How To Make A Lower Proof Old Fashioned, According To An Expert

Lower-proof spirits and cocktails are having a moment. This trend is attributable, at least in part, to lifestyle factors. Nowadays, many people are opting to drink in a more responsible fashion, and as a consequence, are often indulging in lower-proof spirits like Aperol and Campari rather than boozier alternatives.

That doesn't necessarily mean, however, that those seeking to find more sessionable sippers are obliged to skip higher-proof liquors like whiskey entirely. Whiskey can still be used in lower alcohol cocktails, thanks to the increasingly popular "split the base" method. According to expert Fernando Sousa, bar manager at Diageo North America, this technique involves diluting a higher-proof base liquor with a non-alcoholic spirit. In this way, one can make iconic cocktails like the old fashioned that taste great but are less likely to result in next-day hangovers.

Sousa's old fashioned recipe, for example, uses only one ounce of bourbon instead of the typical two. It's paired with an ounce of Seedlip, an aromatic, non-alcoholic Diageo-owned distilled spirit. These two drinks split the base for a lower ABV (alcohol by volume) and are combined with the old fashioned's other core ingredients — like sugar and Angostura bitters – to create a lighter, flavorful version of the cocktail classic.

Split the base with Seedlip and other non-alcoholic spirits

Non-alcoholic spirits are increasing in popularity, and are a great way to "split the base" for lower-proof cocktails. But yes, there are other alternatives. One way to turn a traditional Manhattan cocktail on its head, for example, is simply to reverse the quantities of whiskey and sweet vermouth. The latter is much lower in terms of proof, so using it as the primary liquor in a 2:1 ratio brings down the overall ABV level.

There's no question that using non-alcoholic spirits to split the base brings the alcohol content down even lower. In fact, they can serve as the sole base for completely alcohol-free cocktails. Sousa's favorite, Seedlip, is a leader in this category and indeed was the first to market distilled non-alcoholic spirit options. Seedlip now makes three separate iterations – Grove 42, Spice 94, and Garden 108 — each with a distinct profile of aromatic fruits, spices, and seasonings. Seedlip Grove 42's range of orange flavors (bitter, blood orange, and mandarin oranges are featured), for instance, make it a good match for an old fashioned cocktail, which is typically garnished with an orange twist.

But there are other options, too. Old fashioned or Manhattan cocktails, both of which traditionally boast whiskey, are prime candidates for a split-the-base method using bourbon whiskey and Spiritless Kentucky 74, an extremely low alcohol (0.5 ABV) bourbon alternative from a company that was founded in 2019.

Making old fashioned cocktails with lower ABV

Sousa and Diageo are committed to pioneering in the non-alcoholic spirits space, and to responsible drinking. Diageo's DRINKiQ website, for example, provides a wealth of information about drinking, and its effects on mind, body, and social interactions. It can also help one determine whether cutting back — or cutting out alcohol entirely — is a good decision.

Certainly, the increasing number of non-alcoholic spirits on the market has contributed to the rise of the lower-proof cocktail movement. The old fashioned, like the martini or Manhattan, is traditionally a booze-heavy cocktail. So non-alcoholic spirits like Seedlip Grove 42 or Spiritless Kentucky 74 offer alternative ways to enjoy these iconic sippers, albeit with significantly reduced or even nonexistent ABVs. So, too, does Ritual Zero Proof, a non-alcoholic whiskey that can also be used to replace bourbon in an old fashioned recipe.

These alternatives may not exactly replicate the flavors you're used to, but you'll be able to drink more of them in a single sitting — a driver of the millennial trend towards so-called session, or sessionable cocktails — and, of course, you'll likely feel a lot better the day after your sesh.