Old Fashioned ... with a Twist

Old Fashioned with a Twist

Cocktail trends may come and go, but one staple remains a fixture on drink menus two centuries after its invention - the Old Fashioned.

There are many competing stories about the origins of the "first" true cocktail recipe, but nearly all agree that the modern-day cocktail was first mixed in the early 1800s, and the recipe was generally the same Old Fashioned recipe still mixed in bars around the world today: liquor, sugar, water and bitters.

Bourbon is traditionally the spirit of choice for an Old Fashioned, but contemporary versions may substitute virtually any type of liquor, from rye whiskey to tequila to rum. Yesteryear's sugar cube, served as a lump doused with bitters, has given way to simple syrup, which mixes more easily when served. A twist of citrus zest or a dark cherry are common garnishes in today's Old Fashioned renditions.

No matter what spirit or style you prefer, there's one constant that's crucial to any drink bearing the Old Fashioned name: bitters. For a truly authentic experience, look to incorporate an option like Angostura bitters – an iconic brand that traces its roots as far back as the dawn of the Old Fashioned and has been closely intertwined with the history of the cocktail ever since.

Dr. Johann Siegert, the bitters' inventor, created the elixir in 19th-century Venezuela while serving as a doctor to soldiers in Simon Bolivar's army. By 1824, he perfected the formula for "amargo aromatico," which he initially used to help alleviate the stomach issues of ailing soldiers.

By the mid-1800s, cocktails were steadily gaining favor, and nearly all the early recipes called for bitters. Siegert's sons seized the opportunity and astutely developed a following for their formula among cocktail lovers.

Bitters provide layers of flavor and complexity through their expertly-crafted combination of aromatic herbs, bark, roots and other botanicals. When it comes to the ingredients in Angostura's aromatic bitters, the exact formula is unknown, as the recipe has remained a closely-guarded secret since the bitters were created almost 200 years ago.

Consider these tried-and-true takes on the Old Fashioned with four recipes ideal for sipping. The traditional version features bourbon, while three twists on the timeless classic highlight alternative liquors: the Tequila Old Fashioned, the Rum Old Fashioned and the Wisconsin-Style Brandy Old Fashioned.

Classic Bourbon Old Fashioned

2 ounces bourbon
1/4 ounce Demerara syrup
2 dashes Angostura aromatic bitters
1 dash Angostura orange bitters
1 splash water
long orange peel, for garnish

In rocks glass, stir bourbon, Demerara syrup, water, aromatic bitters and orange bitters with ice to incorporate ingredients. Add ice to fill glass to top. Garnish with orange peel.

Tequila Old Fashioned

2 ounces reposado tequila
1/4 ounce Demerara syrup
2 dashes Angostura aromatic bitters
grapefruit swath (narrow strip of peel) or wedge, for garnish

In ice-filled mixing glass, stir tequila, Demerara syrup and aromatic bitters. Strain into ice-filled rocks glass. Squeeze grapefruit swath over glass and insert into drink.

Wisconsin-Style Brandy Old Fashioned

3 ounces, plus 1 splash, lemon-lime soda
1 Demerara sugar cube
5 dashes Angostura aromatic bitters, divided
3 maraschino cherries
1 orange slice, plus peel, for garnish
2 ounces brandy
1 dash Angostura orange bitters
skewered maraschino cherry, for garnish

In rocks glass, muddle splash of lemon-lime soda, sugar cube, 2 dashes aromatic bitters, cherries and orange slice. Add ice and brandy then fill with remaining lemon-lime soda. Add remaining aromatic bitters and orange bitters. Garnish with skewered cherry and orange peel.

Rum Old Fashioned

1 Demerara sugar cube
4 dashes Angostura aromatic bitters
2 dashes Angostura orange bitters
1 splash soda water
2 ounces rum
orange peel, for garnish

Place sugar cube in rocks glass. Wet cube with aromatic bitters, orange bitters and soda water. Using muddler, crush sugar cube. Add ice, pour in rum and stir. Garnish by squeezing orange peel over glass.

Photos courtesy of Getty Images (Classic Bourbon Old Fashioned, Tequila Old Fashioned, Rum Old Fashioned)