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An Old Fashioned cocktail is one of the most popular classic cocktails of all time. It is crafted with only a few ingredients and procedures; however, one can still mess it up if the quality of ingredients falls short. For this post, we will focus on its main component: the mighty whiskey.
There are many types of whiskey with different flavor profiles. Rye whiskey and bourbon work best in complementing the other ingredients of an Old Fashioned. Furthermore, different brands have signature flavors in their whiskeys that can greatly affect the resulting taste of the cocktail.
If you want to elevate your drink, be sure to give the best whiskey for Old Fashioned cocktail a try!
Our Top Picks
We are amazed at how the Buffalo Trace Bourbon is produced at America’s oldest operating distillery, which is also considered the world’s most award-winning distillery. It gets its name from its location where buffalo used to cross the Kentucky River.
Only the highest quality corn, rye, and barley malt are used for Buffalo Trace bourbon. It also several years in fresh oak barrels stored in century-old warehouses until it’s at its best. Although it has a relatively low alcohol content, that doesn’t stop it from shining in the cocktail.
Interestingly, this is frequently the bourbon of choice for craft cocktail bars’ traditional Old Fashioned. The unique flavors of vanilla, mint, molasses, toffee, dark fruit, and anise in the bourbon provide great complexity that elevates the cocktail.
Country of Origin: Kentucky, USA | ABV: 40% | Tasting Notes: Brown sugar, oak, spice, dark fruits
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The Eagle Rare 10 Year’s first release dates back to the 70s when the U.S. bourbon industry’s reputation was less than stellar at best. We love how this laid the groundwork for bourbon to become today’s popular drink.
Eagle Rare is aged for at least ten years in carefully selected barrels to ensure a consistent taste from batch to batch while showcasing each release’s distinctive characteristics.
This whiskey is deliciously fragrant and woody. The first sip features moderate wood, spice, and mint flavors, followed by caramel and some alcohol heat.
Country of Origin: Kentucky, USA | ABV: 45% | Tasting Notes: Oak, candied almonds, cocoa
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Four Roses have created 10 various recipes of bourbon using two distinct mash bills and five different yeast strains. Their Small Batch comprises four recipes, namely – OESK, OBSO, OBSK, and OESO.
Since its introduction in 2006, Four Roses Small Batch has become a favorite among bartenders as the perfect base for Old Fashioneds as its oak flavors pair well with the cocktails’ Angostura bitters and orange zest. The caramel and vanilla complement the sugar cube too.
We’re also impressed at how this best bourbon keeps winning awards since 2008. It even won Silver at the World Whiskies Awards just last year and a silver medal at the Denver International Spirits Competition in 2020.
Country of Origin: Kentucky, USA | ABV: 45% | Tasting Notes: Ripened red berries, dried spice, honey, sweet oak, caramel
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“I believe the Kuiper Belt Aged 8 Years is the ideal whiskey for an Old Fashioned since its rich flavor and smooth finish make it stand out, with notes of oak, cinnamon, and vanilla creating a complex profile,” says Anthony Psyk from Brew That Coffee.
He continues, “Though bolder than some whiskeys, its full-bodied character works perfectly in an Old Fashioned. The aging process gives it a mellow and smooth taste so that it won’t overpower the other ingredients in the drink.”
Country of Origin: Kentucky, USA | ABV: 45%| Tasting Notes: Honey, caramel, vanilla, molasses, charcoal
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Elijah Craig bourbon is named after the Father of Bourbon, a Baptist preacher who lived in Kentucky in the 19th century. It is a small batch of bourbon distilled, aged, and bottled from a traditional bourbon mash bill of 78% corn, 10% rye, and 12% malted barley.
It is then aged for 8 to 12 years in #3 charred new American oak barrels. Tastewise, it begins with bright, fruity aromas and tingling rye spice. It then opens up to oak flavors, which add depth and layers of flavor, culminating in a toasty finish where all the flavors blend into one.
