Best Type of Whiskey for an Old Fashioned

August 27, 2023 by Anna-Bet Stemmet

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Choosing the best whiskey for an Old Fashioned cocktail doesn’t have to be overly complicated, but it does take a bit of know-how. With a variety of options available, from bourbon to rye, and Japanese to Tennessee whiskey, finding the perfect match can be both exciting and rewarding.   

Let’s delve into the essential factors to consider when choosing the ideal whiskey for your Old Fashioned, ensuring a delightful and well-balanced drink every time.  

How to choose whiskey for an Old Fashioned

Wide shot of a cabinet behind a bar filled with different types of whiskey all in different bottles

As far as classic cocktails go, the Old Fashioned is probably one of the most famous ones out there. It is a cocktail for whiskey lovers, made with your choice of whiskey, sugar or sugar syrup, a few dashes of aromatic bitters, and orange peel or Maraschino cherries to garnish. 

Here are a few vital things to bear in mind when you choose a base liquor for this time-honoured drink:   

Type of whiskey

The foundation of any Old Fashioned begins with the type of whiskey you choose. There’s a diverse range to consider, each contributing its own character to the final drink. Traditional bourbon offers a smooth and slightly sweet profile, while rye whiskey introduces a spicier and more robust flavour. Wheat whiskey adds a mellow touch, while Tennessee whiskey carries a distinctive charcoal-mellowed taste.   

For those seeking an adventurous twist, Japanese whiskey brings in a layer of refinement, while Irish whiskey offers a gentle and approachable quality. And let’s not forget the bold and peaty notes of Scotch, which can create a unique variation on the classic cocktail.  


A crucial aspect of selecting a whiskey for your Old Fashioned is the flavour profile. Look for a whiskey that complements the cocktail’s ingredients rather than overpowering them. Bourbon’s caramel and vanilla notes can harmonise beautifully with the bitters and sugar, while rye’s spiciness can add complexity to the mix.   

Japanese and Irish whiskies often carry fruit and floral undertones, which can offer a delightful contrast to the cocktail’s other elements. Experimentation is key here; finding the right balance between whiskey and the cocktail’s other components will lead to a well-rounded flavour experience.  


The aroma of the whiskey you choose plays a significant role in enhancing the overall sensory experience of your Old Fashioned, whether you stick to the classic or stir up a variation, such as the Apple Butter Old Fashioned. As you mix the cocktail, the whiskey’s aroma will mingle with the orange peel and bitters, creating a symphony of scents.   

Opt for a whiskey with a pleasant and inviting aroma that doesn’t overpower the drink. Notes of oak, caramel, spice, or even subtle smokiness typically work harmoniously with the cocktail’s aromatic components.  

ABV (Alcohol by Volume)

Another essential aspect to consider when selecting a whiskey for your Old Fashioned is its ABV, or alcohol by volume. A higher ABV whiskey can impart more pronounced and robust flavours to your cocktail, standing up well against the other ingredients.   

On the flip side, a lower ABV whiskey might offer a gentler integration, allowing the cocktail’s nuances to shine through. Keep in mind that the ABV can influence the overall balance of your Old Fashioned, so choose a whiskey that aligns with your desired flavour intensity.  


Keep in mind that the Old Fashioned is about simplicity and elegance; the whiskey you choose should align with this ethos. A well-balanced whiskey will contribute its unique character without overshadowing the cocktail’s classic flavours.  

Learn more: Manhattan vs. Old Fashioned Cocktail: What is the Difference?  

Bourbon whiskey  

Bourbon Old Fashioned

Using bourbon as the foundation for an Old Fashioned is a time-tested choice that brings a distinct character to the cocktail. Bourbon’s signature flavours of caramel, vanilla, and oak impart a warm and inviting essence, harmonising beautifully with the cocktail’s other components. This flavour synergy is what makes the Old Fashioned a beloved classic.  

