If you know how to make nothing else, master this and I’ll be your friend for life.
David Wondrich’s Old-Fashioned recipe.
My only variation is that I use a sugar cube, which is technically twice as much sugar, but the sugar doesn’t overpower the drink, not when using a higher proof spirit. Generally I use bourbon, though it’s quite nice with rye and peach bitters. Since the Old-fashioned is named for the “old-fashioned” style of cocktail, it also works well with most other spirits.
My favorite quote regarding the Old-Fashioned and the abomination of muddled fruit:
Cocktail Guide and Ladies’ Companion by Crosby Gaige, (1941)
“Serious-minded persons omit fruit salad from ‘Old Fashioneds,’ while the frivolous window-dress the brew with slices of orange, sticks of pineapple, and a couple of turnips.
Then when Gaige was at the Drake Hotel in Chicago and ordered an Old Fashioned with fruit….
‘Young impudent sir,’ he screamed, ‘…Man and boy I’ve built Old-Fashioned cocktails these 60 years…and I have never yet had the perverted nastiness of mind to put fruit in an Old-Fashioned. Get out, scram, go over to the Palmer House and drink.’ I was rebuked.”