Whiskey, bitters, and sugar. That’s all it takes to make one of the most recognizable and iconic cocktails – the Old Fashioned.
It seems easy enough, but you can never get it to taste like it did that one time…. You know what I’m talking about – that one time you ordered it at a fancy bar or restaurant and it came out perfect! You try to replicate it at home but it’s not the same.
How can that be?!?! It’s only 3 ingredients!
Well, maybe one of the ingredients you’re using isn’t up to par. So, today, we’re going to talk about the 8 best whiskeys you can use to make a delicious Old Fashioned.
Old Fashioned History
Back as early as 1800, bartenders would serve what was called a whiskey cocktail – it was whiskey, sugar, and bitters.
Fast forward a couple decades to the 1860’s, 70’s, and 80’s, and bartenders were getting a little more creative with their cocktails. Some, let’s call them traditionalists, didn’t like this, so they began asking for their whiskey cocktail the Old Fashioned way. Eventually, it was shortened and the drink was coined an old fashioned.
A private social club, the Pendennis Club, claims they pioneered the drink and name, but we really don’t know the exact origin of the Old Fashioned, just that its stuck around all these years later.
Read more about the history here.
The Best Bourbon and Rye Whiskey for your Old Fashioned
Old Fashioneds are made using American whiskey, although you can really use whatever you want, bourbon and rye are the two predominant types of whiskey you’ll see being used. You can go for scotch, or even tequila añejo (which I’m a big fan of), but we’re going to focus on bourbon and rye.
Now, how do we determine what whiskey is best for an Old-Fashioned?
Price is going to be a huge factor for us because we drink a lot of whiskey neat. If I pay $100 for a bottle of whiskey and it’s really dang good, It may make a fantastic Old-Fashioned, but I’m going to drink it neat.
A lot of the whiskey on this list is going to be in the $30-50 range, give or take. In my opinion, it’s the best value price range, where you get some of the best whiskey for the cheapest price.
The next thing we want, is a strong and rich whiskey. We need something with enough flavor and character so that it won’t be overpowered by the potent bitters.
Lastly, availability is an important factor. You don’t need to be searching the shelves and driving from liquor store to liquor store looking for a whiskey you’re going to put in a cocktail. All of the whiskey on this list is readily available at most large retailers, and most of it can be found at smaller, local retailers.
WhistlePig PiggyBack Rye
WhistlePig PiggyBack Rye is one of our favorite whiskeys out there. Though it uses a 100% rye grain mash, there are many traditional bourbon traits present. Rich, sweet vanilla and leather are prominent, but there’s a whole lot of earthen spice that’ll stand up and shine through any cocktail.
With an ABV just above 48% it’ll make a strong Old Fashioned without going overboard. It’s also priced right around the $50, so it’s a good top shelf option for a cocktail or sipper.
Alternative – They make a PiggyBack Bourbon as well which is a very viable option. It’s equally good in every aspect, but here at Barrel & Brew, we like our rye whiskey.
Russell’s Reserve 6 Year Rye
Russell’s Reserve Rye is crafted by two of the biggest names in the American whiskey space. Eddie Russell created Russell’s Reserve back in ’98 in honor of his fathers, Jimmy Russell, 45th anniversary at Wild Turkey.
I reviewed Russell’s Reserve Rye nearly a year ago, and I just wasn’t a huge fan. I’m sorry to all the people out there that love Russell’s Reserve and Wild Turkey, but neither have ever itched my throat.
Since I didn’t love it neat or on the rocks, it transitioned to my cocktail whiskey, and I loved it. A little extra flavor from the bitters and sugar with a cube covered up some of the flaws and brought out a strong citrus note.
Bib & Tucker 6 Year Bourbon
While Bib & Tucker is marketed as a bourbon, it is technically a Tennessee Whiskey, suspectedly, sourced from George Dickel. Lot’s of spice mixed in with lighter and darker fruits. Some butterscotch, nuts, and slight banana notes show up.
Bib & Tucker is about ~$50, and makes a great Old Fashioned and doubles as an equally good sipper.
Alternative – George Dickel Small Batch. It’s ~$5 cheaper with a little more banana and pepper. I prefer GD as a sipper, but think Bib & Tucker makes a better Old Fashioned. Regardless, these are my two “Tennessee Whiskey” options.