Bourbon also contributes to the cocktail’s texture, lending a smooth and slightly sweet quality that complements the bitters and sugar. The result is a well-rounded drink with layers of flavour that unfold as you sip. Visually, bourbon enriches the cocktail’s hue, giving it an appealing amber colour that’s as inviting as the taste.  

Selecting the best bourbon whiskey for your Old Fashioned involves considering a few key aspects. Opt for a bourbon with balanced flavours that neither dominate nor fade within the cocktail. A bourbon that carries notes of caramel, vanilla, and a touch of spice tends to work well. While you don’t need the most expensive bottle, investing in a mid-range bourbon ensures a robust base that enhances the cocktail’s overall profile.  

Read next: The Difference Between Rye Whiskey & Bourbon  

Rye whiskey

Two tumblers of rye whiskey on a table overlooking a typical Pennsylvania nature scene

When it comes to using rye whiskey as the anchor for an Old Fashioned, you’re embarking on a journey of added spice and complexity. Rye’s distinct flavour profile, often characterised by its peppery and spiced notes, brings an invigorating twist to this classic cocktail.   

Rye whiskey’s impact isn’t limited to flavour alone. Its slightly drier nature, when compared to bourbon, contributes to a lighter texture in the Old Fashioned, offering a refreshing departure from the norm. This textural shift adds an intriguing dimension to the drink, enhancing its overall appeal.  

Visually, the use of rye whiskey can lend a different hue to your Old Fashioned— typically a shade lighter than bourbon-based versions. This lighter appearance complements the cocktail’s citrus garnishes and showcases its components elegantly.  

When selecting the best rye whiskey for your Old Fashioned, look for one that strikes a balance between its spiciness and its other flavour notes. A well-rounded rye with hints of caramel, vanilla, and a touch of spice can offer the complexity you seek while harmonising the cocktail’s overall essence.  

Love rye? 12 Rye Whiskey Cocktails to Make at Home  

Wheat whiskey  

Two tumblers of Wheat Whiskey on a table in a field of ripe wheat in summertime

Opting for wheat whiskey as the cornerstone of your Old Fashioned introduces a unique dimension of smoothness and mellow flavours. With its gentler and more approachable character, wheat whiskey offers a different route to wander while exploring this timeless cocktail.  

Flavour-wise, wheat whiskey brings notes of soft sweetness and a subtle hint of nuttiness to the table. This delicate flavour profile harmonises gracefully with the Old Fashioned’s ingredients, creating a refined and well-balanced taste.   

Texture-wise, the use of wheat whiskey lends a silky smoothness that complements the cocktail’s other components. This velvety texture elevates the sipping experience, offering a relaxing yet flavourful indulgence.  

Visually, wheat whiskey also enhances the cocktail’s aesthetics with its typically lighter hue. This less intense colour palette allows the cocktail’s garnishes to shine and gives it an inviting and elegant appearance.  

To select the ideal wheat whiskey for your Old Fashioned, aim for one that maintains its gentle character while carrying subtle complexity. Seek out those with notes of caramel, vanilla, and a touch of nuttiness for a well-rounded sipping experience.   

Tennessee whiskey

Two tumblers of Tenessee whiskey on a table overlooking views of the Smoky Mountains at dusk

Choosing Tennessee whiskey as the base for your Old Fashioned introduces a layer of depth and a distinctive smoothness that’s worth exploring. This whiskey variety is known for its charcoal mellowing process, which imparts a unique character to the liquor, and the cocktail.  

In terms of flavour, Tennessee whiskey boasts a combination of sweet corn notes and a subtle smokiness, thanks to charcoal filtering. This flavour profile adds a touch of complexity to the Old Fashioned, with a pleasantly mild smokiness that intertwines harmoniously with the cocktail’s other components.  

Texture-wise, the charcoal mellowing process contributes to a velvety smoothness that enhances the drink’s overall mouthfeel. Visually, Tennessee whiskey lends a rich, amber hue to the Old Fashioned. This warm colour enhances the cocktail’s visual appeal, inviting you to savour its flavours and aromas.  

