot through the long finish.

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