How to Make an Old Fashioned Cocktail (And a Delicious Plum Variation)

The Old Fashioned cocktail is one of the easiest classic cocktails you can make. In this post, I give you some tips and tricks for mastering this cocktail and also share one of my favorite variations: a plum Old Fashioned!

Straight on shot of plum Old Fashioned cocktail resting on a tower of plums

What is an Old Fashioned?

An Old Fashioned cocktail is a spirit-forward drink made with three simple ingredients: bourbon or rye whiskey, simple syrup, and bitters.

This cocktail has a history that dates all the way back to the 19th century. According to this Wikipedia article, the version of this cocktail that we know today wasn’t created until 1881 in Kentucky.

The Old Fashioned has remained popular for good reason: it’s easy to make, strong, and perfectly balanced. When made right, it is a thing of beauty, which is why I think that every home bartender should learn how to master it.

Overhead shot of plum Old Fashioned cocktail surrounded by plums and mint sprigs

Some Tricks for Making a Fabulous Old Fashioned Cocktail

The traditional way of making an Old Fashioned requires you to muddle superfine sugar or a sugar cube with some bitters. It really doesn’t get any easier than this, but I personally find that this method can result in a grainy mixture.

Nowadays, a lot of bartenders use simple syrup instead of muddling the sugar with the bitters. Simple syrups are made by putting 1 cup of water and 1 cup of sugar in a pot over medium heat and stirring the two together until the sugar dissolves and the syrup looks clear.

Simple syrup keeps in the fridge for months in a tightly sealed jar, but if you don’t want to go through the trouble, here are some shortcuts you can use.

  • Put a teaspoon of sugar at the bottom of an Old Fashioned glass and carefully pour a tiny bit of hot water on top of it. Stir until the sugar dissolves and it has cooled down a bit, then add the bitters and the whiskey, top with an ice cube, and give it a another stir. You just made an Old Fashioned!
  • Put 1:1 ratio of superfine sugar and water in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Close the jar and shake the mixture until the sugar dissolves. You just made an even simpler version of simple syrup that you can use to make an Old Fashioned or other cocktails!

These tricks are for when you are feeling super lazy. I would still recommend making simple syrup if you want to make a delicious Old Fashioned.

Close up of plum Old Fashioned cocktail with orange twist

Some Other Things to Keep in Mind when Making this Cocktail

  • Pick a bourbon or rye that you would drink on its own. My favorite one to put in an Old Fashioned cocktail is Evan Williams, a Kentucky bourbon.
  • Old Fashioneds should be sweet but not to sweet, so the Angostura bitters are essential for balancing out the sweetness. Don’t skip them!
  • The size of your ice matters. I prefer Old Fashioneds served over and ice ball or a large square of ice. Since the ice ball or cube is so large it will melt slowly. This will prevent your drink for getting too watery.
  • Traditional Old Fashioneds don’t have a cherry in them. They are usually garnished with a slice of orange that you express over the cocktail before serving them.

Making Variations of the Old Fashioned Cocktail

My favorite thing about this cocktail is that it’s so versatile. You can use rum or mezcal as the main spirit and/or make infused syrups to mix things up.

I opted for the second option for this post and made a delicious plum simple syrup. I feel that it makes the Old Fashioned feel more festive and fall-themed, but the sky is the limit when it comes to making infused syrups.

If you would like to try yet another variation of this cocktail, check out this Rum Old Fashioned.


How to Make an Old Fashioned Cocktail (And a Delicious Plum Variation!)

September 20, 2018
: 1
: 5 min
: 10 min
: 15 min
: Easy

The Old Fashioned cocktail is a delicious classic drink that is easy to master. You only need Angostura bitters, simple syrup, and rye or bourbon whiskey to make one. I also teach you how to make a plum simple syrup to make a yummy variation.


  • For a classic Old Fashioned:
  • 2 oz of rye or bourbon whiskey
  • ¼ oz of simple syrup
  • 2 dashes of Angostura bitters
  • 1 large ice cube or ice sphere
  • A twist of orange, to garnish
  • For the plum simple syrup:
  • 4 large plums, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • Step 1 To make a classic Old Fashioned: put all of the ingredients (except the orange twist and the ice cube) in an Old Fashioned glass and stir with a bar spoon. Top with the ice cube and garnish with the orange twist. Serve immediately.
  • Step 2 To make the plum variation: first, make the plum syrup by combining the chopped plums, sugar, and water in a medium-sized sauce pan. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat. Once it starts to boil, drop the temperature down to the lowest setting and simmer for 10-15 min.
  • Step 3 Let the mixture cool for 10 min. Once cooled, strain it through a fine mesh sieve. Discard the leftover fruit, and pour the syrup into a clean jar with a tight fitting lid. The syrup will keep in the fridge for 1-2 months.
  • Step 4 To make a plum Old Fashioned, follow the instructions above but use the plum simple syrup instead of plain simple syrup.

If you like this recipe, please make sure to pin it, share it on social media, or email it to your friends. Don’t be shy! People are always grateful for some cooking inspiration 🙂

Also, if you have any questions or just want to let me know that you liked the recipe, please leave a comment below. Hearing from other adventurous home cooks always makes my day!

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