Bourbon In Mixed Drinks


Photo courtesy of galant

Most people are first introduced to bourbon in college – “Beam and Coke” or “Makers and Coke” when rollin’ high.

The confused co-ed may even mistakenly ask for a “Jack and Coke”, thinking Jack Daniels is a bourbon.

I guess this is a reasonable choice when the purpose is really to hide the flavors of the whiskey, since the sweetness of the bourbon pairs well with Coke. (by pairing well, I mean smothering the remaining flavors)

But after five or six bourbon and Cokes and a monster hangover for the umpteenth time, most are convinced they don’t like bourbon, which is a real shame.

At the other end of the spectrum, many bourbon purists think that it shouldn’t be mixed or diluted at all. I would agree for many of the top-shelf brands. But bourbon has its place in a good cocktail = in fact, bourbon was a main ingredient in many of the earliest cocktails.

A number of the classic cocktails – the Manhattan, the Sazerac, the Old-Fashioned, and the Whiskey Sour – are typically made with bourbon as the primary ingredient. For the ultra-traditionalists, some of these can also be made with rye whiskey or even cognac, but bourbon is what nearly every bartender will use.

Of course, there are more contemporary cocktails of the mixology ilk that successfully use bourbon as the base ingredient, like:

  • Bourbon Swizzle
  • Bourbon Lancer
  • Bourbon Collins
  • …and more, which I’ll let my readers fill in as comments below (hint!)

What’s the trick to a good bourbon cocktail, you ask?

In my mind, it is important to…

Avoid mixing in too many sweet ingredients.

Because bourbon uses corn as its primary grain, it is already a sweeter liquor. By adding too much of sweet ingredients, the other flavors of the whiskey (vanilla, tobacco, wood, etc) are overpowered.

So my word of advice is to be judicious with the simple syrup and any fruit juices. Conservative is the name of the game!

The other trick? Always keep a good bitters on hand and add a splash. (Angostura and Peychaud’s shouldn’t be too hard to find) It adds a touch of complexity to the drink that many bartenders too often forget.

While bitters are a vital component of many classic cocktails, some of the more contemporary ones neglect it, which is a big mistake in my mind.

As far as recommended bourbons to use in your mixed drinks, I suggest any of the following:

  • Top Shelf — don’t put top-shelf bourbons in a mixed drink unless you really know what you’re doing!
  • Middle Shelf — both are not too sweet, and will run you anywhere from $25-40, depending on where you get it.
    1. Woodford Reserve
    2. Knob Creek
  • Budget
    1. Wild Turkey — a rye-heavy whiskey with a nice spicy kick and easy on the wallet ($15-20). Go for the 101 proof!

I know I’ve neglected talking about rye whiskey in cocktails, so far, so a few words are in order:

As I mentioned above, many of the classics were originally made with rye. And with the re-introduction of high end rye whiskeys in recent years, I strongly urge you to consider using rye in place of bourbon every once and then. It gives a nice spicy twist to cocktails that might otherwise seem like old hat.

Give it a try!

Do you have a favorite bourbon or rye cocktail?
Strong feelings against mixing bourbon?
Care to relive your days of whiskey and coke in a plastic cup?

Let us know below!

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