A non-traditional version, for certain, but this sorghum Old Fashioned makes an earthy, robust whiskey cocktail perfect for whiskey traditionalists that want a little more complexity to their Old Fashioneds. Sorghum’s viscosity and woody, earthy flavor pair well with high-rye bourbons or traditional bourbons with a touch of char or smoke in their flavor.
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What’s an Old Fashioned?
The Old Fashioned is one of the earliest of all cocktails – developed in the 1800s and finally recorded in the late 1880, early 1890s, it was a simple cocktail of whiskey, sugar, bitters and water. It was an easy way to sip on what was rough and sometimes unpalatable whiskey at the time.
Today, the Old Fashioned is a whiskey cocktail staple of almost the same ingredients – just with some ice added in to chill the cocktail down a bit. For more on how to make a perfect Old Fashioned, head here.
While many people have heard of sorghum, and have enjoyed it on biscuits in the south, not everyone knows it’s a tall grass of African origin that grows well in climates cooler than those found in the Caribbean. The tall canes can be pressed and juiced, and the juice is cooked down into a sweet, thick, viscous, earthy syrup.
My favorite way to enjoy sorghum is drizzled on hot, buttered biscuits straight from the oven. My second favorite is in this Old Fashioned.
Is Sorghum the Same Thing as Molasses?
No, not at all. While both are made from tall grass-like canes, sorghum is made from boiled sorghum cane juice while molasses is a byproduct of sugar cane being processed into sugar. The taste of the two is different as well. Sorghum is thinner and slightly sour while molasses is thicker and much earthier. Both are sweet syrups, but molasses is used more in baking while sorghum syrup might be used for baking, but is also frequently used as a flavorful syrup in the South.
Flavors in this Sorghum Old Fashioned
Rather than lean on rye as the whiskey in this cocktail, I prefer bourbon. The caramel notes blended well with the complex flavors in the sorghum. Molasses would have been far too strong a flavor to pair with the bourbon – and would have been distracting to the other flavors (it would have been a nice Old Fashioned for the holidays with a gingerbread flavor, though).
But I wanted some smoke in the flavor of the cocktail. I was thinking of an old man’s Old Fashioned, the kind my grandfather drank as he smoked his cigars. That blend of leather and smoke dampens the sweet flavors of the bourbon and sorghum. But it also adds to the complexity of the drink – layering smoke over that earthy hit of the sorghum in the cocktail.
There are two options I’ve used to add that hit of smoke that reminds me of the cigar – either with a bit of smoky Scotch or with a bit of Hella Bitters Smoked Chili bitters. The bitters add a touch of heat and warm mouthfeel with the smoke, but both are delicious additions.
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Sorghum Old Fashioned
- 2 oz bourbon
- ½ oz sorghum syrup**
- 2 dashes orange bitters
- 1 dash Hella Bitters Smoked chili bitters or ½ bar spoon smoky Scotch
- Garnish: charred candied orange wheel
- Smoke an old fashioned glass or rinse a glass with peated Scotch. Set aside.
- Combine bourbon, syrup and bitters in a mixing glass.
- Fill with ice and stir for 30 seconds.
- Strain into prepared glass over one large rock.
- Garnish with a charred candied orange wheel.
- ½ cup sorghum
- 1 oz hot water