The 7 Best Bourbons for Old Fashioneds, According to Bartenders

These experts believe the whiskey is the most important element in this iconic cocktail.

<p>Food & Wine / Wild Turkey Distilling Company / Few Distillery / Buffalo Trace Distillery / Tim Nusog</p>

Food & Wine / Wild Turkey Distilling Company / Few Distillery / Buffalo Trace Distillery / Tim Nusog

Is there any cocktail more iconic than the Old Fashioned?

The simple concoction of whiskey, sugar, bitters, and ice, garnished with a twist of orange has enchanted drinkers since the 19th Century. Over time, as cocktails grew in popularity and variations on the template of spirits mixed with sugar, bitters, and water began to emerge, drinkers would order their pours in the “Old Fashioned” style, referring to this specific configuration of ingredients. The name stuck and nearly two centuries later, the cocktail's popularity shows no signs of waning.

Related: The Best Old Fashioned Glasses, According to Whiskey Experts

“Old Fashioneds have stood the test of time for a reason,” says Resa Mueller, general manager at Philadelphia’s R&D Cocktail Bar. “They are straightforward and easy to make for even the most amateur home bartender, but in the hands of a skilled bartender, they are nuanced enough to showcase a really incredible whiskey.”

Made primarily with American whiskey nowadays, the Old Fashioned originally could be made with any spirit. “You could order a Whiskey Cocktail, a Gin Cocktail, etc. The little bit of water and bitters helped dissolve the sugar cube,” says Lindsay Matteson, beverage director and general manager at Hell or High Water in Louisville, Kentucky. “The addition of fruit seems to have come during Prohibition as a way to mask lower quality spirits.”

"“[Old Fashioneds] are straightforward and easy to make for even the most amateur home bartender, but in the hands of a skilled bartender, they are nuanced enough to showcase a really incredible whiskey.” — Resa Mueller, general manager, R&D Cocktail Bar, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania"

Today, if one were to order an Old Fashioned, it would almost certainly be made with rye, or bourbon, served on a large block of ice, and garnished with a thin slice of orange peel.

“With only four ingredients, the whiskey you choose will change the flavor of the drink drastically,” says Matteson. “When choosing a bourbon for an Old Fashioned, you're thinking about balance. Depending on your palate, you might want something that's more bright with orange flavors, or more dry with black pepper notes.”

<p>Food & Wine / Tim Nusog</p>

Food & Wine / Tim Nusog

Balance of flavor is also an important consideration. “I typically look for bourbons that are higher in proof and have a robust flavor profile note that stands up to the other ingredients in the cocktail,” says Mueller. “A simple cocktail build also means that using a well-balanced whiskey is essential to a well-balanced cocktail.”

The bourbon section of most liquor stores is quite crowded these days — there have never been more bottles of quality bourbon on the market. We’ve consulted with bartenders from across the country who have offered to guide us through a few of their favorite bourbons to use when mixing an Old Fashioned. Here are their favorites.

Elijah Craig Small Batch

<p>Food & Wine / Heaven Hill Distillery</p>

Food & Wine / Heaven Hill Distillery

Elijah Craig was allegedly the first person to commercially distill whiskey in Kentucky, and his namesake bourbon is one of the best examples of modern Kentucky Straight Bourbon. Produced by Heaven Hill Distillery, Elijah Craig is packed with flavor, distilled to 94 proof, and easily found for less than $30 a bottle. What’s not to love?

“Elijah Craig always makes a solid Old Fashioned, you can't go wrong,” says Matteson. “It is the perfect proof with great body, and has some grassy notes combined with bright citrus flavors for something really complex for the price.”

If you’re looking for a bit more heft in your Old Fashioned, Heaven Hill also offers Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, a cask-strength, powerhouse bottling, popular among collectors for its uncompromisingly rich flavor profile.

Old Grand Dad Bottled In Bond

<p>Food & Wine / Beam-Suntory</p>

Food & Wine / Beam-Suntory

Old Grand Dad Bottled in Bond is a dark horse in the bourbon world. Often overlooked for flashier labels and familiar names, Old Grand Dad has found a cult following among whiskey connoisseurs and bartenders alike for its value. It’s about the best bang for your buck on the market when it comes to flavor.

