How to make an old fashioned that lets your Tennessee whiskey shine

Mackensy Lunsford
Nashville Tennessean

Stirred, never shaken, a properly made old fashioned allows the whiskey to shine. One of the oldest mixed drinks in the book, an old fashioned should be balanced yet spirit-forward, and smooth enough to serve guests shy about sipping whiskey neat.

Chris Mallon, the lead educator for the Tennessee Whiskey Workshop in Nashville and president of the Nashville arm of the United States Bartenders Guild, centers his in-person whiskey workshops around the old fashioned.

The straightforward cocktail is a blend of bitters, sweetener and spirit, all performing in concert. But ice, when incorporated correctly, plays an important supporting role: dilution.

Christopher Mallon leads the Tennessee Whiskey Workshop in Nashville, Tennessee.

"What dilution does is kind of temper the proof and opens up your palate's ability to experience the different nuanced flavors hidden in the whiskey," Mallon explained.

Still, dilution needs to happen in a controlled manner, which is why you should mix your old fashioned in a tall glass or cocktail shaker, then fill it completely with ice.

"If you just put one or two cubes in there, you're actually going to end up diluting it a bit more than if you were to fill it up and chill the vessel," Mallon said.


Here's the method.

Vanilla-saffron old fashioned

An old fashioned cocktail made with Tennessee whiskey.

You can serve an old fashioned in any kind of glass, though a rocks glass or tumbler is most common.

For the bitters, start with just 10-12 drops and add more as needed. "You can always add more but you can never take it out," Mallon said.

To make the simple syrup, combine 1 part Demerara sugar and 1 part water (a cup of each should do), and bring to a boil until the sugar dissolves. Mallon prefers Demerara, the brown turbinado sugar crystals you can find in most grocery stores, over white refined sugar.

"On the bar side, we love to talk about how Demerara syrup compliments the oak and the spice in whiskey," he said.

You can stop there, but if you'd like to flavor your simple syrup as called for in the recipe below, add a pinch of saffron and one split fresh vanilla bean as soon as the syrup comes to a boil, then remove the solution from the heat and cool completely.

The recipe calls for just an 1/8 of an ounce of syrup — that's around a bar spoon full — which makes it less sweet than typical old fashioned recipes.

"In the world of cocktails, absolutely small changes are going to create very large effects," Mallon said. "(This recipe) pulls the sugar way down and lets the whiskey do the talking."

Makes one cocktail.


Aromatic bitters, 10-12 drops to start 

1/8 ounce vanilla-saffron simple syrup

2 ounces Green Brier or other Tennessee whiskey

Orange twist


Combine bitters, then syrup and then finally whiskey, into a cocktail mixer or pint glass. Then, fill the mixer or glass completely with ice. Next, insert a bar spoon straight down into the ice and hold it like a pencil. Begin stirring slowly.

"If you just relax your grip and spin the ice, you're well on your way to enjoying your old fashioned," Mallon said.

Rest your hand on the glass as you stir the cocktail with your other hand.

"If I'm stirring with my left hand, my right hand is feeling for this glass to go cold and for some condensation to start forming," Mallon explained. "The moment that you feel any light condensation form on the mixing glass, then you're done." 

Strain your drink into a rocks glass, with or without ice.

Next, hold either end of the orange twist directly over the drink, outer peel facing the cocktail, and give it a pinch and a twist. Then, rub the outer part of the peel over the rim of the glass. Place the citrus peel in the drink and serve.

Want to take the class yourself? If you're in the Nashville area, sign up for one of Mallon's experiential whiskey sessions at the Tennessee Whiskey Workshop airbnb.com/experiences/645426 or @tennesseewhiskeyworkshop on Instagram.