old fashioned cocktail
old fashioned cocktail
An Old Fashioned with a creative twist at Dream Dance Steak in Milwaukee

For those interested in Depression Era-cocktails, the Old Fashioned is a classic. The original recipe from the early 1800s called for a lump of sugar, a little water, Angostura bitters, one small ice cube, lemon peel and whiskey, although in the 1930s the drink was modified a bit to also include an orange slice or maraschino cherry.

Lately there has been a rise in craft cocktail bars setting the standard using high-quality products and fresh ingredients, as well as putting unique spins on the old recipe. Certain U.S. cities have a thriving “Old Fashioned” cocktail culture; these are places not to be missed for the cocktail aficionado. Here are five of the best places in the United States to order an Old Fashioned.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

While most people know Milwaukee for its beer and cheese, it’s also home to myriad bars and restaurants serving interesting takes on the Old Fashioned, as it’s Wisconsin’s state cocktail. While other cities are experiencing a classic cocktail revival, the Old Fashioned has always been a way of life for the people of Wisconsin. Although the drink is typically made using bourbon, in Wisconsin the standard is to craft them with brandy.

Start your classic cocktail journey at Smyth at the Iron Horse Hotel. This sexy biker-slash-Americana-inspired hotel, restaurant and bar offers unique twists on the libation, like the “Mezcal Old Fashioned” made with lemon, orange and grapefruit bitters muddled with a touch of sugar and topped with agave-flavored Crema de Mezcal. Or their “1907 Old Fashioned” featuring the bar’s own limited-edition Barrel 1907 whiskey and local Door County cherries. Enjoy it indoors while admiring beautiful motorcycle displays, a worn-looking American Flag crafted from 32 pairs of blue jeans and vintage relics. Then head outside to The Yard, their seasonal outdoor lounge and bar.

Your next stop should be Dream Dance Steak. Along with more than 600 retail-priced wines, their menu features one of the city’s best Old Fashioneds, the “Wisconsin Blue Old Fashion,” made with Korbel, Seagram’s 7 or Southern Comfort, sugar, Orange bitters, a cinnamon stick and fresh blueberries.

Chicago, Illinois

Chicago is one of the top cities in the country for craft cocktails. This is especially true when it comes to Old Fashioneds. There are a number of venues creating classic cocktails made with quality products and precise recipes, for example, The Whistler, The Barrelhouse Flat and the Violet Hour. That being said, there are also bars putting unique spins on the recipe that are worth checking out.

First there is Double A, which makes an “Old Smashion” with Fidencio mezcal, Cinzano, dry Amontillado sherry, whiskey barrel-aged bitters and torched Angostura bitters. Watching the drink being made is a treat in itself, as the Angostura bitters are set on fire to create a smokiness that balances the spicy mezcal, sweet vermouth and nutty dry sherry.

There’s also the Storefront Company, which offers a “New Fashioned” with the addition of cherry foam. It’s also served in a martini glass, which gives the cocktail a feminine touch.

Louisville, Kentucky

Kentucky is the bourbon capital of the world, so it only makes sense to find a plethora of bars in the state making great Old Fashioneds. This is especially true in Louisville, with some top classic cocktail bars including Decca Restaurant, The Silver Dollar, and my favorite spot, Proof on Main, offering 100+ bourbons on their menu that they blend with house-made mixers.

For something unique head to Rye on the Market, as they offer both a “House Old Fashioned” crafted with Rye, Demerara and Bitters, as well as an “Absinthe Old Fashioned” featuring St. Germain and Peychaud’s Bitters and Absinthe for a slight licorice twist. Additionally, the Blind Pig makes a “New Wave Old Fashioned,” containing ginger-infused Woodford Reserve, local honey, orange, cherry and house bitters.

At Seviche Restaurant they make a meal of the classic cocktail called the “Tuna Old Fashioned.” The dish is a ceviche containing bluegrass soy, Kentucky bourbon, pineapple and orange.

Portland, Oregon

While most people think of Portland as being a great city for beer, it’s also home to a blossoming craft cocktail scene. Some top craft cocktail bars in Portland include Teardrop Cocktail Lounge, Kask and Vintage Cocktail Lounge.

For a unique spin on the classic head to Xico where they blend a delicious “Oaxaca Old Fashioned.” The libation is made with Chamucos Reposado tequila, Sombra mezcal, one good dash of Angostura bitters and a teaspoon of 1:1 simple syrup. It’s stirred over ice, strained into a lowball glass over a single large ice cube, and garnished with an orange peel for a Mexican-inspired twist on the American classic. Pair it with one of their farm-to-table Mexican dishes like chilaquiles, adobo-marinated flank steak tacos or taco salad for an immersive meal.

You can also head to the Red Star Tavern where lead bartender Brandon Lockman serves up classic Old Fashioneds as well as “Port Old Fashioneds” made with whiskey, real maple syrup, Angostura Bitters, an orange peel, brandied cherry and .5 ounces of 10-year Tawny port. Instead of the usual fruit flavors from the twists, it adds a layer of complexity with the added sweetness of Port wine and maple syrup.

San Diego, California

Touted as the top city in the country for an aggressively bitter IPA, it’s no surprise you’d find experimental cocktails in San Diego. The city is home to a number of excellent craft cocktail bars, some of which include Sycamore Den, El Dorado Cocktail Lounge and The Lion’s Share. There are also a number of local bars putting unusual spins on the classic Old Fashioned.

Start your exploration of unusual classic cocktails at Polite Provisions, whose take on the drink is Old-Fashioned-meets-Japanese cocktail. Instead of the typical sugar cube or simple syrup the bar uses homemade orgeat for a cocktail featuring strong caramel and almond notes accented with a touch of baking spice.

You should also visit Noble Experiment, a speakeasy-style cocktail bar that makes a “Fashionably Late” using a small touch of Licor 43 for some subtle orange and vanilla notes. And at Craft & Commerce, the menu’s riff on the classic is the “Odd Couple,” made with rye whiskey as the base, pear liqueur as the sweetener, Angostura bitters for a bit of earthiness, and mezcal mist on the glass for an earthy, smoky aroma reminiscent of a dying bonfire on the beach.

Tip: After a day of drinking, you’ll want a relaxing place to stay — like one of these hotels with private hot tubs in room in San Diego!

This post originally appeared on Travel + Escape

Jessica Festa

Jessica Festa is the editor of Epicure & Culture as well as Jessie on a Journey. She enjoys getting lost in new cities and having experiences you don’t read about in guidebooks. Some of her favorite travel experiences have been teaching English in Thailand, trekking her way through South America, backpacking Europe solo, road tripping through Australia, agritouring through Tuscany, and volunteering in Ghana.

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