Old Forester 1870
Old Forester 1870 makes up the first and cheapest expression of their Whiskey Row Series, which includes Old Forester 1897, 1910, and 1920. It comes in around the $40-45 price range.
You can reach for the original Old Forester 86 and save yourself $15-20, but if you’re really looking for a good Old Fashioned and a much better sipper, upgrade to 1870. This bourbon isn’t going to WOW you served neat or on the rocks, it’s decent, it’s solid, but not much more than that. However, it might be my first choice of bourbon when it comes to making an Old Fashioned.
Alternative – Old Forester 86. A budget option to make a similar cocktail, but not quite the same.
Blue Note Juke Joint Whiskey
Blue Note Juke Joint is a $30 straight bourbon produced by B.R Distilling. When I first reviewed it, it was one of my favorite $30 bottles. Nearly a year later, it still is.
Maple, lemon cake, brown sugar make this an already sweet bourbon. Add an extra touch of bitters and go easy on the sugar, and you’ll find yourself with a bittersweet Old Fashioned. Blue Note Juke Joint is flavorful and viscous with the downside really being a short finish. That’s nothing to worry for this cocktail.
A high value sipper that makes a good cocktail.
Alternative – George Remus Bourbon. An MGP high-rye bourbon that tastes a little youthful, but has the character to stand out in a cocktail.
Knob Creek – Bourbon or Rye
Previously carrying a 9 year age statement, Knob Creek is a 100 proof, NAS whiskey that comes in around the $30 price point. Knob Creek comes to us out of the Jim Beam Distillery and is my preference over Basil Hayden’s.
This is my classical bourbon/whiskey option for $30 when it comes to an Old-Fashioned. I could easily pick Bulleit or Woodford here instead, but I like that Knob Creek comes in at 100 proof. You can really go for the bourbon or rye here. Again, we are partial towards rye, but both are very good.
Alternative – If you want to get crazy, go for Knob Creek Single Barrel Cask Strength. Closer to the $60 mark and 120 proof, this’ll make one strong Old Fashioned. It is my top shelf, cask strength option, though.
Redemption High Rye Bourbon
I don’t absolutely love Redemption High Rye Bourbon. It, along with the other standard Redemption whiskey offerings, is too thin for me to say it’s great. Yet, it still managed to find it’s way on my top 5 bourbons for $25 precisely because it’s ability to make a good cocktail.
It’s a bourbon but uses 36% rye in its mashbill and comes in at 92 proof. In the ~$25-30 range, you’ll be hard pressed to find whiskey that makes better cocktails than Redemption High Rye.
Clyde May’s Straight Rye Whiskey
Similar to Redemption in that Clyde May’s is sourced from MGP, but they use their rye mashbill instead of the high-rye mashbill. 95% rye and 5% malted barley, 94 proof, ~$40. It’s no secret that MGP makes some of the best bourbon and rye, and Clyde May’s reinforces that idea.
A fairly floral rye whiskey with some citrus will mix well with an orange peel and some bitters. Plenty of spice to back it up as well. Again, the bourbon is an option here, but we definitely recommend the rye.
Alternative – Pinhook Flagship Rye. They release a new rye every year, but we’ve thoroughly enjoyed the two releases we’ve had.
Best Whiskey for an Old Fashioned Summary
We’ve got a lot of different bourbons and rye whiskeys on this list ranging from $25-50 and upwards. The whiskey you use is important in making a good Old Fashioned, but it’s not the only thing… probably not even the main thing. The amount of sugar or bitters you use plays a large role, or ingredients as there are many different types of bitters, and even pre-mixed simple syrup and bitters.
A big part of making a good cocktail is trial and error. Find out how you like your Old Fashioneds by making them yourself, and play with the ratio of ingredients or whiskeys you use. There are a whole bunch of whiskeys you can use to make a good Old Fashioned, but…
This is our list. These are our favorite whiskeys to use when making an Old Fashioned. We’ve reviewed every one of them and tried every one of them. You can use this as a guide if you’re looking to make the perfect Old Fashioned or pick out one of these whiskeys to have in stock for entertainment purposes.
If you have a go-to whiskey for an Old Fashioned, let people know in the comments!