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How The Old Fashioned Got Its Name

Updated: Dec 13, 2022

In a cocktail world that favours ever more complex flavours and additional sweet notes to go alongside high-quality spirits, one eternally popular cocktail has always bucked this trend by focusing purely on accentuating the taste of the spirit itself.


The Old Fashioned is one of the six basic cocktails listed in The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks and at its core is a remarkably simple drink, consisting of whisky, a sugar cube, bitters and a dash of water, garnished with either a cherry or an orange slice.


It was not always known as an Old Fashioned, however, initially being known as a bittered sling as early as 1806, although the Sling now often refers to more elaborate long drinks such as the Singapore Sling.


The aim is to bring out the flavour of exceptionally good whisky without the sharpness that can come with a neat spirit, and because of this became a favourite of connoisseurs of rare and well-aged bourbons available during that time.


Even by the 1860s, the cocktail had started to get sweeter, with curacao, fruit liqueurs and absinthe providing the first complex flavour profiles that would come to define the cocktail, and whilst they rightfully became highly successful, they were not universally appealing.


Those drinkers who had gotten used to simpler slings started to ask bartenders to make something similar to those older, more classic drinks, which led to the resurgence in popularity of old-fashioned cocktails.


Eventually, the Old Fashioned name settled on the whiskey drink we are familiar with today, although the origins of that name are still disputed to this day.


The Pendennis Club in Louisville Kentucky claims they were the ones to have invented it. However, references to “old-fashioned cocktails” predate the opening of the gentleman’s club by at least a year.


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