There’s something special about bourbon whiskey. While we love the nuanced flavor of a well-made single malt scotch and the spicy, peppery flavor of a complex rye whiskey, we enjoy bourbon the most. This sweet, corn-based whiskey is known for its rich, balanced flavor profile featuring caramel, vanilla, oaky wood, and wintry spices. When long-aged, it’s perfect for sipping neat, on the rocks, and mixed into myriad memorable cocktails.
While there are a handful of rules and regulations designating what constitutes as a bourbon whiskey, the most important is that it must be made with a mash bill of at least 51% corn. This means that compared to many other whiskey styles, it’s sweeter, richer, and more versatile than most. That’s why it’s the base for some of the most popular, classic mixed drinks ever conceived.
We won’t list all the classic bourbon-based cocktails because it would take all day (or longer). But some of the most well-known are the iconic Old Fashioned, Whiskey Sour, Paper Plane, Mint Julep, and Gold Rush. These also happened to some of our favorite bourbon-centric cocktails. Keep scrolling below to learn a little bit about some of the best bourbon drinks and what you’ll need to make them.
There aren’t many cocktails more well-known than the classic Old Fashioned. Made with bourbon (or rye), muddled sugar,
The Whiskey Sour sometimes has negative connotations behind it. This is because of the cloyingly sweet, tart sour mix you can grab at any grocery store. When made from scratch, this sweet, tart cocktail is prepared with bourbon, fresh lemon juice, sugar, and possibly a frothy egg white. While its history is cloudy, the first mention of the drink was in 1862 in The Bartenders Guide by Jerry Thomas.
While many of our favorite bourbon cocktails were invented a hundred or more years ago, the popular Paper Plane was only invented in 2007. Bartender Sam Ross created the drink featuring bourbon, Aperol, Amaro Nonino Quintessentia liqueur, and fresh lemon juice at the Violet Hour in Chicago. It’s well-known for its boozy, whiskey, fruity, lightly bitter flavor profile.
We all know the Mint Julep is a minty, boozy, sweet, bourbon-fueled cocktail perfect for the Kentucky Derby in May. But a drink of this level should be sipped all year long. Made with bourbon whiskey, sugar, water, ice, and fresh mint, this wildly popular southern staple was first mentioned in the early 1800s but didn’t really gain prominence until it became the official drink of the Kentucky Derby in 1938.
Similar to the classic Bee’s Knees cocktail (without the gin), the Gold Rush is a contemporary drink made with bourbon, fresh lemon juice, and honey syrup. The drink was created in 2001 at New York’s famed Milk & Honey by bartender T. J. Siegel. It’s known for its sweet bourbon, honey, and gentle citrus flavors that intermingle to create a very memorable cocktail.
Like the Old Fashioned, the Manhattan is a truly iconic drink. First created in the late 1800s at the Manhattan Club (hence the name) in New York City, the drink is made with bourbon (and a number of other whiskeys), sweet red vermouth,
Created at Los Angeles’ Vendôme Club in the 1930s, the drink is named for the popular LA diner. Made with three ingredients: bourbon whiskey, grapefruit juice, and honey syrup, it’s known for its mix of boozy bourbon, sweet honey, and tart, fresh citrus. It might be almost 100 years old, but it’s just as fresh today as it was back then.
Just like when it comes to choosing sipping bourbon, picking mixing bourbons isn’t as easy as simply walking into a liquor store and grabbing the first bottle you see. Sure, it might have a flashy, memorable label, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be happy with the juice inside.
If you want a more potent, boozy drink, get a cask strength or bottled-in-bond bourbon. Wheated bourbons offer a softer, sweeter profile to your drink. High-rye bourbons will give your drink a peppery kick. Just find the bourbon that appeals to your palate the best.
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