Justine Sterling - 09/24/21
The original cocktail, a basic Old Fashioned is not difficult to make. Sugar muddled with bitters, a couple ounces of whiskey, some ice, maybe an orange twist if you’re fancy—it’s not rocket science or a Ramos Gin Fizz (the cocktail equivalent of rocket science). But making a really good Old Fashioned is much more complicated. Because there are so few ingredients, each one needs to be just right, and the cocktail needs to be perfectly mixed to just the right dilution. That’s where a ready-made mix comes in handy.
“In my experience, there's less room for error and variability when you have prepped out a great mix,” says WithCo Cocktails co-founder Bradley Ryan. “The key is to hold the same methodology and flavor in your mix as you'd expect from a from scratch drink.”
These bottled Old Fashioned mixes just need ice and whiskey (some don’t even need that). They’re consistent and expertly crafted, so you’ll get the precise Old Fashioned you want every time. Find the best mix for you.
Best Canned RTD Old Fashioned: Dashfire
Heading out on a camping trip? Stock up on a few cans of this ready-to-drink Old Fashioned to sip around the bonfire. And we do mean sip. With its woodsy, piney notes and spice-laden flavor, it packs some heat and should be savored. It’s as delicious as it is portable, made with four different bitters, bourbon, and natural sugar cane juice.
While you can, of course, pour it into a glass over ice with a cherry and an orange twist, it’s also perfectly acceptable to drink straight from the can. So, keep some in the fridge and upgrade your next al fresco happy hour.
Best Overall: WithCo Ellis
Cozy, comforting, and filled with flavors of rich vanilla and baking spices, this mix makes a perfect classic Old Fashioned.
“We wanted to create a mix that had layers but still left room for the bourbon to be the star of the show,” says co-founder Ryan. “In the end, we didn't try to reinvent the wheel, we took the prep I did behind the bar every night and put it in a bottle with a little twist; delicious, fresh, and consistent.”
The mix is made with orange oleo saccharum (a mix of pure cane sugar and orange oil), which gives it that fresh, made-from-scratch taste, as well as other real ingredients including Madagascar vanilla. Plus, the packaging looks great.
Best Budget: Hella Cocktail Co.
What started as a weekend hobby of brewing bitters has grown into a successful cocktail company with placements everywhere from Whole Foods to Delta Airlines. Now, Hella crafts a range of products from bitters to canned drinks to mixes, including a vibrant Old Fashioned mix.
The instructions on the mix calls for additional bitters, but they aren’t completely necessary. Without adding bitters, a cocktail made with this mix smells like Christmas with notes of clove-studded oranges. It’s bright and citrusy—perfect for those who like an orange muddled in their Old Fashioned. The addition of bitters helps balance out that citrus fruit, adding weight and depth. Try it with the standard whiskey or mix it up with rum or aged tequila.
Runner Up, Best Budget: Spooky
While the Hella is a great pick for those who like an orange wedge muddled into their drink, this one is for drinkers who like to muddle a handful of cherries into their Old Fashioned. It’s easy drinking and not too spiced—a great pick for casual Old Fashioned sipping or a summertime Old Fashioned filled with plenty of ice and topped with a veritable fruit salad of a garnish.
If you’re stocking a bar for a party, pick up a 750-ml bottle of this cherry-forward mix. Try it with brandy for a retro Wisconsin-style Old Fashioned and don’t forget to garnish with a couple of maraschino cherries.
Best Craft: Barsmith
Barsmith was founded as a response to a challenge from bartenders to create mixes and syrups that could keep up with the ones they made themselves. The Old Fashioned mix certainly succeeds. You’d never know a drink with this mix wasn’t made from scratch. Dark, rich, and not too sweet, this bartender-crafted mix made with non-GMO ingredients is ideal for people who like their Old Fashioneds on the dryer side.
While the instructions call for additional bitters, they’re not necessary. But you should feel free to add them if you want to really amp up the spice. Take the spiced notes even further by stirring up an Old Fashioned with this mix and rye whiskey or a high-rye bourbon.
Runner Up, Best Craft: White’s Elixirs
White’s was started by cocktail enthusiast Brad White after a visit to Nashville’s Patterson House where he tasted a syrup that inspired him to start crafting his own. White’s Elixirs produces cocktail mixes made with pure cane sugar and other real ingredients. In the case of the Old Fashioned mix, that means orange zest, aromatic bitters, orange bitters, orange oil extract, gentian root, and a touch of citric acid. The result is a mix that enhances the sweetness of the whiskey while adding deliciously nutty notes and a punch of orange.
Enjoy a classic Old Fashioned made with the mix or look to the brand’s Instagram for variations (and cute pics of White’s beagle, Loki) like the Loki Is Bananas made with Old Fashioned mix, rum, and banana liqueur.
Best Flavored: Cocktail Crate Spiced
“I’ve been on the Cocktail Crate bandwagon for over five years now,” says cocktail creator Faiza Richards. “It takes me less than five minutes to make a wicked awesome Old Fashioned. Literally, no one believes me that it’s a mix.”
