If bourbon is the king of American whiskey, surely the Old Fashioned is the king of bourbon cocktails. The venerable sipper predates not only the motorcar but the presidency of Abe Lincoln. In fact, one can even argue that the Old Fashioned may very well be the ur-cocktail, or perhaps the loins from which all other cocktails sprang. This, indeed, points the way to the name "Old Fashioned." Hey, barkeep, gimme a whiskey cocktail, in the old-fashioned way my granny taught me!
This is the traditional way, from the Old Fashioned's youth. It differs from most Old Fashioneds you'll find today; there's no fruit or soda water to speak of, since the former makes the drink sweeter than is strictly necessary, and the latter makes it weaker. If you use a decent whiskey—which you should—you won't need the additional sweetness or the distracting flavors from the fruit.
The formula itself is straightforward as can be: Put sugar in a glass, and dissolve it in a solution of water and bitters. Add your spirit and some ice and stir. Properly made, it's strong but not too strong, sweet but not too sweet, and, most importantly, it's dead-simple and absolutely delicious. We've got not one but two recipes, depending on your needs: a formula for single servings, and another to whip up big batches for a crowd. Pick your poison—either way, you win.