A classic Old Fashioned at MOMO | Photo by Natalia Panos

The Old Fashioned is a simple cocktail for spirit-forward drinkers, made from whiskey (either bourbon or rye), bitters and sugar. But many whiskey connoisseurs and mixologists discovered ways to bring new techniques and flavors to the Old Fashioned. 

To prepare this classic cocktail, muddle a sugar cube with a couple of dashes of Angostura bitters and water until dissolved. Then, add two ounces of whiskey, ice (either small or big cubes) and stir gently. Finally, garnish with an orange peel or zest.

“It’s a super simple drink,” said Michael Mai, current bartender at Post House and co-owner of Huskwell. “And I think because it is so simple, it can kind of be like a Mr. Potato Head-type of deal.” And others agree. 

“There’s a lot of ways to play around with them,” said Ricky Dunn, bar manager of MOMO. “To me, it’s one of those cocktails that you can make really, really bad or really, really good.” 

The bitters and sugar are added to whiskey to highlight the spirit’s flavor, so fine tasting bitters also make for a tasty Old Fashioned. “In Old Fashioneds, in particular, and Manhattan’s, there’s so few ingredients that the bitters are what design the cocktail,” said Blake Rothenberg, bar manager of The Belmont. 

Whatever sweetener used in an Old Fashioned can affect the overall flavor, too. “You can always change up the kind of sugar you use,” Dunn said. “I’ve seen maple syrup Old Fashioneds, agave Old Fashioneds. So using a different sweetener just rounds [the drink] in a different way.”

But the most important thing to consider when crafting an Old Fashioned at home is the whiskey. There are hundreds of different brands with hundreds of different flavors, but a high-quality whiskey elevates the Old Fashioned. 

“One of my favorite whiskies is Old Grand Dad Bottled and Bonded 100 proof,” Mai said. “But like, in the wintertime, I’d get the Old Grand Dad 114. It tastes like a Manhattan in a bottle. So using that, for instance, in the base, as your base spirit … is like the secret ingredient.”

While Mai likes to stick with bourbon whiskies for an Old Fashioned, others like Dunn and Rothenberg prefer ryes for a spicier taste. 

“It has to be a rye. You want the spice from the rye,” Rothenberg said. “My favorite one up there is Masterson’s. It’s a little bit sweet, 100% dry. It comes out of Alberta, Canada, but then it gets aged in California. It’s very soft on the nose and doesn’t have much of that dusty old leather that you get with a lot of the other bourbons to get into these 10 years.” 

But in some bars around Charleston, they’re taking the classic cocktail and spinning it on its head. Some have utilized the smokiness of mezcal to either replace or enhance the whiskey in an Old Fashioned like the El Pinto at Dalila’s downtown. Places like Bar Vaute, Charleston’s only underground bar, replaces its sweetener with fresh juice and coconut in its Pina Colada Old Fashioned. 

Check out these bars downtown that are getting creative with their Old Fashioned recipes.

Bar Vaute
1 Broad St.
Open Mon.-Sat. 4 p.m.-12 a.m.
Old Fashioned, your way: choice of spirit from selected list, black walnut, almond and hazelnut elixir, bitters
Pina Colada Old Fashioned: aged rum, coconut, French pineapple

The Belmont
511 King St.
Open daily 6 p.m.-2 a.m.
Fall Old Fashioned: bourbon, applejack brandy and honey

441 Meeting St.
Open Mon.-Sat. 7 p.m.-2 a.m.
El Pinto: bourbon, mezcal, rum, benedictine, peychaud’s bitters 

The Gin Joint
182 East Bay St. 
Open Mon.-Thurs. 5-11 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 3 p.m.-12 a.m., Sun. 12-5 p.m.
Montreal Man: WhistlePig 10 year rye, Demerara sugar, angostura bitters, orange bitters 

76 Queen St. 
Open Sun.-Thurs. 5-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 5-11 p.m.
HUSK Old Fashioned: Chattanooga 91 Bourbon, Virgil Kaine Rye, Byrrh, angostura bitters, cherry bitters

Last Saint
472 Meeting St. 
Open daily 5 p.m.-2 a.m.
Drum solo: bourbon, black walnut, cane sugar

1049 Everglades Dr.
Open Tues.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Sun. 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
Chai Old Fashioned: bourbon, chai tea Demerara syrup, apple bitters 

Paddock & Whisky
1962 Maybank Hwy.
1074 E. Montague Ave. 
Open daily 4 p.m.-12 a.m.
Paddock Old Fashioned: Elijah Craig Paddock pick, maple, orange bitters 

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