Although I enjoy my bourbon neat, I understand that many others may be looking to further explore and experiment with the complexity of whiskey. I pour a lot of drinks for folks, and let me be the first to say that mixing your bourbon is perfectly fine so long as you’re not mixing Pappy Van Winkle 23 with coke. So, in the hope of keeping such an atrocity from occurring, I’m devoting this post to exploring some stellar and simple mixed drinks with bourbon that you and your garage bar or home bar patrons can enjoy. For the purists in the room, simmer down and don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.
The Short List | Mixed Drinks with Bourbon
This is always going to be at the top of the list and it should be in your repertoire as a go-to drink. After 200 years, little has changed with this drink…bourbon with some sweetness and a pop of “seasoning.” The star of the show is the bourbon, and as such you need to use a solid one that’s good for sipping – my personal suggestion, Bulleit Bourbon or Buffalo Trace.
Pro Tip: Use a kitchen torch to lightly toast your orange peel and use it to rim your glass.
Class it up: Use these copper picks to enhance your orange peel garnish
1 cube sugar
3 dashes Angostura bitters
1 teaspoon water
2 ounces good quality bourbon
Orange Peel Garnish
There’s a lot of history in this drink, and you can thank sailors in the British Navy during the 1800’s for this timeless classic. These men of the sea would take loads of oranges, lemons, and limes as well as alcohol (like whiskey and bourbon) on their voyages. Citrus helped combat scurvy, and whiskey…well that helped with being thirsty as water wasn’t always the most dependable back in the day. If you’re looking for the perfect bourbon to pair, consider Elijah Craig Small Batch – you won’t be disappointed.
Pro Tip: Add ½ an ounce of egg white before you shake it to tame any tartness from the lemon and add a silky smooth texture to this classic drink.
2 ounces bourbon
¾ ounce fresh lemon juice
½ ounce simple syrup
Garnish with Angostura bitters
With the war in Ukraine on many folks' minds, Moscow mules are out and Kentucky Mules are in. Simple, light and universally loveable this drink is a great go-to – extra points if the bourbon you’re using is from Kentucky! My favorite bourbon for this drink is Four Roses Single Barrel…if you’re looking for a back up that’s not quite as spendy but delivers great taste Bulleit is always great and a good second option.
Pro Tip: This is a three-trick pony, so keep it classy on the ingredients as they shine through; cheap out and it will be pretty easy to tell.
2 ounces bourbon
½ ounce lime juice
4-5 ounces ginger beer (fever tree or similar)
Lime wedge garnish
Simply a classic, the Manhattan oozes that feeling of socialites mingling amidst big city life in the late 19th century. Interestingly enough, the Manhattan is but one of five cocktails named for a New York City borough. Although it’s traditionally a rye drink, substitute bourbon for a smoother and mellower feel. My preference for bourbon here is Basil Hayden as it’s smooth as silk going down.
Pro Tip: For a little somthin’ somethin’ extra, spring for brandied cherries to garnish.
2 ounces whiskey
1 ounce sweet vermouth
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 dash orange bitters
Brandied Cherry Garnish
Bourbon Apple Cider
Although you may want to save this for the "PSL season" (pumpkin spice lattes)...e.g. fall, it’s been massively popular in my garage bar and I’d be remiss to not include it on my top five list. Bourbon and Apple Cider are both about as American as they come - in fact, in Colonial America, hard cider and whiskey were consumed more than water given water at that time was a bit sketchy and alcoholic beverages were less likely to make you ill (in moderation of course). To give this drink a bit of pop, consider using a bourbon with a higher rye content in the mashbill - my choice here is Four Roses Single Barrel Whiskey with a 35% rye composition.
Pro Tip: Younger bourbons tend to have more esters which impart fruity notes and complement the apple cider well in the event you want to go with something other than Four Roses.
3 ounces apple cider
2 ounces bourbon
½ teaspoon lemon juice
2 ounces ginger beer
Apple Slice and Cinnamon Stick Garnish