Vermont Old Fashioned Cocktail

The Old Fashioned is one of the most classic bourbon cocktails, and with good reason. This cocktail is boozy and classy, yet still humble. It's one of the most straightforward bourbon cocktails, making it versatile enough to pair with a wide range of cuisines and settings.

The Old Fashioned is a go-to in our house, especially during the fall and winter months, and especially when enjoyed in front of the fire during a monster snowstorm like we'll be doing this evening.

A traditional Old Fashioned has just a few ingredients: bourbon, simple syrup, and bitters. It's often garnished with a thin shaving or twist of orange peel. The beauty of the Old Fashioned is its straightforwardness, so I prefer to keep it minimalist.

However, we always make one key swap in our house: maple syrup instead of simple syrup. Partly this is because we live in Vermont and I much prefer to use a local, unprocessed sweetener. But more importantly, the flavor of the maple syrup can actually really complement and even elevate the bourbon. Good, medium-colored maple syrup can have notes of caramel and vanilla, similar to the flavors that develop in bourbon as it ages. The two really are a natural pairing that echo one another.

My parents actually make their own maple syrup, and it's heavenly. Check out the mason jar of dark amber magic in the background of these photos! Their maple syrup is truly a labor of love, and they spend many weeks each spring collecting sap and boiling it down.

For your bourbon, choose something you like to drink on its own. This cocktail is very bourbon-forward because there are so few additional ingredients. We usually have quite an assortment at home, but I primarily find myself making an Old Fashioned with something like Knob Creek, Bulleit, or Maker's Mark (this isn't necessarily the time to use your rare sipping bourbon). A rye could work as well, although it isn't as traditional.

One other subtle suggestion. I love making this drink with a shaving of blood orange peel, at least when they're in season. A blood orange is the slightest bit earthier than a navel orange, which pairs so nicely with the bitters.

Pair an Old Fashioned with anything from bar fare ( bourbon + sweet potato fries is a match made in heaven) to fall favorites like squash to Thanksgiving dinner. This cocktail can even venture into dessert territory; it's divine alongside apple pie and vanilla bean ice cream. Sip one in front of the fire, in your warm cozy kitchen while you cook, during a fall picnic, or even on game day. The Old Fashioned can do it all, and the slight but important upgrade of using Vermont maple syrup makes the bourbon shine.

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If you love a bourbon-forward cocktail, take a look at this Thyme Julep. It's the grown-up, subtly herbaceous, fall-appropriate cousin of the Mint Julep.

Thoughts About Ingredients
(These are just suggestions, since rogue is more fun than recipe)
  • High quality bourbon (~2 oz per drink)
  • Maple syrup (~0.25-0.5 oz per drink). Use a medium colored syrup, since the really dark stuff has a more assertive flavor profile and will overwhelm the bourbon. Start with just a little bit initially; you can always increase the amount if you want more sweetness but you can't take it out.
  • Couple dashes of bitters. I usually use Angostura, but there are a lot of options out there. I'd stay away from flavored bitters if you want a more traditional vibe.
  • Orange peel. Using a peeler, shave off a long curl. Make sure to only get the orange part, not the pith (the white part underneath, which is very bitter).
  • Garnishes. I don't generally go this route because the Old Fashioned is traditionally simple. My only occasional exception is a few slivers of crystallized ginger, inspired by a drink at one of my favorite restaurants, Bobcat Cafe in Bristol VT.
Thoughts About Method
(These are just suggestions, be creative and make it yours)
  1.  Add the bourbon, maple syrup, and a couple dashes of bitters to a cocktail stirring glass with some ice. Give it a good stir and let it sit for a minute for the ice to cool the drink.
  2. Place a couple ice cubes in your serving glass(es). Please no crushed ice, that's bourbon sin! It dilutes the drink way too much. Bonus points for one or two really big cubes that will melt slowly.
  3. If you want to be technical about it, use the orange peel to gently rub around the rim of the glass so that the orange essence is more prevalent.
  4. Pour your bourbon over the ice, garnish with orange peel, and savor.


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