Selecting the right Tennessee whiskey for your Old Fashioned involves seeking out those with a balanced interplay between sweetness and the gentle smokiness that comes from the charcoal mellowing process. Look for those with caramel, vanilla, and subtly smoky notes to ensure a well-rounded flavour.

Learn more: 12 Prohibition-Era Cocktail Recipes from the Roaring Twenties  

Single malt whisky

Single malt whisky and Old Fashioned cocktail

Choosing single malt whisky to build your Old Fashioned introduces a layer of complexity and a touch of refinement to this classic cocktail. Renowned for their rich and diverse flavour profiles, single malts bring a unique dimension to the mix.  

In terms of flavour, single malt whisky offers an array of notes ranging from fruity and floral to smoky and peaty, depending on the region of origin. This diverse flavour palette adds depth and intrigue to the Old Fashioned, creating a truly captivating taste experience. 

Texture-wise, single malt whiskies often possess a silky and well-rounded mouthfeel that complements the cocktail’s other components. Visually, single malt whisky adds an inviting amber hue to the Old Fashioned, setting the stage for an elegant and sophisticated presentation.  

When selecting a single malt whisky for your Old Fashioned, consider the flavour profile that best aligns with your preferences. Whether you’re drawn to the fruity notes of Highland malts or the smoky character of Islay expressions, aim for a single malt that offers a balanced flavour profile.  

Blended whiskey  

A set of whiskey tasting glasses lined up on a rustic wooden table, each containing a different whiskey option for crafting the perfect Old Fashioned.

Selecting blended whiskey as the cornerstone of your Old Fashioned brings a unique blend of versatility and harmony to the cocktail. Blends typically meld various whiskey styles, resulting in a well-rounded and approachable flavour profile that resonates with a wide range of palates.  

In terms of flavour, blended whiskey offers a harmonious fusion of different grain and malt whiskies, creating a balanced taste. This smooth character adds a layer of approachability to the Old Fashioned, making it an inviting choice for both newcomers and seasoned enthusiasts.  

Texture-wise, blended whiskies often possess a velvety and gentle mouthfeel that complements the cocktail’s components. Visually, blended whiskey contributes an inviting amber hue to the Old Fashioned, inviting you to indulge in its flavours and aromas.  

When selecting a blended whiskey for your Old Fashioned, focus on those that strike a balance between different grain and malt components. Look for blends that marry sweetness, depth, and a touch of complexity.  

Year-round cocktail inspiration: Summer Whiskey Cocktails | Winter Whiskey Cocktails  

Japanese whisky

Japanese whisky Old Fashioned cocktail

Opting for Japanese whisky as the anchor of your Old Fashioned ushers it into a refined realm of elegance, and delicate flavours. Known for their meticulous craftsmanship, Japanese whiskies bring a refined and nuanced character to this classic cocktail.  

In terms of flavour, Japanese whisky often boasts delicate notes of fruit, floral undertones, and a hint of smoke. These subtle flavours add a layer of complexity to the Old Fashioned, elevating its taste profile to a sophisticated level.  

Texture-wise, Japanese whiskies tend to offer a silky and smooth mouthfeel that complements the cocktail’s other components. Visually, Japanese whisky imparts an inviting golden hue to the Old Fashioned, adding a touch of understated elegance to its appearance.  

When selecting the best Japanese whisky for your Old Fashioned, focus on those that capture the essence of Japanese craftsmanship. Look for whiskies with delicate fruit and floral notes that align with the cocktail’s essence while offering a distinctive twist.  

Kanpai! 10 Japanese Whiskey Cocktails to Master  

Scotch whisky  

Two tumblers of whiskey overlooking a view of the Scottish Highlands with a sprig of purple heather beside it

Choosing Scotch whisky as the backbone of your Old Fashioned introduces depth of flavour, richness, and a subtle touch of peatiness to this iconic cocktail. Scotch whisky, known for its distinct regional variations, offers a diverse range of options to explore.  

