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Affordable Bourbon Whiskeys To Mix Into The Perfect Old Fashioned

The old fashioned is a classic cocktail. I mean, it’s right there in the name. Around 1800, a cocktail was a mix of a base spirit (cognac, whiskey, gin, whatever) with bitters, sugar, and water. By the mid-1800s, bartenders were (already) over-complicating cocktails and folks just wanted an “old fashioned drink” without all the fuss. That’s when the old fashioned as we know it was born.

That simple recipe of base spirit, bitters, sugar, and water ended up standing the test of time. And that’s all an old fashioned is to this day — with bourbon and rye whiskey being the typical base spirit these days. But before we get into which bourbons to use in your old fashioned, here’s a quick recipe from our own bartender in residence, Zach Johnston:

Classic Old Fashioned

Zach Johnston

Ingredients:

  • 3-oz. Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Bourbon (see the editor’s pick)
  • 1 barspoon demerara sugar
  • 1 barspoon tap water
  • 4 dashes Angostura Bitters
  • Luxardo cherry
  • Orange peel
  • Ice

Method:

  • Add the sugar, water, and bitters to the glass and stir until the sugar starts to dissolve, creating a base (five to ten seconds).
  • Add the bourbon and stir until the sugar is dissolved (30 to 60 seconds).
  • Fill the glass with ice and stir until the glass is ice cold to touch (about 60 seconds).
  • Top up the glass with ice.
  • Spritz the orange oils from the peel onto the cocktail and rub them around the rim of the glass. Drop the peel in the cocktail.
  • Spear one cherry and drop it in the glass.
  • Serve.

For us, the best bourbon for this drink hits on a combination of great value, high proof, and delicious, well-rounded flavor. To help you on your quest to create the best old fashioned, we decided to list eight of our favorite bourbons for this classic cocktail below. Make sure to click on the prices to try these bourbons in your own old fashioned at home.

Old Grand-Dad 114

Jim Beam

ABV: 57%

Average Price: $30

The Whiskey:

The “Old Grand-Dad” on this bottle is Meredith Basil Hayden, Sr. The connections go beyond iconography, since both this bourbon and Basil Hayden’s share the same high-rye Beam mash bill. They’re both made 63 percent corn, 27 percent rye, and ten percent malted barley. Where Basil Hayden’s is proofed to 80 proof, Old Grand-Dad is a much bolder 114 proof, making it a great mixer.

Tasting Notes:

On the nose, you’re treated to strong, bold aromas of cinnamon, charred wood, and a whole lot of caramelized sugar. On the palate, you’ll notice bold vanilla beans, more sweet cinnamon candy, brown sugar, and a nice kick of pepper. The finish is long, brimming with heat, and ends with a nice final kick of spicy cinnamon.

Why It’s Perfect For An Old Fashioned:

This is truly a turbo-charged whisky. It can be used as a sipper, but its bold, peppery flavor and high proof make it an ideal base for an old fashioned.

Maker’s Mark Cask Strength

Maker

ABV: 54% to 57%

Average Price: $38

The Whiskey:

Maker’s Mark is reasonably priced, well-rounded, and always there. If you’re looking to turn its flavor up to eleven, grab a bottle of Maker’s Mark Cask Strength. This uncut, non-chill filtered bourbon is pure, bold, and rich. The best part? No expression is the same, since the proof varies (from 108 to 114 proof) depending on the barrels chosen.

Tasting Notes:

Aromas of vanilla beans, dried fruits, subtle spices, and just a wisp of charred wood smoke greet you on the nose. On the sip, you’ll find brown butter, cinnamon, creamy caramel, vanilla, and raisins. It all ends with a seamless combination of spice and sugary sweetness.

Why It’s Perfect For An Old Fashioned:

This cask-strength bourbon is surprisingly mellow for its high proof. Its high alcohol content and rich, candy-like caramel flavors work well in a straightforward cocktail like this one.

Four Roses Small Batch

Four Roses

ABV: 45%

Average Price: $40

The Whiskey:

When you buy a bottle of Four Roses, you can be pretty sure you’re getting a high-quality whiskey. Its small batch is made up of a blend of four different bourbon recipes. Each whiskey included was aged for six to seven years in new, charred American oak barrels and hand-selected by its master distiller in an effort to craft the most mellow, easy-to-drink bourbon possible.

Tasting Notes:

Scents of dried cherries, vanilla beans, caramel, and oak swirl around your nostrils. Sipping this whiskey reveals hints of raisins, sweet treacle, toffee candy, and subtle spice. The finish is mellow, warming, and ends with a nice kick of cinnamon sugar.

Why It’s Perfect For An Old Fashioned:

This whiskey has a lower ABV, but that doesn’t mean its flavors are muted when mixed into an old fashioned. Bold dried fruit and vanilla flavors shine through very nicely when mixed.

Basil Hayden’s

Jim Beam

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $38

The Whiskey:

There’s a reason Basil Hayden’s is one of the most popular expressions from Jim Beam’s Small Batch Collection. As mentioned above, this and Old Grand-Dad are cut from the same cloth or mash high-rye mash bill in this case. This makes for a spicier whiskey that still carries the sweet caramel and vanilla notes bourbon drinkers expect. It’s also a very high-quality bourbon that’s still very affordable.

Tasting Notes:

On the nose, you’ll notice memorable aromas of toasted vanilla beans, caramel corn, dried cherries, and wood char. On the palate, there are flavors of raisins, vanilla cream, caramelized sugar, and a nice hint of pepper. The ending is long, filled with pleasing heat, and finished with a nice combination of dried cherries and pepper.