Because of its smooth quality, It won Double Gold twice at the San Francisco World Spirits 2021 and 2022.
Country of Origin: Kentucky, USA | ABV: 47% | Tasting Notes: Wood, nutmeg, spice, smoke
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While most bourbons have some rye in them, this one leaves it out on purpose so that it has its signature smoothness and sweetness. Specifically, its mash bill comprises 70% corn, 16% red winter wheat, and 14% malted barley.
Each barrel is rotated by hand, aged according to preference rather than by the clock. Furthermore, each bottle is hand-dipped in red wax, providing an air of elegance to its appearance.
This bourbon boasts a perfectly balanced body that is neither too delicate nor too full. You’ll sense caramel, vanilla, and molasses flavors, all complemented by a delightful layer of oak. And we adore how the smooth elegance continues into the finish.
Country of Origin: Kentucky, USA | ABV: 45% | Tasting Notes: Sweet fruit, oak, vanilla
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Knob Creek Straight bourbon was first created in 1992 and is known as the original bourbon of the brand. It is aged for nine years, which extracts more flavor and sugar from the wood, resulting in a full-bodied, fruity flavor with notes of grass and grain.
Knob Creek bourbon is also 100-proof, which is thought to be the true age of bourbons produced a century ago. This bourbon features an impeccable balance of oak flavors, complemented with hints of smooth vanilla and layered caramel.
Combining those flavors with Old Fashioned ingredients is undeniably a winning combination, making it one of the best choices for its price point.
Country of Origin: Kentucky, USA | ABV: 50% | Tasting Notes: Prune, raisin, oaky vanilla
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When Cody Johnson, bar manager and bartender at Barrel 239, crafts an Old Fashioned, he reaches for the Old Forester 1910. “I pair it with black walnut bitters, a dash of simple syrup, and a toasted orange peel. I smoke the drink with oak chips and garnish with a filthy cherry.”
“This whiskey has a nice woody, extra charred essence to it – which is actually due to a fire on their bottling line in 1910 where they had to put the whiskey back into a secondary barrel for storing, hence the name,” he emphasizes.
Country of Origin: Kentucky, USA | ABV: 46.5% | Tasting Notes: Caramel, corn, oak, char, oatmeal, spices
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John E. Fitzgerald inspired the name Larceny Bourbon. He was a Treasury agent who used his access to Kentucky bourbon storerooms to steal premium barrels of bourbon and sell them under his label, Old Fitzgerald.
This bourbon is made using the old Fitzgerald custom, which is to substitute wheat for rye as the small grain in the whiskey’s mash bill. Bottled at a robust 92-proof, it is sourced from barrels matured for between 6 and 12 years in high storage.
Larceny Bourbon is an excellent introduction to the wheat bourbon section, with an appealing butterscotch aroma that leads to a rich, honeyed palate. Its use of wheat results in a smooth and desirable finish with a distinct flavor.
Country of Origin: Kentucky, USA | ABV: 46% | Tasting Notes: Honey, fresh bread, buttery caramel
In 1812, the Woodford Reserve Distillery became the first location in the world to master the skill of producing high-quality bourbon, lending historical credence to the Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight bourbon.
More than 200 distinct flavors come together in this bourbon, which has been matured to perfection in barrels. It has a clean, bright honey amber color, and on the nose, it is rich in dried fruit, mint, and traces of vanilla and smoke.
In terms of taste, it has notes of citrus, cinnamon, and cocoa, all of which play well in Old Fashioned cocktails. The first sip will be smooth and almost creamy, followed by a warm and satisfying finish.
Country of Origin: Kentucky, USA | ABV: 45.2% | Tasting Notes: Toffee, caramel, chocolate, and spice
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Bulleit Straight Bourbon has a distinct and intriguing flavor for those who want to enjoy a phenomenal Old Fashioned. This bourbon has a fantastic blend of rye, corn, barley malt, and special strains of yeast and pure Kentucky limestone-filtered water.