Texture-wise, Scotch whiskies often present a smooth and well-rounded mouthfeel that complements the cocktail’s other elements. Visually, Scotch whisky lends a warm and inviting hue to the Old Fashioned, setting the stage for a cosy and enjoyable drinking experience.  

When it comes to choosing the ideal Scotch whisky as the foundation for your Old Fashioned, the richness of regional diversity comes into play. Each Scotch-producing region offers its own unique flavour palette, giving you a spectrum of options to explore.  

For a smoky and peaty twist, consider an Islay Scotch, infusing your cocktail with a distinctive character. Alternatively, Highland Scotches often carry fruitier and maltier notes that can add an inviting touch to your Old Fashioned. Regardless of the region, prioritise a Scotch whisky that complements the cocktail’s essence and speaks to your personal flavour preferences.   

You might also like: The 10 Most Popular Cocktails in the World (2023)  

Irish whiskey

Four tumblers of Irish Whiskey on a table overlooking lush green Irish scenery with the shoreline and ocean in the distance

Opting for Irish whiskey when stirring up an Old Fashioned typically results in added smoothness, approachable flavours, and a subtle twist to this timeless cocktail. Known for their triple distillation and diverse cask aging, Irish whiskies are quite wonderful in cocktails.  

In terms of flavour, Irish whiskey often presents a gentle balance of maltiness and sweetness, along with subtle fruit and floral undertones. These nuances weave an intricate layer of taste, enhancing the Old Fashioned with a distinct Irish charm.  

Texture-wise, Irish whiskies typically offer a velvety and light mouthfeel that complements the cocktail’s other components. Visually, Irish whiskey imparts an inviting golden hue to the Old Fashioned, adding an understated elegance that’s as visually pleasing as it is tasteful.  

When selecting the best Irish whiskey for your Old Fashioned, look for whiskies with notes of malt, sweetness, and subtle fruit undertones. These align with the cocktail’s essence while offering a delightful variation on the go-to recipe.   

Sláinte! 14 Irish Cocktails to Serve All Year Round

In short, choosing the right whiskey for your Old Fashioned involves careful consideration of its type, flavour, aroma, ABV, and overall balance.  

Whether you opt for the smoothness of bourbon, the spiciness of rye, or the charm of Japanese whiskey, remember that the key lies in finding harmony between the whiskey and the cocktail’s essential elements. Experiment, savour, and enjoy the journey of creating a perfectly crafted Old Fashioned tailored to your palate.   

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If you're looking to explore beyond the classic, consider intriguing variations. The Añejo Old Fashioned, for instance, introduces aged tequila as the base, bringing a rich and nuanced dimension to the cocktail. On the other hand, the Apple Butter Old Fashioned takes a creative approach by incorporating apple-infused bourbon, offering a delightful twist with its unique flavour profile. These variants demonstrate the versatility of the Old Fashioned, allowing you to experience diverse taste sensations.

Selecting the right whiskey is a pivotal decision in perfecting your Old Fashioned. While personal preference plays a role, certain factors contribute to a well-balanced cocktail. Consider the type of whiskey—bourbon, rye, or others— as each imparts distinct flavours. Pay attention to the whiskey's flavour profile, balancing its sweetness, spiciness, and other notes with the cocktail's elements. The whiskey's aroma and ABV also influence the final drink. Striving for harmony among these aspects ensures a satisfying and enjoyable Old Fashioned.

It might seem counterintuitive to mix pricier whiskey into a cocktail, but it's far from wasteful. The principle here is that the quality of the base spirit directly impacts the resulting cocktail. Employing a high-quality whiskey elevates the overall flavour profile, enriching the depth and complexity of the Old Fashioned. While the classic cocktail celebrates simplicity, using a better whiskey serves as a foundation for an exceptional drinking experience. Your investment in the whiskey is reflected in the refined taste of your Old Fashioned.

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