Make this delicious Christmas Old Fashioned for any winter holiday and enjoy the orange, clove, cinnamon and allspice notes in each sip.
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When you come up with a fabulous simple syrup that soars with the flavors of the season, it is a fait accompli that it should go into a Christmas Old Fashioned. Two weeks ago, I created a vibrant infused holiday simple syrup with orange, cinnamon, clove, allspice and star anise in it, and it was a revelation.
I knew it was good because three people who saw it online immediately made it and raved about it. I love it when that happens with a cocktail post.
But in this case, the flavors of the cocktail are truly a special match for a bourbon Old Fashioned. If you prefer a bit more spice in your cocktail, try a mid-proof rye whiskey instead of bourbon. It’s a delicious combination and great for palates that prefer a little more kick to their cocktails.
Christmas Old Fashioned
A classic Old Fashioned could be called the OG cocktail. A version of it, called a whiskey cocktail, was one of the first mentions of a cocktail in print in the US. It’s a fabulous drink, made with whiskey, sugar, and bitters.
It’s stirred over ice to dilute it a bit (or sometimes built in the glass) and strained into a rocks glass – usually over one large cube of ice.
So, how do you transform the classic cocktail into a holiday old fashioned? Easily – by using flavors reminiscent of the season.
For me, that means orange, cinnamon, clove, and allspice. Those are the flavors that I relish when I walk into a friend’s or family member’s home and they’ve been cooking holiday treats all day.
It smells like home and the holidays.
Syrup for the Holiday Old Fashioned
To infuse the simple syrup, you’ll need:
- Orange juice and peels
- Star anise
Head to Shut Up and Make this Christmas Simple Syrup for the recipe. But, fair warning: This syrup makes your entire house smell heavenly, so you won’t want to wait for it to cool down to try it.
Resist the urge to use a simple syrup right away, because it continues to develop more complex layers as it cools.
In addition to the infused spice flavors in the syrup, I use a peppery high-proof rye, to balance the sweetness of the syrup. But if you prefer, a 95-100 proof bourbon will sing in this cocktail. Something like Old Forester 100, or a lovely Wilderness Trail Single Barrel Bourbon will taste wonderful.
For bitters, I use Bourbon Barrel Food’s Bohemian Bitters – bottled under the Old Forester cocktail provisions label. It’s their take on aromatic bitters, and it’s perfect for this time of year. Their Smoked Cinnamon Bitters are also amazing in this cocktail.
Tips for Mixing the Christmas Old Fashioned
One thing I love about this holiday old fashioned is that it is easy and fast to make. Once you’ve prepped the syrup and gathered your ingredients, you can make one in about a minute.
- Use a mixing glass.
I prefer to make my Old Fashioneds in a mixing glass rather than building it in the glass I’ll be drinking it in. So, add the whiskey, simple syrup, and bitters to a mixing glass, fill it with ice, and stir until well-chilled.
- Avoid over diluting the drink.
While I generally stir cocktails for 30 seconds, because I serve the Old Fashioned over ice and I prefer to linger over it, I like to dilute for just 20 seconds.
- Chill the rocks glass, and serve your Christmas old fashioned on the rocks.
Strain the cocktail into a chilled rocks glass, with one large cube or sphere and garnish with an orange peel and a cinnamon stick.
Related: How to create perfectly clear ice for cocktails.
Now, this is completely optional, but I add just 2 or 3 drops of Scrappy’s Cardamom bitters. Cardamom is one of my favorite seasonal flavors for this cocktail recipe. It adds a little complexity that is hard to pin down if you don’t know it’s there.
Tweaking the Flavors
Now every cocktail needs to be tweaked and perfected to your own preference. If you’re someone who doesn’t love licorice, leave out the star anise when making the simple syrup. On the other hand, if you love that flavor for the holidays, rinse your rocks glass with absinthe before pouring the Old Fashioned.
If you prefer drinks that are slightly more bitter, consider adding extra bitters, like the cardamom I mentioned before, or a bit of ginger bitters.
Sometimes, even with a complex simple syrup, Old Fashioned cocktails can taste just a little flat. One of the ways I counteract that is to add a tiny bit of saline solution or just a pinch of salt to help the flavors pop. A dash of absinthe will sometimes do the same thing.
If you’re someone who loves cranberry instead of orange, tweak the simple syrup recipe to make it with unsweetened cranberry juice. I would still add the peel of an orange – that citrus note adds a little bitterness to the overall taste of the cocktail.
The Best Whiskey for a Christmas Old Fashioned
On a special occasion, I always advocate that people choose a whiskey they love. It doesn’t have to be your most expensive bourbon, but choose one you enjoy drinking.
Think about a whiskey with flavor profiles that complement the flavors in this Holiday Old Fashioned. You have cinnamon, citrus, clove, and allspice. With those flavors, I lean toward a slightly nutty whiskey. Perhaps one that has notes of dried citrus in it.
To know if the whiskey will play well with the other ingredients, add the syrup and bitters to a glass and nose them while you nose the whiskey. If they smell good together, it’s likely they will taste great together.
Heavy oak bourbons could be too dry, but a bourbon or rye finished in a port cask, rum cask, or sherry cask would be incredible in a cocktail like this.
Look through your collection to find a bourbon or rye that made you think of dark dried fruits, butterscotch or toffee. Those flavors, or even one with chocolate notes would be an incredible match for the flavors we’re adding with the syrup and bitters.
Recommended Bar Tools
You don’t need every slick, beautiful bar tool out there, but there are several I’ll recommend. (As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. However, that does not affect the cost of the items below.) My favorite pieces usually come from the Cocktail Kingdom section of Amazon:
You may already have these bar essentials, but just in case:
Christmas Old Fashioned
- 2 oz bourbon (mid proof high rye or BIB rye for spice)
- 1/2 oz Christmas Syrup
- 2 dashes Old Forester Bohemian bitters
- Garnish: cinnamon stick and orange peel
- Combine ingredients in a mixing glass and fill with ice.
- Stir for 20 seconds.
- Strain into a rocks glass with ice.
- Garnish with orange peel and a cinnamon stick.
This post, first published in December 2021, was updated with additional content in 2023.
6 thoughts on “Santa Needs This Christmas Old Fashioned”
Merry Christmas Heather. I enjoy your web page and your cocktails are always a treat. Indeed, you are both talented and generous in your work. May 2022 be filled with love and blessings. Ken Christianson, Anthem, AZ (p.s., the Icelandic Yule Lades, although grouchy by nature, wish you well also)
Merry Christmas, Ken! I hhope you had a wonderful Christmas and have a great start to 2022 planned.
I just stumbled on your site as I am trying to get my holiday menu’s and signature party drinks together by the end of September! OMG…I am so inspired that I suggested to my grown children that we have 2 flight nights in October with each of the girls bringing a new drink that serves 8. This is going to be so fun! And we will be well prepared for our upcoming galas!
I love everything about this and you need to give me an update on how it went!
Hi can I pair a Orange bitters with the syrup you recommended
Absolutely! If you have chocolate bitters those make excellent additions too!