What distinguishes Bulleit Bourbon from others is its high rye mash bill. This means it has more pepper flavors of traditional rye whiskey, as well as vanilla and caramel corn flavors. Also, its black pepper and ginger notes will ensure that your Old Fashioned has a lot of spicy flavors.
We applaud this bourbon for being recognized with various awards. Among others, they won numerous Gold and Silver medals at San Francisco World Spirits Competition in different years.
Country of Origin: Kentucky, USA | ABV: 45% | Tasting Notes: Spice, maple syrup, oak, nutmeg
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Joshua Richholt, the owner of Down & Out, says, “Personally, I like to choose a bourbon that is bold and has a few big tasting notes, as some of the more subtle flavors can be overwhelmed in an Old Fashioned.”
“So, I like to go with something like Kings County’s Barrel Strength, which is a great whiskey in its own right, but also has the backbone to compliment the bitters and complexity to be complemented by the oils from the orange,” he adds.
Country of Origin: New York, USA | ABV: 64% | Tasting Notes: Maple, brandied cherries, shortbread, wood
Wild Turkey has been made by father-son duo Jimmy and Eddie Russell, for over 60 years, with Jimmy at the helm of its distillery. Wild Turkey’s whiskey portfolio is revered by bourbon enthusiasts, partly due to its usage of the same processes as when it was first launched.
This high-ABV product is aged between six to eight years and is ideal for those who like a boozy kick in their Old Fashioned.
The pepper and cinnamon in this bourbon lead to a warming finish with a nice mouthfeel. It’s also sweetened with a touch of vanilla and caramel. We could also notice oak, which has merged nicely.
Country of Origin: Kentucky, USA | ABV: 50.5% | Tasting Notes: Vanilla, caramel, oak, baking spices
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Overholt Rye Whiskey was founded in 1810 by the visionary Abraham Overholt and is widely acknowledged as the oldest continuously produced American Rye. Having been around for centuries, it was, at one point, the most widely consumed alcoholic beverage in the US.
This famed rye whiskey is an excellent choice for a more mellow Old Fashioned. It’s an instantly mixable classic that’s a bartender’s go-to for all kinds of cocktails because it’s affordable and well-balanced between spice and grain flavors.
With a price as low as its proof, this rye allows you to make delectable drinks without breaking the bank.
Country of Origin: Kentucky, USA | ABV: 43% | Tasting Notes: Dark fruit, pepper, vanilla
In 2004, the Four Roses brand was relaunched in the United States, and the company released a single-barrel bourbon. At about $45 – $55 per bottle, it’s a steal in the single-barrel section.
We also like that it’s not too hard to find one of these in a liquor store or online, which is surprising given how some single-barrel bourbons are rare to come across.
Thanks to its rye-forward mash bill, it possesses the spicy, herbal, and fruity qualities that are fit for an Old Fashioned. And at 100 proof, it’s potent enough to stand out even after dilution.
Country of Origin: Kentucky, USA | ABV: 50% | Tasting Notes: Vanilla, plum, cherries, dark chocolate, apple
Michelle LaBorde, head bartender and sommelier at Dancing Bear Lodge, expresses, “The Old Fashioned’s virtue is in its simplicity, and it is a drink that is revered by whiskey and bourbon purists as the original whiskey cocktail.”
“While any high-quality whiskey will make a great Old Fashioned, Michter’s Straight Rye Whiskey has unique fruit and spicy leather notes that elevate the cocktail, adding a new dimension of flavor and depth. Its proof also makes it an approachable choice for rye whiskey,” she adds.
Country of Origin: Kentucky, USA | ABV: 46.4% | Tasting Notes: Toffee, toasted almonds, pepper, vanilla
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To boost product development, Maker’s Mark founder Bill Samuels hired Mr. Brad Boswell, who proposed altering the bourbon by adding toasted, charred chunks of French oak.