While the classic mix is terrific with zesty orange notes and hints of toasted nutmeg, the Spiced Old Fashioned mix is our go-to. It smells like mulling spices and tastes like a walk through the woods as the leaves change color. It doesn’t matter the time of year, tasting an Old Fashioned made with this mix instantly gives you the feeling of being curled up next to a fire. Richards recommends trying it with Woodford Reserve Double Oaked bourbon. “It’s nearly perfect for Old Fashioneds,” she says. “It’s deeply flavorful with just the right amount of sweet.”
Best Organic: Strongwater
A collaboration between a chemist, an herbalist, and a mixologist, Denver-based Strongwater is named for the strong water shops of yore, the original liquor stores, essentially, which sold distilled spirits rather than beer or wine.
Made with organic demerara sugar, organic cherries, mountain spring water, fresh orange peel, and a blend of spices and bittering agents, this mix elevates any whiskey with which it is stirred. It lets the spirit come through while adding notes of mace and cinnamon. It rivals any from-scratch Old Fashioned, offering a delightful balance of sweet and spice. For a twist, try it with rum or, if you aren’t imbibing, enjoy an ounce or two simply poured over ice.
Best RTD Old Fashioned: LiveWire Alley Cat
Created by industry veteran Chris Patino of San Diego’s Raised by Wolves, this ready-to-drink Old Fashioned should be in every cocktail lover’s freezer, ready to be poured when guests stop by or at the end of a long day. It’s made with a blend of rye whiskey, apple brandy, and cherry bark-vanilla bitters from Bittercube.
“I think that rye whiskey makes for a more complex cocktail in terms of flavor, plus it's typically not as sweet as bourbon. And I really like the spicy notes that it adds, especially in tandem with aged apple brandy,” says Patino. Regarding the unorthodox addition of apple brandy, Patino says, “I think the world needs to drink more brandy in general. But in the case of the Alley Cat OF, I was looking to do something different. I knew that rye whiskey would play a big part in the recipe, but it needed a boost. That's when we came across some beautiful aged apple brandy produced by our good friends at Ventura Spirits. As soon as I tried it, I knew that it would work perfectly.” The result is a balanced, bright, 39% ABV cocktail that only requires the addition of an orange twist.
Best Splurge: Pappy & Company Bourbon Barrel-Aged
Can’t afford to buy a bottle of Pappy? Try an Old Fashioned made with this mix for a much more reasonable price. Made in partnership with Bittermilk, the mix is aged in Pappy Van Winkle bourbon barrels, giving it a concentrated, extra vanilla-heavy flavor.
The mix itself is silky and thick, so a little goes a long way. It makes for an Old Fashioned that’s rich with lots of toasted vanilla notes and reminiscent of nutty, sweet sherry. While it will work with any whiskey you have on hand, an older spirit would meld better with the barrel-aged flavors of the mix. Along with the larger bottle, the company also sells single-serving packs, so you don’t have to worry about leaving any behind to go bad in the fridge.
WithCo’s Ellis Old Fashioned mix (view on WithCo's site) is our pick for classic Old Fashioneds that taste like they were made by a top mixologist. It takes the guesswork out of mixing up a drink and will satisfy any Old Fashioned lover. But if you want to add more seasonal spice to your drink, Cocktail Crate’s Spiced Old Fashioned mix (view at Amazon) is a no-brainer. It’s fresh and crisp as a fall day. And do yourself a favor and throw a bottle of Alley Cat (view at Drizly) into the freezer when you can’t even be bothered to mix two things together and just want a well-made cocktail.
What to Look for
Check the label to see how many servings you can get out of one bottle. Some call for one part mix to four parts whiskey while others recommend two parts mix to one part whiskey, meaning you’ll use more of the bottle of mix. Also, check if the label suggests adding bitters or if everything is contained within the mix.
An Old Fashioned is a simple drink, so Old Fashioned mix shouldn’t be too complex. Check the ingredient list to see what went into the blend. You should spot a sweetener, bitters or spices, and, potentially, some sort of orange or cherry flavor.
Is alcohol included in Old Fashioned mixes?
Most mixes do not include alcohol. There are some pre-made, ready-to-drink Old Fashioneds on the market, but, in general, the products sold as “mixes” are not alcoholic.
Do Old fashioned mixes have more sugar?
If you were to follow a basic Old Fashioned recipe, you would add about a teaspoon of sugar, which translates to about 4 grams. Check the nutrition label on the Old Fashioned mix of your choosing to compare that number with the number of grams of sugar per serving in the mix. Some are about equal with that, others are more.
How long does Old Fashioned mix last after it’s been opened?
Once opened, Old Fashioned mix should be refrigerated. At that point, it can last about a month.
How do you use an Old Fashioned mix?
Stir Old Fashioned mix with ice and strain over fresh ice into a rocks glass. Garnish as you see fit—traditionally with a swath of orange zest, a Maraschino cherry, or both.
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Justine Sterling is an experienced spirits writer and cocktail recipe developer. She has been writing about the wide world of drinking—from new spirits to cocktail trends to wines and beers—for over a decade. Her home bar is always stocked with a range of spirits, from the staples to the downright strange, and she has serious opinions about Martinis.