Does An Old Fashioned Have To Be Made With Whiskey?

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Is there any drink that warms you up like an old fashioned? Your favorite whiskey or bourbon is heightened with bitters and enhanced with a bit of sugar to create a cozy cocktail perfect for a night by the fire or for unwinding after a long week.

The old fashioned originated more than 200 years ago. According to Whiskey Rebellion Trail, the first old fashioned appeared back in 1806, but it was more of a category of beverage rather than a specific drink. The outlet reports that by the 1860s, the addition of sugar, bitters, and water made for a "style" that bargoers often requested with their favorite spirit; 20 years later, that favorite spirit was more likely to be whiskey than anything else.

Some believe the drink originated in Louisville, Kentucky, but what we know for sure is that it first appeared in print in 1895 (in a recipe book that you can still purchase today), solidifying whiskey or bourbon as the spirit of choice in this cocktail. Since then, you're hard-pressed to find a bartender who will ask you what type of liquor you want in your old fashioned, unless they're looking for a brand. But does that mean every old fashioned should be made with whiskey?

An old fashioned doesn't require whiskey

Next time you're considering making this old-school cocktail, try making it with another spirit. Since an "old fashioned" was more or less just a style, it was traditionally made with the consumer's spirit of choice. According to Thrillist, when the old fashioned became popular in the 19th century, the personal touch of choosing your own spirit was actually compounded by the bartender giving the customer their own drink to pour. The outlet reports that a New York Times letter to the editor, written in 1936, details the idea that the bartender would prepare the bitters, ice, sugar, and water for the drink, then hand the customer the alcohol to pour however much they desired. If that doesn't say personalized, we're not sure what does.

Swapping spirits isn't just for the old fashioned; you can do it with plenty of cocktails. The New York Times claims that alternate liquors aren't something to be afraid of; changing out the vodka in your Cosmopolitan for anything else you have on hand, such as tequila, might change the flavor, but it's a combination that will still work. Still, the sheer number of old fashioned riffs available is impressive.

Variations of the drink are quite common

When it comes to making an old fashioned, it's not just about swapping spirits. The drink can be made in a variety of ways — especially depending on where you're ordering it. According to Thrillist, parts of the Midwest prefer to make the drink with American brandy instead of whiskey. To that, they add what they call "bug juice," which is essentially a mixture of the traditional bitters and sugar with some water, though its nickname isn't as common in other parts of the country. It's sometimes finished off with 7 Up.

Punch reports that in other parts of the world, different techniques create a slightly different old fashioned. Argentina prefers to turn its bitters, sugars, and water into a paste that lines the glass before adding the drinker's whiskey of choice. In London, the old fashioned is made in two parts; a small quantity of whiskey and ice is paired with the three traditional ingredients at first, then stirred before the remaining whiskey and ice are added. And in New York City, bartender Phil Ward created the Oaxaca Old Fashioned, an intriguing blend of tequila and mezcal that set the cocktail apart in the New York City dining scene. Why not get creative and try your own take on an old fashioned with your preferred bitters and liquor?