Distilling the Old Fashioned: Which spirit tastes best?

Distilling the Old Fashioned: Which spirit tastes best?

I was caught off guard the first time I ordered an old fashioned and the bartender asked, “scotch, bourbon or rye?”

“Do you have whiskey?” I replied in my naivete. The bartender laughed and explained that scotch, bourbon, and rye are all types of whiskey. Even still, I wasn’t sure what to pick. Years later, I’ve learned about how those flavors, in addition to other spirits like rum and mezcal, influence the taste of an old fashioned. Here’s a guide to help you pick:

Whiskey: Scotch, Bourbon or Rye?

Scotch: smoky with a bite

That cozy campsite flavor of scotch comes from grains that are heated over a fire. We love the classic flavor of Johnnie Walker Red Label Scotch and Monkey Shoulder (plus, the $25-$30 range is great value!). If you're ready to splurge, try Aberlour A'bunadh Single Malt Scotch, the winner of the “Best Distillers Single Malt Scotch” award at the 2020 San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

(And p.s. - when talking about scotch, it’s “whisky” (no ‘e’) - that’s how the Scots spell it, and since scotch has to be bottled in Scotland to keep its name, they choose the spelling.)

Rye: spicy and peppery

If you want a little more of a kick, rye will give you an almost peppery bite. The higher the rye content in the bottle, the spicier you can expect your rye to be. For a splurge, we love High West Rye. For a more affordable option, Bulleit Rye.

Bourbon: mellow and sweet with more pleasant notes

Bourbon is made with corn, which contributes to the softer flavor. We love this New York local Hudson Baby Bourbon, or for a more affordable option, we’d again go for Bulleit's Bourbon

Old Fashioned With a Twist: Rum or Mezcal?

Rum: sweet and grassy

If you’re looking for something a little sweeter, rum is a great base for an Old Fashioned - but beware of choosing a rum that’s too sweet. In order to let the bitters properly come through, we recommend using 1 ounce of white rum and 1 ounce of aged rum. This combination will balance the sweetness nicely. We like 896 Aged Rum and George Ocean White Rum.

Mezcal: smoky and earthy 

If you’re looking for something even smokier than scotch, mezcal is the perfect way to take your Old Fashioned up a notch. To balance the smokiness, we recommend using 1.5 ounces of mezcal with 0.5 onces of tequila reposado. Try Casamigos - the sleek black bottle will also look great on your bar cart! 


No matter the spirit you choose, it’s important the proof is high, as your drink will get diluted from ice. Adding one big ice cube, cube or sphere, will slow down the dilution and make your drink look extra professional.

Still don’t know which is best for you? Make all 4 and do a blind taste test!

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