The history of the Old Fashioned is cloudy, but evidence of its creation dates back to the early 1800s.

This simple cocktail is made by muddling sugar with bitters and adding bourbon or rye whisky, then garnishing the lot with a twist of citrus rind. But there are infinite variations, depending on your favourite flavours.

Natalie Ng is an award-winning bartender at Sydney’s Door Knock Bar – a subterranean spot hidden away from Pitt Street behind two fire doors, a long corridor and a couple flights of stairs. She says the Old Fashioned has stood the test of time because it can be tweaked to accommodate drinkers’ tastes without losing the integrity of the recipe.

“It’s a drink that’s a lot of fun to play with and people really like that creative exploration of flavour,” she says.

Different bourbons will result in different tasting cocktails. Woodford Reserve, for example, would be considered a more complex bourbon - with over 200 flavours notes, including orange, vanilla, tobacco, cocoa, grain and wood. This complexity is mainly attributed to extra time in the spent barrel and its higher rye content, which provides a slightly spicier, less sweet proposition. The blend of grains in bourbon whiskey means that different bourbons will offer a different flavour profile, with some people favouring a sweeter, or lighter flavour to their spirits.

“Everyone tastes things differently,” says Ng. “So it’s really fun to build an Old Fashioned in your own particular style.”

Here are her tips:

Build your drink around the bourbon
“I like to tell people to treat the bourbon as the hero of the story. So, if you’re using Woodford Reserve for example, it’s Brad Pitt,” Ng says. “Everything around it is a supporting actor or actress. You need to build the flavours around the bourbon.”

She recommends taking a sip of the bourbon first before adding any ingredients.

Add a drop of water to your bourbon
According to Ng, it’s hard for us to get our palates around anything above 40 per cent alcohol content. Adding a drop of water slightly breaks up the alcohol molecules, transforming the flavour from something 2D to something a little more 3D.

Add sweetness in increments
“One of the biggest tips I can give is when adding sugar, try to make it less sweet at first because it’s always easier to add sweetness, but it’s harder to take it out,” Ng says. Using sugar syrup is ideal, but if you’re using granulated sugar, add a teaspoon of sugar and then bitters after.

Buy fresh, good-quality oranges
Use fresh, good-quality oranges with thick, oily skins. The best way to test this out: roll your orange on the table. You want one that gets a bit oily, because the oil will add to the aroma of your Old Fashioned.

Only use high-quality spirits
In an Old Fashioned, the ingredients have nowhere to hide. Using a high-quality bourbon – such as Woodford Reserve – will add to and enhance the flavour of your drink.

Use good ice
A large rock of ice is preferable – it melts more slowly, so your drink won’t become diluted as quickly, which helps to preserve flavour.

Here’s a recipe for a traditional Old Fashioned.

Old Fashioned

Makes 1 serving. Approx. 1.9 standard drinks.

Ingredients:
60ml Woodford Reserve
15ml brown sugar syrup
3 dashes bitters
2 dashes orange bitters
1 orange (use the peel to garnish)

Method:
Add all ingredients to a mixing glass. Stir well to combine. Pour and serve in large glass. Cut a strip of orange peel for garnish.

If you are looking for an Old Fashioned with a twist, try the below.

Natalie Ng’s Old Fashioned

Makes 1 serving. Approx. 1.9 standard drinks.

Ingredients:
60ml Woodford Reserve bourbon
10ml agave syrup (add more if you want it sweeter)
2 drops angostura bitters
2 drops orange bitters
2 drops chocolate bitters

Method:
Add all ingredients to a mixing glass. Stir well to combine. Pour and serve in large glass. Cut a strip of orange peel for garnish – twist it gently over the glass to expel the orange oil, then add it to the top of the drink to finish.

Here are some venues where you can get your hands on a Woodford Reserve Old Fashioned:

The Doss House
Hotel Palisade
Sake
The Cut Bar & Grill
The Governor Hotel
Treehouse Hotel
The Kurrajong Hotel
The Clock
Zeta Cocktail Bar
Jade Rabbit, The Star

This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Woodford Reserve.