This $25 bottle is packed with flavor and perfect for mixing, especially in an Old Fashioned. Its aroma has a distinct roasted hazelnut character that when paired with flavor notes of butterscotch, caramel, and baking spice, creates a balanced and delicious whiskey.

Few Straight Bourbon

<p>Food & Wine / Few Distillery</p>

Food & Wine / Few Distillery

Compared to some of the other bottles on this list, Few Straight Bourbon, from the Chicago area, is a relative newcomer. Don’t let that fool you, this award-winning, grain-to-glass whiskey can throw down with the best of them.

“Few Straight Bourbon is one of my favorite whiskeys to reach for when a guest asks for a classic Old Fashioned,” says Mueller. “It’s pretty much the perfect bourbon for the Old Fashioned, as the [other ingredients] allow for the high-proof and high-rye character to shine brightly,” she says. “A beautiful spice level makes your mouth water for more, and it’s dry enough to be the perfect compliment to the traditional Old Fashioned ingredients.”

Russell’s Reserve 10

<p>Food & Wine / Wild Turkey Distilling Company</p>

Food & Wine / Wild Turkey Distilling Company

The Russell’s Reserve line was crafted by Wild Turkey’s second-generation master distiller, Eddie Russell, as a counter to his father, Jimmy Russell’s preferred high-proof, spice-forward profile typified by Wild Turkey 101 and Wild Turkey Rare Breed.

The core Russell’s Reserve expression is the balanced, fruit-forward, and confectionary 10-year-old expression. Its gentler, yet still flavorful profile makes it the perfect fit for a people-pleasing cocktail. “This is one of my all-around crowd pleasers,” says Matteson. “It has juicy apricot and fig notes to make it approachable while being complex with spice and a dry finish, which enhances any cocktail.”

Widow Jane

<p>Food & Wine / Widow Jane Distillery</p>

Food & Wine / Widow Jane Distillery

When one thinks of bourbon whiskey, the first place that comes to mind isn’t usually Brooklyn, New York. But that’s where Widow Jane crafts their 10-year-old, 91-proof flagship bourbon. This bold and well-aged spirit is perfectly suited to do the heavy lifting in an Old Fashioned cocktail.

“The proof brings out more spice in the whiskey that compliments the bitters in an Old Fashioned perfectly and there are great dried fruit notes for added complexity,” Matteson says. “Try a lemon twist with this one to really bring out those black pepper notes.”

Maker’s Mark

<p>Food & Wine / Maker's Mark Distillery</p>

Food & Wine / Maker's Mark Distillery

With its signature red wax-dipped bottle, Maker’s Mark is possibly the most recognizable bourbon on the market. Maker’s Mark is a “wheated bourbon,” meaning the secondary grain used to flavor the whiskey is wheat instead of the more commonly used rye. This gives the bourbon a softer, sweeter flavor profile that makes it both a pleasant sipper and a subtle yet satisfying base spirit in the right drink.

“Maker's Mark is my go-to for a decadent dessert Old Fashioned. The wheat gives a fluffy texture with marmalade notes, which makes the cocktail so easy drinking it's hard not to resist,” says Matteson. For a similar flavor profile with a bit more horsepower, the readily available Maker’s Mark Cask Strength is a great high-proof substitute.

Eagle Rare

<p>Food & Wine / Buffalo Trace Distillery</p>

Food & Wine / Buffalo Trace Distillery

Hailing from Frankfort, Kentucky’s famed Buffalo Trace distillery, Eagle Rare is a hot item. Like many whiskeys produced by Buffalo Trace, this 10-year-old bourbon is allocated, meaning it can be tough to find in some regions.

If you’re lucky enough to find a bottle at a good price, Eagle Rare makes an incredible Old Fashioned. The decade spent maturing in oak gives it a rich, toasty character with just a hint of wood tannin that is in perfect balance when stirred with sugar and bitters in an Old Fashioned.

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