Maker’s 46 was so named because the profile for this technique was number 46. Their Cask Strength is made with the original Maker’s Mark 46 but with additional maturation procedures.
The added French oak staves helped draw out smooth and mellow flavors such as vanilla and caramel. Vanilla notes provide a gentle opening flavor, with candied apple also present before a stampede of spices led by cinnamon. Cloves and pepper follow afterward.
Country of Origin: Kentucky, USA | ABV: 47% | Tasting Notes: Caramel, chocolate, malt, clove, toasted oak, baking spice
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This whiskey, which is thought to be made using Buffalo Trace’s low-rye rye mash bill, comes in an elegant, recognizable bottle with a sleek, simple logo. It is labeled after New Orleans’ Sazerac Coffee House, the birthplace of the famed Sazerac cocktail.
While the age statement of Sazerac’s Rye is not explicitly stated on the label, it is generally believed to be between four and six years old. We love the distinctive floral and fruity notes of this drink as it mingles well with more traditional undertones of vanilla and caramel.
Country of Origin: Kentucky, USA | ABV: 45% | Tasting Notes: Candies, spice, citrus, and licorice
This rye whiskey has been matured for ten years in a special double-barrel procedure. A lot of the distillery’s ingredients come from Alberta, even though it is physically located in Vermont.
Just a taste in, and we’re hit with a plethora of tropical fruit notes, particularly orange and pineapple. However, this rye is not sickeningly sweet despite its fruity undertones. Instead, there are hints of wood, peppermint, and a little heat.
The big fruit flavors of this rye sets it apart, which is good for an Old Fashioned because adding sugar and bitters brings out even more of the nuances in the spirit.
Country of Origin: Vermont, United States | ABV: 50% | Tasting Notes: Fruity, caramel, vanilla, and ryespice
Will Woodington, national whiskey brand ambassador for Chicken Cock Whiskey, shares, “For my perfect Old Fashioned, I want to utilize a whiskey bottled between 90-100 proof and has a backbone of spice that accentuates the citrus, slight bitterness, and lightly sweet flavors.”
“What I love about Chicken Cock Rye is that it drinks bolder than its 90-proof statement. It also has delicious flavors of peppery spice, vanilla, toasted oak, and an insatiable tangerine flavor component that is the perfect compliment to the other flavors in the cocktail,” he adds.
Country of Origin: Kentucky, USA | ABV: 45% | Tasting Notes: Citrus, vanilla, spices, butterscotch
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Once you find the best whiskey for your taste, your Old Fashioned will be on another level! But for starters, we suggest using our top pick, Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey because it has all the classic flavors in a whiskey perfect for an Old Fashioned.
You’re also free to experiment with other whiskeys, so you’re constantly making excellent variations of the classic cocktail. Which whiskey do you think will make a great Old Fashioned? We’d appreciate hearing your thoughts in the comments below.
Best Whiskey For Old Fashioned Cocktail Buying Guide
With many different whiskeys to choose from, it might take time to decide which one to start with. So, allow these factors to help you narrow down your choices and ultimately pick the best one for you.
Type (Ingredients/ Process)
Typically, corn, rye, wheat, barley, or oats are used to make whiskey. Its sweetness depends on the type of grain that was used to make it, which differs in sugar concentration. A proper Old Fashioned calls for bourbon or rye whiskey, but there are also recipes that use other types.
Most bourbons are produced in Kentucky, USA, and must be created from at least 51% corn. Furthermore, charred oak barrels are used for aging it.
On the other hand, rye whiskey can be made anywhere. It must contain a minimum of 41% mashed rye grain and is also matured in charred new oak barrels for at least two years.
The tastes of whiskey can take on a wide variety of flavors depending on a number of factors, including the type of grain used, the aging period, and the type of casks in which it is stored.
