Making an Old Fashioned isn’t complicated. Simply place a sugar cube in a glass, add 2 dashes of Angostura bitters and muddle until the sugar dissolves. Add 2 oz of bourbon, stir to mix, add an ice cube and stir again. Finish the whole thing off with an orange peel garnish. Simple. Well, at least the recipe is. But being your own bartender raises questions. Namely, which bourbon should you use? Some people say it doesn’t really matter. These are the same people that say it makes no difference whether you replace the bourbon with Scotch, Irish, or Japanese whiskies. We’re sure that some of these people are very nice, but think long and hard before you accept a drink from one of them. An Old Fashioned is an American drink that demands bourbon. Whisky simply won’t do. For a start, it’s a waste of whisky. Secondly, it’ll taste weird. And it won’t be an Old Fashioned. Bourbon and whisky aren’t interchangeable. Whisky is whiskey, whereas bourbon is, well, bourbon. It’s made in the US, distilled from at least 51% corn, aged in new charred oak barrels, and comes with a few other legal requirements that we won’t bore you with, but which essentially makes bourbon what it is. And what it is is the essential and only thing (apart from sugar and bitters) you should be adding to your Old Fashioned. With so few ingredients to compete with, the taste of the bourbon will shine through loud and proud. So, make sure it’s a good one. That doesn’t mean splashing half your life savings on a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle. You don’t need to. There’s plenty of excellent bourbons in the $100 or less category that will serve you just as well as the more expensive kind. Dig around, and you can even find a few for under $20. But of them all, which are the very best bourbons for an Old Fashioned? Here’s our pick.
5. Bulleit Bourbon
Priced at just over the $30 mark, Bulleit Bourbon is as cheap as chips. Remarkably, the price isn’t even the best thing about it. The unique blend of rye, corn, and barley malt results in a complex, unique taste with enough oomph to get the party started. But while it’s bold, it’s not aggressive, with a perfectly balanced character and enough velvety smoothness to make it as easy to drink neat as with a mixer. With such an exceptional flavor profile, it’s perfect for a cocktail like the Old Fashioned, which is simple enough to let its notes of butterscotch, mint, and cherry, not to mention that big kick of pepper and spice, shine. If you’re in the market for a crowd-pleasing bourbon with an affordable price tag, it’s ideal.
4. Buffalo Trace
Named as one of the best bourbons on the market by Huff Post, Buffalo Trace is an exceptional bourbon that, despite the tiny price tag of just $25, could easily compete with brands four times the price. The Buffalo Trace Distillery has been around for a long time (in fact, they claim to be the oldest continuously operating distillery in the US – it’s not been verified, but we’ll take their word for it), and clearly knows what it takes to make a good bourbon. The flavor profile of vanilla, mint, anise, and dried fruit comes with a bold, smoky finish and just a touch of maple sweetness, resulting in an exceptionally well-balanced bourbon that’s perfect for an Old Fashioned.
3. Elijah Craig 12 year old
As liquorista.com says, one of the best things about the Elijah Craig 12 year old is the price. With an average retail price of just $49.99, it’s ideal for people who don’t want to spend a fortune on a decent bottle of bourbon. But don’t let the tiny price tag fool you. It might not cost as much as a premium brand, but it has all the flavor you’d expect of one. Expect tones of burnt sugar, caramel, and dark fruits on the front of the palate, and oak, pepper, and pecans on the back. There’s a good kick of spice to add warmth, but the savory notes keep things balanced. As whiskeybon.com says, this is one of those bourbons that really opens up after a few months of having opened the bottle, so expect the profile to get richer with time. Perfect either neat or in a cocktail, it’s a real crowd-pleaser that’s guaranteed to go down a storm in an Old Fashioned.
2. Four Roses Small Batch
Soft, smooth, and pleasantly comforting, the Four Roses Small Batch is a perfectly balanced bourbon that’s guaranteed to go down a treat in your Old Fashioned. With notes of blackberry and honey and just the right amount of spice and dryness, it’s equally delicious straight up, on the rocks, or in a cocktail. It’s easy on the palette, and while the delivery is a little delicate, it’s perfect for people who might shy away from a stronger example. The four recipe blend is judged perfectly, with no one flavor dominating the others. It’s subtle, but it’s got enough pep to keep you coming back for more. The best thing of all? With an MSRP of just $30, it’s not going to leave a dent in your wallet.
1. Basil Hayden’s Kentucky Straight
Basil Hayden’s Kentucky Straight is the kind of bourbon you can enjoy whichever way you like. It’s delicious neat, excellent on the rocks, and a fine addition to an Old Fashioned. Price-wise, it’s a dream, with an MSRP of just $40 (although depending on your location, you might be able to find it even cheaper). Considering what you get, it’s a bargain. It’s not complicated but the addition of rye makes it gorgeously spicy. Expect a mild nose with a subtle aroma of oak, vanilla, and citrus. On the palate, it opens with notes of light wood and orange before expanding to include notes of black pepper, vanilla, and orange marmalade. Despite the spice of rye, it’s uncomplicated enough not to intimate people who might back away from bolder bourbons. If you’re looking for a quality option at a great price, this will make an excellent addition to your Old Fashioned.