Ingredients You Should Never Put In Your Old Fashioned

The Old Fashioned, as its name implies, is one of the oldest cocktails on the books. Originally it was known simply as "Whiskey Cocktail" when it was featured in Jerry Thomas' 1862 The Bar-Tender's Guide — which, according to Difford's Guide, was the world's first cocktail recipe book. By the 1870s, bartenders were already tinkering with this classic recipe to the extent that certain old-school drinkers started asking to be served an "Old-Fashioned Whiskey Cocktail," which is now the official name of this standard drink.

While the Old Fashioned fell out of favor for many years (at least, everywhere but the Upper Midwest), the recent craft cocktail movement has seen the resurrection of this classic favorite. And with the resurgence of the Old Fashioned, of course, came an avalanche of expert opinions weighing in on the one and only way the drink should be made. While the cocktail always includes certain elements — whiskey, bitters, sugar — the cocktail police, shockingly, don't always agree on the topic of certain other ingredients such as fruit and soda that have been added to the drink throughout its 150-plus-year existence.

What to leave out of your Old Fashioned, and what to put in

Most cocktail experts, including those at Doudoroff, Esquire, and, agree that a proper Old Fashioned should be made with rye or bourbon, although Difford's Guide suggests that mixing the two is also acceptable. While Esquire does mention the fact that certain avant-garde bartenders have been known to swap out the whiskey for rum or tequila or gin, they are basically creating new cocktails on the old-fashioned (or Old Fashioned) base, and traditionalists are definitely going to get their undies in a bunch if you don't stick to whiskey.

Sugar is something else that's seemingly hard to come to a consensus on. Either the traditional method of muddling a sugar cube or the easier way of using simple syrup seems to be ok, but and author Ian Bogost both pour scorn on the practice of using a sugar packet.

Fruit is also controversial — Bogost considers an orange slice and maraschino cheery essential to a proper Old Fashioned, and considers these fruits to be acceptable, but Doudoroff considers the inclusion of any type of fruit in an Old Fashioned to indicate "a perverted nastiness of mind." Esquire seems to find fruity Old Fashioneds only allowable if your name is Don Draper and your profession is Mad Man.

Using soda of any type in an Old Fashioned is often said to ruin the drink, although Esquire and Bogost do allow a tiny splash of seltzer to dissolve the sugar.

An Old Fashioned is different in Wisconsin

If you are in, from, or merely paying homage to the Badger State, then you'll need to ignore all of the above rules and caveats. The Wisconsin Old-Fashioned, which is the much-beloved state drink, is an entity unto itself. While cocktail snobs from the other 49 states and outside the U.S. may recoil in horror, Wisconsinites simply do not care. 

John Dye, owner of Milwaukee's legendary cocktail lounge Bryant's, puts things in perspective for The Midwestival: "There are two Old Fashioneds; honestly they're two different drinks at this point. I personally think the Wisconsin's version has a more solid history... It's been served in old men's basements and in corner bars consistently for over 100 years."  In fact, the Old Fashioned is so much a part of state lore that you can get a deep-fried version at the Wisconsin State Fair and local brewer Sprecher even released an Old Fashioned-flavored hard seltzer (via Milwaukee Magazine)

So how do you make a Wisconsin Old Fashioned? You use brandy, not whiskey. Keep the sugar, keep the bitters, definitely don't lose the fruit, and do top your drink with soda — seltzer, sweet (Sprite or 7-Up), or sour (via Enjoy your drink with a side of cheese curds and Packers football, and don't even think about what the cocktail snobs might say. Making your Old Fashioned the Wisconsin way isn't rule-breaking, after all, it's just honoring tradition.