Giada De Laurentiis Puts An Italian Twist On A Classic Old Fashioned

Created in the 1800s, the Old Fashioned cocktail has grown from just club chair, cigar-smoking older American tipplers to nearly everybody of legal drinking age globally. Traditionally made with whiskey, bitters, sugar, and an orange peel and served over a single ice cube in its namesake lowball glass, modern mixologists have played around with the original recipe to include different types of spirits, sweeteners, and bitters.

In a recent TikTok video, celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis adds her signature flare to prepare an Italian Old Fashioned using bourbon (an American whiskey), the top-selling sub-category of the spirit over the past several years and responsible for 39% of whiskey sales in 2022. De Laurentiis' version contains bourbon and Angostura bitters but borrows an ingredient from another famous bourbon cocktail, the Manhattan, by swapping Amarena cherry syrup for the sugar cube or simple syrup classically used to sweeten the drink.

Keeping a jar of Italian cherries in the pantry adds a complex richness to the cocktail, making the drink even easier to prepare since you don't need to muddle the sugar cube or make simple syrup.

Italian Old Fashioned

To make an Italian Old Fashioned, De Laurentiis adds one teaspoon of cherry syrup from the jar of Amarena cherries and a few dashes of Angostura Aromatic bitters, or your preferred brand, to a lowball glass. If you're unfamiliar with cocktail bitters, they are a flavoring agent that enhances the other ingredients. They provide a subtle bouquet (or aroma) of fruit, herbs, or spices and tamper whiskey's alcoholic harshness.

Two ounces of bourbon are poured over a single, large ice cube, melting slower than using several smaller cubes and preventing the ice from diluting the cocktail quickly. The drink is gently stirred before being garnished with an orange peel and two skewered Amarena cherries, a slightly sour and small variety.

This brand of Amarena cherries has been produced by Fabbri using the same recipe for over a hundred years in the northern Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. They're stored in a beautiful blue and white ceramic jar, which De Laurentiis wisely repurposes as a vase. Aside from being a delicious addition to Manhattans and Old Fashioneds, it's incredible on a scoop of vanilla ice cream or gelato. This ingredient makes the cocktail 'Italian,' but any brand of candied cherries will do, like Luxardo.

Other Old Fashioned versions

The Old Fashioned was a mainstay at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel bar in New York City a century ago, known then simply as the "cocktail," and continues to evolve as bartenders create modern versions, replacing the brown spirit, bitters, or sweetener for another. There are five different types of whiskey (single malt, blended malt, blended whiskey, barrel proof, and single cask) made from five different grains (rye, corn, barley, wheat, and sorghum) distilled worldwide, providing unlimited flavor combinations.

Unlike other spirits, including vodka, each run of whiskey is unique, even from the same manufacturer, so changing to a different brand of bourbon or rye will alter the Old Fashioned's flavor profile. Find one that you like; some whiskeys are more delicate or smokey than others, but the cocktail isn't limited to whiskey anymore. Brandy, tequila, vodka, and rum can mix an entirely new beverage.

To make an Applejack Old Fashioned, replace the whiskey with Applejack brandy or create an American Trilogy combining equal parts Applejack brandy and rye. Try adding dark rum for a sweeter version known as a Dark Rum Old Fashioned or replace the whiskey with tequila and add orange bitters for a Blanco Tequila Old Fashioned.

Natural sweeteners like maple syrup, honey, and simple syrups made with different sugars, like demerara, will offer earthier-tasting alternatives. Bitters are available in a wide variety, changing your drinking experience by providing a distinct aroma to enjoy while sipping.