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As cocktails go, you can’t get more classic than the Old Fashioned, a simple concoction of bourbon (or rye), sugar, water and bitters. Good versions of the drink can be found all over the world. But simple tweaks—rum here, smoke there, tamarind elsewhere—can easily change up the classic into a new favorite. We tracked down 11 unique riffs at bars and restaurants around the country you can drink right now.
Can’t make it to any of the bars serving these great Old Fashioneds? Try mixing the Kentucky River from this list at home.
The opulent art deco vibe at Rosina inside The Palazzo at The Venetian hotel draws you in, but the dedicated Old Fashioned menu keeps you there. The Kentucky River, just one of seven riffs, includes Buffalo Trace bourbon, Tempus Fugit crème de cacao and a few dashes of peach bitters to add a bit more sweetness. It’s all stirred in a double Old Fashioned glass with a lemon twist.
Each season, Hundred Proof beverage director Stephen Kurpinsky changes up the bar’s Old Fashioned. This spring, San Diego saw an unusual influx of rain, offering more spring bloom than usual. This inspired a fresher cocktail using Old Forester 100-proof bourbon with Chareau aloe liqueur, marigold syrup and a couple of dashes of lavender bitters. The cocktail offers a blend of cucumber and spearmint with some floral bitterness and herbal sweetness of lavender. It’s spring in a glass.
The house cocktail at Queen Mary is this Navy Strength Old Fashioned. It includes overproof spirits: fragrant pot-stilled Smith & Cross Jamaican rum and Hayman’s Royal Dock gin that’s heavy on juniper but balanced with citrus and spice. It also has demerara syrup, two dashes of Angostura bitters and a light dash of saline solution. The drink is then stirred and served over a single large cube in a double rocks glass and garnished with a long expressed orange peel. “It's simple, elegant, strong and a bit counterintuitive,” says general manager Dan Smith. “A gin and rum old fashioned? It's delicious.”
A little sweet, a bit sour and definitely tart, tamarind adds a boost of flavor to cocktails. This drink gets that essence by way of a tamarind demerara syrup that’s combined with Elijah Craig small-batch bourbon and grapefruit oil, then a couple of dashes each of roasted chicory and Angostura bitters to finish it off with a nutty and spicy flavor. What inspired beverage director Will Lee to pull this together? “The idea of finding the details in simplicity,” he says. Enough said.
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Fewer things evoke hot childhood summer days more than a creamsicle. So leave it to Evan Hawkins, the head bartender at super-hot rooftop spot Broken Shaker at the Freehand hotel, to turn it in to a cocktail. Stirring together Old Forester bourbon, Suntory Toki Japanese whisky, an orange whey cordial (comprising orange juice, whey liquid, sugar, vanilla extract and makrut lime leaf) and a vial of Tiki bitters, he pours it all over a big cube in a rocks glass. It took him a bit of R&D, but using leftover oranges and whey from ricotta cheese the kitchen made, he created this clarified milk water for that perfect creamy essence.
If ever there were a place to drink an Old Fashioned it would be northern Wisconsin, home of the supper club. At The Lanes, a renovated, upscale 10-lane subterranean bowling alley below 1920s historic landmark The Howard, chef Ben Raupp found a way to take the classic and introduce bourbon drinkers to the smoky peatiness of scotch. He combined High West Campfire whiskey with Woodford Reserve–bourbon-barrel-aged spiced cherry bitters, Hella Bitters smoke chile bitters and Sugar Bob’s smoked maple syrup from Vermont. It’s a perfect bridge between the sweet and smoky.
Openaire, inside the hip Line hotel in Los Angeles’ Koreatown, lets guests feel like they’re hanging out inside a garden. At the high-ceilinged glass-enclosed greenhouse space, bar lead Jesus Gomez highlights Mexican flavors in this drink by using mezcal and dry chile honey. He blends that with St-Germain and finishes the drink with orange and lemon bitters. It ties in with his overall cocktail vibe to showcase how global flavors influence California cuisine.
Anthem, a crossroads of Asian and Latin flavors, transports you with this riff on an island Old Fashioned. By introducing brown-sugar-grilled pineapple to Old Grand-Dad bonded bourbon and orange bitters with a garnish of crystalized ginger, Anthem gives its patrons a unique tangy option that’s also somewhat refreshing to drink on hot Texas days.
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At this award-winning cocktail bar, ingenuity is nothing new. In fact, it’s the norm. So when it decided to take the base idea of an Old Fashioned (spirit, bitters, sugar and peel) and turn it on its heels, it made sense. The Picard has smoky lapsang-souchong-infused Cimarrón blanco tequila melding with Marquis de Montesquiou Armagnac, plus a touch of Cappelletti Amaro Sfumato Rabarbaro, a teaspoon of Clément cane syrup and nearly two-dozen drops of Fee Brothers Aztec chocolate bitters. See, makes total sense.
Shawn Monnin, the head bartender at elegant Mexican bayside haunt Coasterra, had just gotten in a bottle of sweet and savory Gem & Bolt mezcal (made with Mexican herb damiana) and wanted to use it in a cocktail. Then he saw Cherry Heering and thought the two spirits, along with Fortaleza reposado tequila, would make for a great riff on an Old Fashioned. He added some agave nectar, a dash of chocolate bitters and orange to garnish. “You get a little smoke from the mezcal and vanilla notes from the tequila,” says Monnin. “And cherry and chocolate always pair well together.”
At Hush Money, bartender Tom Lisy subs in Hamilton Jamaican black rum for bourbon and adds fruit-forward house-made falernum for an easy summer sipper. Add in burnt sugar bitters and fresh lime, and you have a tasty riff that packs a punch.