An Old-Fashioned Holiday

Nothing like bourbon and bitters to foster peace on Earth, goodwill toward all


By Jane Borden

When I order an Old Fashioned at a fancy cocktail lounge, I sometimes receive straight bourbon with a dash of bitters in it and a sliver of orange peel hanging perilously off the glass. That is not an Old Fashioned. That is straight bourbon with bitters in it and a sliver of orange peel hanging perilously off the glass. And that will make me breathe fire. Even the original Old Fashioned recipe, dating to 1806, included sugar and water. Anyway, it’s not 1806 anymore. 

Why do fancy bars insist on making everything as intense and extreme as possible? Drinking is not the X Games. Or, at least, it hasn’t been since freshman year at Carolina. One should not need a helmet and kneepads to enter a bar. And you’ll be no safer drinking beer at these establishments. Their wide selections range from double-hops IPAs that are 13 percent alcohol to triple-hops IPAs served with a punch in the face. 

God forbid you respond to that glass of bitters-spiked whiskey by asking for a cherry or a splash of OJ or anything to help you forget you’re drinking poison and probably shouldn’t. For if you do, the bartender will give you a look suggesting that instead of imbibing in his establishment, you should be ruminating over the reasons you are a Gap-clothes-wearing, eggnog-latte-drinking, scented-candle-burning basic-ass bitch.

Oh yeah?! Well!!! Guess what?! The Gap makes quality, affordable clothes.

My point is I don’t want to be shamed by people on cultural high horses — which, let’s be honest, is why Conservatives hate Liberals, so maybe if Liberals would stop calling Conservatives “bad people,” then Conservatives would stop trying to punish Liberals and instead listen to them. *Cough* Where was I? Whiskey. The great unifier! Let’s all come together in the name of the Old Fashioned. In the spirit of that message, fine, if you want to call straight bourbon with a dash of bitters an Old Fashioned, then you’re welcome in my tent too. But only if you also recognize these three recipes as canon. 


Obviously I made up that title. My father would never name a drink that. Nevertheless, this cocktail, when drunk, will make any day a jolly holiday. Dad doesn’t remember exactly when he developed the recipe, but it was sometime in Greensboro, after he and Mom married but before I was born, so it was probably . . . let’s just say he doesn’t know.

“Old Fashioneds ought to be strong, sweet and redolent of bitters,” he says. In his case, they are also made with precision and love.


2 oz. + bourbon (Makers Mark or Woodford, if possible, but George Dickel  Tennessee whiskey is always invited

2 oz. + soda water (i.e. the same amount as the bourbon)

4–5 dashes Angostura bitters (yes, that’s a lot)

1 cured orange slice* (“I like a bite of orange with a sip,” Dad suggests.)

1 maraschino cherry (“Preferably with the stem, so you can fish it out,“ he says.)

4 tsp. orange syrup*

1 tsp. maraschino-cherry syrup from the jar

* See below for recipe

Orange-syrup recipe (in his own words)

“The selection of oranges is more critical than one would think. I like to pick pretty ones. Thin-skinned if I can find them and without blemishes. Big oranges. I use navel so I don’t have to fiddle with the seeds.”

“I wash them with my hands and a little soap.”

“Then, slice them from pole to pole, not around the equator. I think they look prettier that way.”

“Put the oranges in a pot and add simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water) to cover them.”

“Boil on low heat for 30–45 minutes — and cover the pot — because it takes the bitterness out of the peel.”

“Spoon slices and syrup into jars and refrigerate. I have several frozen jars of orange syrup that I thaw out when I want to use.”

“I’m blowing this out of proportion. After all it’s nothing but a drink.” (Editorial note: Oh yeah? Ask any of his neighbors or friends.)


Fill an Old Fashioned glass with ice

Add all ingredients

Spread joy


If you don’t have the time or bandwidth to cure orange slices in advance, consider this lesser version of the Bob Borden Holiday Maker, which I developed during my days as an amateur (and at one point professional) bartender, by which I mean, my 30s.


1 thick, half-moon orange slice

1 maraschino cherry (I prefer the fancy, dark-purple variety)

1 sugar cube

3 dashes Angostura bitters

2 oz. + bourbon


Place orange, cherry, sugar cube, bitters and a splash of the bourbon in a cocktail shaker.

Muddle vigorously for longer than seems necessary. You want the sugar to dissolve, and you want to get not only juice from the orange but also oil from the rind. Sing a song to pass the time. 

Add remaining bourbon — plus a little more because you’re in training for New Year’s Eve — and fill 3/4 full with ice. 

Shake vigorously for longer than seems necessary. You want much of that ice to melt, since you are not adding additional water or soda. Turn the shaking into choreography for the song you‘re singing.

Strain shaker into a rocks glass on top of one of those square, oversized, casually effete ice cubes. 

Garnish with another cherry and orange slice. 

No reason to stop singing and dancing now.


This drink’s name derives from the ease of making it, not the price tag. When you’re surprised by thirsty guests, if you have these nonperishable ingredients on hand, you’ll always have an Old Fashioned–inspired option at the ready. Also, though, if you drink too many, you will wind up poor.


2 oz. bourbon 

1/2 oz. any triple sec or orange liqueur

1/2 oz. Cherry Heering (a dark liqueur that’s made with the fruit skins and must, giving it a deeper color and flavor than that of Luxardo Maraschino liqueur).


Add water if you like or soda or ice or tell your friends to make it themselves: You’re busy singing and dancing.  OH

Jane Borden won’t be able to return to her native Greensboro for Christmas this year so she’ll spread Bob Borden Holiday Makers all over Los Angeles.



Illustration by Meridith Martens

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