When you come up with a fabulous holiday 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 Christmas simple syrup (really, it’s an all-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 were 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.
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What is an Old Fashioned Cocktail?
The Old Fashioned could be called the OG cocktail. A version of it called the Whiskey Cocktail was one of the first mentions of a cocktail in print in the US. It’s a classic whiskey cocktail, 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.
Traditionally, you’ll see the Old Fashioned garnished with an orange twist and/or a nice cocktail cherry. For the full story on the Old Fashioned, its history, head to How to Build a Perfect Old Fashioned.
Every whiskey drinker and cocktail fiend has their own favorite build of the Old Fashioned. Mine, for example, is made with brown sugar simple syrup, a high-proof whiskey, and some orange bitters.
Some love their Old Fashioneds made with bourbon, some with rye, and others prefer to branch out to less-traditional spirits like rum, Scotch, or tequila.
You know I’ll tell you to make it however you please. Your palate and preference are the most important.
Flavors in this Christmas Old Fashioned
So how do you take a whiskey classic like the Old Fashioned and make it a Christmas cocktail?
Simple – you use flavors reminiscent of the season.
For me, that meant 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.
To make the syrup, I used a combination of sugar, orange juice, orange peels and cinnamon, clove, allspice, and star anise to infuse the syrup. I always let the syrup cool to room temperature before bottling and straining it.
Head to Shut Up and Make this Christmas Simple Syrup for the recipe. But beware. This syrup makes your entire house smell heavenly and you won’t want to wait for it to cool down to try it. However, if you are patient and wait for it to steep fully, it continues to develop more complex layers the longer you let it cool.
In addition to the infused spice flavors in the syrup, I chose a high-proof rye when I made it the first time to balance the sweetness of the syrup with some peppery rye notes. 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 went with 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.
How to Make this Christmas Old Fashioned Cocktail
One thing I love about Old Fashioneds for the holidays is that they are easy and fast to make. Once you’ve prepped the syrup and gathered your ingredients, you can make one in about a minute.
If you haven’t made the syrup yet, it makes this cocktail perfection. Head here to make the syrup.
I prefer to make my Old Fashioneds in a mixing glass rather than build it in the glass I’ll be drinking it in. So I add the whiskey, simple syrup, and bitters to my mixing glass, fill it with ice, and stir until well-chilled.
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.
Then I strain into a chilled rocks glass with one large cube or sphere and garnish with an orange peel and a cinnamon stick.
Now, this is completely optional, but I added just 2 or 3 drops of Scrappy’s Cardamom bitters. Cardamom is one of my favorite seasonal flavors. In this cocktail it adds a little complexity that is hard to pin down if you don’t know that’s the flavor that was added.
Tweaking the Flavors in this Holiday Cocktail
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. If you’re someone who loves 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.
How to Pick 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, not something you hide and only put out for guests who don’t know good bourbon.
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.
Other Cocktails You Might Enjoy
- Liquid Tiramisu
- Cinnamon Christmas Sour
- Gingerbread Manhattan
- Cranberry Gin and Tonic
- Gingerbread Martini
- How to Make the Perfect Bourbon Eggnog
- Eggnog Espresso Martini
- Peppermint Chocolate Old Fashioned
- Bananas Foster Manhattan
- Bourbon and Beer Toddy
Did you try it? I love getting unsolicited DRINK pics from you when you try out a cocktail. Send them along to me on social media. Join me on my social channels at @cocktail_contessa on Instagram and Cocktail Contessa on Facebook and use the hashtags #cocktailcontessa and #bourbonismycomfortfood.
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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:
You probably already have these, but you may need them, too:
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.