The Old Fashioned Bell Curve

How many articles have you read about this drink? Why do people keep Googling the old fashioned? I think that everyone wants to know how to make it the best. Like any drink. That is the common question when working behind a bar. What is the best? I get it. Why would anyone want to waste their time with a sub par beverage? You can only enjoy so many of them before you are carelessly just putting booze in the mouth hole and ruining tomorrow.

There isn’t a wrong way to make an old fashioned if you follow some guidelines.


The first debate. Do you give it all a ride in a mixing glass? Do you build it in the glass? Do you infuse it beforehand with sticks, twigs, and bacon and then put it in a barrel for a year before serving? The debate goes on and on but I have planted my flag by making the drink in the glass you plan to drink out of. I do this for one specific reason aside from my hate for doing dishes. The old fashioned bell curve.

When you mix the drink quickly with good ice and serve it in the same glass, you are handing someone a ticking clock. At first the drink will be too strong. That is okay. You are letting them experience the old fashioned bell curve. As they sit and let the drink mature it takes in water and becomes colder. Different flavors come and go due to the dilution and temperature. You then reach a point of pure bliss. The top of the curve.

So why wouldn’t you give someone a drink right at that peak? For most cocktails that is ideal. A martini for example should go out to your guest at its peak. A Manhattan or a gimlet. Drinks that will be served up. For a rocks sipper you need the rise up to its peak and then the drop off. To hand someone an old fashioned at its peak means that it is only downhill from there until you have a watery mess.


If the whiskey is the base of the drink, the ice is the foundation. We all know the story about building your house on a crummy foundation–right, Venice? Use good ice. Solid hard ice. It is crucial to keeping the drink in the bliss zone for longer.


Back to the booze part, you need to use a higher proof whiskey. Yes, you could use any spirit and technically it would be an old fashioned but you can go read someone else’s blog about gin old fashions.

I don’t care if you use Rye or Bourbon. I don’t care where it was made either. You need to go for something with heat. Wild Turkey 101 comes to mind…or Noah’s Mill if you want to spend a touch more on a bottle. They both make a killer old fashioned. I like pulling out some Bonded Old Fitzgerald for the task because I enjoy what the marshmallow sweetness of a wheater can bring to the table. No need to go with a barrel proof whiskey. Aim for something over the legal 80 proof.

A rye will give you a spicier end result but a good friend once told me that the old fashioned is a grandma drink. It is supposed to be on the sweet side.


I could care less what kind of sugar goes in. Bar staffs have split over this argument. Demerara vs Brown vs Refined White. Cubes vs Scoops vs Syrups. While all this fighting is going on there is usually a guy at the end of the bar that just wants another beer. I use the same 58% simple syrup solution I use in all my cocktails. But, Luke! What about the added flavor of using a darker less refined sugar? Well, I am not drinking an old fashioned for the intricacies of the sugar used to calm down the whisky in my drink. I am drinking an old fashioned because it is too early or too late for a neat pour. Sometimes you don’t want the strength of undiluted whiskey. Like how people buy sports cars with automatic transmissions.


Angostura. That’s all folks. The addition of Orange bitters doesn’t add much here and it’s another step. All the other ones like barrel aged this-and-that or pumpkin spice bitters should stay in their bottles for…ever.


You don’t need a huge old fashioned. Think of the drink as a pour of whiskey with a tie on. It’s a prettied up pour of whiskey and kind of sweet at that. I keep mine below 60 mls (2 oz).


I like to use an orange peel or a lemon peel. Sometimes both. Depends on the day and what citrus I have laying around. I don’t mind a slice of orange (same with a Negroni) if the day calls for it but I don’t like it all mushed to hell. I prefer not to use cherries in any of my drinks but, if that floats your boat, then by all means. Simplicity is key here and an orange peel fits the bill. Please don’t light it on fire. Parlor tricks should not be necessary if you can mix a good drink.


Old Fashioned
In a rocks glass:
Add 3ish Chunks of Ice
3 Dashes of Angostura Bitters
45 ml of High Proof Whiskey
5 ml Simple Syrup
Stir quickly and garnish with an orange peel.

Think of the bell curve! The drink is only getting better until it isn’t.


Originally published at on February 20, 2017.


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