A whiskey’s flavor profile can range in smokiness, fruitiness, and nuttiness, among other characteristics. But you can always anticipate a strong alcohol taste because of whiskey’s high alcohol concentration.
Dana Nguyen, assistant food & beverage director at The Elms Hotel & Spa, suggests finding bourbons that aren’t too sweet and ryes that aren’t too spicy. “Also, look for something that can handle sugar and ice dilution because you don’t want a sugary watered-down Old Fashioned.”
On the other hand, Anthony Psyk says, “I prefer bourbon for its smooth and slightly sweet taste that complements the other flavors in the drink. However, rye and Scotch can also work, with rye offering a spicier flavor and Scotch a smoky and briny taste.”
Bourbon usually has smoky flavors paired with nuttiness, caramel sweetness, baking spices, and fruit flavors. These classic qualities will be good for a traditional Old Fashioned.
Rye also has some oak and fruit, but it is more on the spicy and herbal side, which adds great dimension to the cocktail.
Although there is no required age for bourbon, it must be matured in new, charred barrels for at least two years before it can be labeled as such. Some distilleries age their bourbon for a minimum of four years and can go up to ten years.
When bourbon is aged, flavor notes from the barrels are transferred into the liquor, making it deeper and more complex. However, if it is aged for more than 15 years, it may end up being sour, too oaky, bitter, or dusty.
Like bourbon, rye whiskey must be aged for at least two years. Young rye whiskeys tend to be heavy on the spices, with less pronounced vanilla and oak. But if it is aged longer, the spices are subdued, and oak, vanilla, and caramel take over.
If you have a specific preference for your cocktail, you can use the age as an indication of the flavors. Use young whiskey for a sweet, straightforward taste. But if you want it to be more complex, opt for the longer-aged whiskeys.
Whiskey’s alcohol by volume ranges from 40% to 60%. Any bottle of whiskey cannot contain less than 40% of alcohol because that is the legal limit.
Since alcohol carries flavor, expect higher ABV whiskeys to have a smoother and less diluted taste. However, this doesn’t mean that lower-proof whiskeys are not good. After all, people have preferences.
If you want your Old Fashioned to pack a punch, you should grab a high-ABV whiskey, as this ensures the flavors remain after being mixed with the other ingredients. But if you want your cocktail to be subtle and easier to drink, lower-proof whiskeys are for you.
Sometimes, higher-priced whiskeys have a more rewarding flavor because they use higher-quality ingredients, naturally resulting in a richer, more nuanced flavor profile.
But, there are also many affordable whiskeys that come from renowned brands which also exhibit great flavors. With this, your choice of whiskey relative to the price depends on your budget and preference.
Best Whiskey For Old Fashioned Cocktail FAQ
1. Can you use any whiskey for an Old Fashioned?
As mentioned, bourbon and rye whiskeys are the staples for Old Fashioned. But, since cocktails evolve into numerous variations, you can use other types of whiskeys.
You can use Japanese whisky, Irish whiskey, Scotch, and even non-alcoholic whiskey for people who don’t or can’t drink alcohol.
2. What is the secret to a good Old Fashioned?
In contrast to other mixed beverages, the secret to a true Old Fashioned is to make the base liquor stand out. The other ingredients, such as the orange, bitters, and sugar, should blend well with the liquor rather than mask it.
Since the whiskey determines the results so much, quality is crucial. The Old Fashioned will have a lot of heat and a burnt taste if a bad whiskey is used. However, if a high-quality whiskey is used, the cocktail will have a smoother and more enjoyable flavor.
3. Is whiskey better when it’s aged longer?
Generally, whiskeys that have spent more time in the cask have a more complex flavor profile, are fuller-bodied and have a long finish. But they’re not necessarily better because people have different preferences.
In some cases, people may prefer young whiskeys because they are easier to drink. But if they continue trying new whiskeys of different ages, they may appreciate those with bolder flavors.
The bottom line is that the age of the whiskey will respond well to the person depending on their experience with whiskeys.
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