Are Sugar Cubes Or Simple Syrup Better For An Old Fashioned? A Mixologist Weighs In

An old fashioned showcases the beauty of simplicity. With a handful of ingredients, whiskey's many facets are able to shine. The straightforward, timeless recipe also encourages experimentation in the pursuit of perfection. Bartenders and drinkers around the world constantly quest for the 'best' version of the drink, making minute tweaks to match their tastes.

Food Republic took a closer look at one of the staple components of the cocktail, the sugar, to find out the best way to sweeten the drink. We consulted Jessica King, co-owner and operator of Lilou, Brother Wolf, and Osteria Stella in Knoxville, Tennessee, to determine the answer. Spoiler — it's not as easy a question as it sounds.

"In an old fashioned, the use of grain sugar compared to syrup is certainly subjective to the drinker or drink maker," King noted. "At Brother Wolf, our Italian cocktail bar in Knoxville, we use a wildflower honey syrup in our house old fashioned. The honey syrup provides a depth of sweetness and character that white granulated sugar cannot create. I personally, however, prefer the slight grit of a muddled demerara sugar cube in my old fashioneds at home."

Different ways to sweeten an old fashioned

As cocktail expert Jessica King demonstrates, the better way to sweeten your old fashioned depends on your tastebuds and how you prefer to savor the beverage. The drinking experience changes based on the sugar choice. "While simple syrup emulsifies more effectively in any cocktail, raw sugar contributes a slight grit that some may prefer, myself included," King explained.

As a result, simple syrups offer a more uniform cocktail flavor whereas slower-dissolving granules will cause the taste to evolve as you sip. Depending on which you prefer, you can experiment with different sweeteners to mix in directly or form the base for a syrup. King's choices of floral honey and toffee-like demerara draw out the fruity and caramel notes in the brown booze, but there are other additions that can add nuance to the drink.

Home mixologists can use the liquid from their jar of maraschino cherries or add Amarena cherry syrup, an Italian twist courtesy of Giada De Laurentiis. Or swap in sorghum syrup, which can add a bright, malted note when used as sap or nuttiness when dried into granules. Drinkers can also enhance the velvety mouthfeel of the drink by preparing a rich syrup, made with a 2:1 ratio of sugar to water. Those dedicated to the grittier approach can tap into another of whiskey's notes of molasses with turbinado sugar, a less processed cane sugar, or an alternative to brown sugar like coconut sugar.