Why It’s Perfect For An Old Fashioned:

While many of the bottles on this list were selected for their higher proof, Basil Hayden’s is a great option simply due to its price and soft, mellow flavors. Usually available for under $40, this high-quality, high-flavor bourbon deserves a permanent spot in your cocktail rotation.

Michter’s US*1 Small Batch Bourbon

Michters Distillery

ABV: 45.7%

Average Price: $50

The Whiskey:

Michter’s takes the idea of “small batch” seriously. Its Small Batch bourbon is matured in fire-charred, new American oak barrels for an undisclosed time before being batched in a holding tank that contains no more than twenty casks. The result is a rich, fruity, subtly smoky whiskey perfect for sipping or mixing.

Tasting Notes:

Breathe in the scents of charred oak, sweet corn, cinnamon, and vanilla before taking a sip. Then, you’ll be treated to flavors of clover honey, caramel candy, toasted vanilla beans, and subtle, spicy cinnamon. The finish is light, dry, and filled with peppery rye and dried fruits.

Why It’s Perfect For An Old Fashioned:

If you only buy one bottle for mixing into an old fashioned, make it this one. It’s well-priced for the quality and the deep wood and caramel notes meld perfectly with bitters and sugar.

Buffalo Trace

Buffalo Trace

ABV: 45%

Average Price: $32

The Whiskey:

The flagship bourbon from famed Buffalo Trace Distillery is a bargain bourbon made with an undisclosed corn, rye, and malted barley mash bill. It’s aged around ten years in new, charred American oak barrels. The result is a complex, well-rounded whiskey perfectly suited for sipping or mixing.

Tasting Notes:

You’ll find notes of sweet malts, dried fruits, caramel, and subtle cinnamon on the nose. The palate is swirling with sticky toffee pudding, caramel apples, vanilla beans, and brown sugar. It all ends with a nice mix of sweet and spicy.

Why It’s Perfect For An Old Fashioned:

Buffalo Trace deserves a spot in your whiskey rotation. It’s not only an exceptional sipper for the price, but the rich, classic flavors stand up well in an old fashioned.

I.W. Harper

I.W. Harper

ABV: 41%

Average Price: $35

The Whiskey:

I.W. Harper is an old-school bourbon (made by bourbon pioneer Isaac Bernheim) that’s gone in and out of favor on the U.S. market quite a bit over the years. Now made by Diageo, the mash is a standard mash of 73 percent corn, 18 percent rye, and nine percent malted barley but doesn’t carry an age statement. That doesn’t keep it from being nuanced, rich, and memorable.

Tasting Notes:

Before your first sip, take a moment to breathe in the scents of charred oak, dried cherries, maple syrup, and vanilla beans. The palate opens you up to a world of buttery vanilla, caramelized sugar, cooking spices, and raisins. The finish is mellow, light, and ends with honey and dried fruits.

Why It’s Perfect For An Old Fashioned:

Not remotely as potent in the alcohol content department as many of the other offerings on this list, I.W. Harper’s flagship expression carries distinct char and dried fruit flavors that pair well with the other ingredients in an old fashioned and contrast that luxardo cherry nicely.

Old Forester 100

Old Forester

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $27

The Whiskey:

Old Forester 100 is made to pay tribute to the high-proof bourbons distilled, matured, and bottled pre-prohibition. Its mash bill consists of 72 percent corn, 18 percent rye, and ten percent malted barley. The bottle doesn’t carry an age statement. It’s bottled at 50 percent ABV, giving it a bold, full-flavored, and well-suited body for mixing into your favorite cocktail.

Tasting Notes:

On the nose, aromas of wood char, brown sugar, licorice, and dried fruits are prevalent. Take a sip and you’ll find hints of caramel apples, charred oak, sticky toffee pudding, vanilla beans, and slight cinnamon sugar. The ending is mellow, long in length, warming, and finishes with a great combination of caramel corn and spices.

Why It’s Perfect For An Old Fashioned:

When it comes to high proof, high quality, and low price, there’s no better choice for your bourbon mixing use than Old Forester 100. Its wood char, caramel, and vanilla flavors as well as its high proof stand up beautifully in an old fashioned.

Editor’s Pick: Elijah Craig Barrel Proof

Heaven Hill

ABV: Varies

Average Price: $75

The Whiskey:

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof is all about finding the best barrels in the Heaven Hill warehouses and letting that whiskey shine on its own. These are released three times a year (we’re offering tasting notes on the January 2021 release below) and the various expressions have been winning award after award. The whiskey in the bottle is generally at least 12 years old and bottled with no cutting down to proof or filtration whatsoever.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a real throughline of sunny berry brambles (blueberry, raspberry, and blackberry) next to orange oils and a touch of oakiness on the nose. That fruit and oak will carry through on the palate as hints of buttery toffee, rich vanilla, and peppery spice mingle on the tongue and set your lips abuzz. The end tends to be slow and velvety with the spice, fruit, oak, and vanilla all comingling nicely until the very last.

Why It’s Perfect For An Old Fashioned:

It’d be easy to just drink this whiskey on the rocks and that’s that. But this barrel-proof delight from Heaven Hill makes one hell of an old fashioned. That mix of citrus, red fruit, peppery spice really shines in the cocktail. The creamy vanilla and dried wood hold their own against the sugars and bitters with the ABVs holding up even as the drink waters down.


As a Drizly affiliate, Uproxx may receive a commission pursuant to certain items on this list.

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