The Making of the Modern Old-Fashioned

The classic template is ripe for reinvention. Here, three top bartenders share their signature updates.

“Great whiskey is what inspired my Old-Fashioned variation,” says Washington, D.C.’s Alison Hillard. When creating her Everything Nice, she wanted to highlight the sweet, high-corn mash bill and candied ginger spice notes of Knob Creek® Rye. Her final drink combines the whiskey with a cast of unexpected ingredients, like fresh ginger juice and a green Chartreuse oleo saccharum.

New Old-Fashioned Everything Nice Knob Creek

Alison Hillard’s Everything Nice.

The result is a cocktail that is intensely bright on the nose, yet changes on the palate, moving between a dark, rich sweetness and a spicy zing; in other words, it’s “sugar and spice and everything nice.” Yet it doesn’t not feel like the classic cocktail it honors, nor the whiskey it employs—clearly echoing Hillard’s simple guiding principle for modernizing the classic: “Enhancing the flavors that are already present in a great rye and a great Old-Fashioned.”

These days, the Old-Fashioned is practically guaranteed to be a best-selling drink on most bar menus, as it is at Hillard’s bar. And that’s why so many bartenders can be found flexing their creative muscles and taking the legendary cocktail to new realms.

New Old-Fashioned Graceful Old-Fashioned

Christa Havican’s Graceful Old-Fashioned

In Houston, bartender Christa Havican has used her love of baking to expand the expected profile of the drink. In her Graceful Old-Fashioned, she plays up the baking spice notes that define great rye whiskey, which Knob Creek® Rye has in spades, unleashing flavors that recall a woody cinnamon, astringent clove and aromatic nutmeg. In combination with vanilla simple syrup and bitters that express themselves as tart fruit, the drink yields a cross between an Old-Fashioned and a drinkable cherry pie.

“A semblance of the main components is [still] present,” Havican says. “For me, it’s enhancing without completely changing the profile of the drink.”

Despite having so few main components, the Old-Fashioned allows for a surprising amount of mixing and matching within its spare framework. Brittney Olsen, a bartender in Miami Beach, enhances the spice profile of her Old-Fashioned not by adding unexpected ingredients, but merely by switching up the simple syrup, bitters selection and the ice.

New Old-Fashioned Spicy Boi Knob Creek

Brittney Olsen’s Spicy Boi.

Olsen starts with what she calls “summer syrup,” a simple syrup infused with cinnamon, ginger and makrut lime. She ups the spice ante further by using cardamom bitters, then, as the kicker, she pours it all over one cardamom-flavored ice cube. Combined, all meld seamlessly with the sharp herbal notes of Knob Creek® Rye. This is, indeed, one Spicy Boi.

“Adding a little flair to your syrup goes a long way without losing any whiskey goodness,” she notes, recommending that home bartenders try it as well. “It’s a low-risk way to experiment. Throw tasty stuff in sugar and see what happens!”

That’s likewise why Hillard spends an entire 24-hour period making oleo saccharum for her Everything Nice. It might seem odd to some people to go to such effort, especially when she only needs a quarter-ounce of it per cocktail, but she recognizes just how much impact it will ultimately make in the final Old-Fashioned.

As she notes: “I suppose that’s the beauty of a cocktail that only calls for sugar, bitters, and whiskey.”

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Please drink responsibly. Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, 50% Alc./Vol. ©2019 Knob Creek Distilling Company, Clermont, KY. Knob Creek® is a registered trademark of Jim Beam Brands Co. and is used with permission.

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