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Our 4 favorite whiskey drinks, ranked

The best whiskey drinks, ranked

Whiskey cocktail
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We love whiskey. We love it all: bourbon, single-malt Scotch, rye whiskey, Irish whiskey, and Japanese whisky. We enjoy it neat, on the rocks, and especially mixed into our favorite classic cocktails. The latter is what we’re going to get into today.

We don’t have to tell you that whiskey is a great spirit to mix with. There’s a reason some of the most well-known cocktails ever created use whiskey as the base or, at the very least, one of the main ingredients. Take a look at any list of “classic” cocktails. While you’ll see many made with gin, vodka, tequila, and other spirits, many of the most well-known feature whiskey.

The best part? When it comes to mixed drinks in general, there are seemingly countless whiskey-based cocktails. Some are complex, while others are straightforward. All are flavorful and nuanced and let the whiskey shine.

Whiskey cocktail
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Why whiskey works

Whiskey is a complex spirit. As we mentioned above, there are many different types of whiskeys (only the U.S. and Ireland use the ‘e’). Their flavor palates differ greatly from country to country and style to style. This is why whiskey is such a versatile spirit when it comes to mixing.

Not only is whiskey a versatile spirit, but it always shines through, while other spirits like gin, vodka, and blanco tequilas can get lost in the shuffle when paired with bold ingredients. Whiskey-based mixed drinks also tend to be higher in alcohol than cocktails with other spirits. They’re potent, boozy, warming, and highly flavorful when paired accordingly.

Whiskey cocktail
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Our 4 favorite whiskey drinks

Classic drinks like the Mint Julep, Whiskey Sour, and Boulevardier call for a sweet, complex bourbon. The contemporary Penicillin, Blood and Sand, and Rusty Nail use Scotch whisky. The Manhattan, Scofflaw, and Vieux Carré shine when rye whiskey is the base spirit.

Old Fashioned
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4. Old Fashioned

There are no whiskey-based cocktails more well-known than the classic Old Fashioned. Its history might be muddled (pun intended), but it’s believed by many that it was invented by Colonel James E. Pepper, a well-known bourbon distiller, at The Pendennis Club in Louisville in 1880. The drink, popular among drinkers and mixologists alike, is made by muddling sugar with Angostura bitters and a splash of water. Bourbon or rye whiskey (if you prefer it spicier) is added to complete the flavor. It’s served in an ice-filled old-fashioned glass with a cocktail cherry or an orange peel.

Boulevardier
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3. Boulevardier

As the name might suggest, this popular whiskey-based drink was first created in Paris in the 1920s. Like many classic drinks, it made a comeback during the cocktail renaissance of the early aughts. This complex drink is made with Campari, rye whiskey, and sweet red vermouth. Similar to a Negroni, but with the gin swapped out for whiskey, it’s known for its memorable mix of bitterness from the Campari and, sweetness from the vermouth, and gentle, peppery spices from the rye whiskey.

penicillin
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2. Penicillin

While many of our favorite whiskey-based cocktails are classics with histories that last decades, if not an entire century or more, the Penicillin is a fairly contemporary cocktail, the drink was invented in 2005 by a bartender named Same Ross at New York’s Milk & Honey. Named for the antibiotic, it’s made with single-malt Scotch whisky, blended Scotch whisky, fresh lemon juice, fresh ginger, and honey syrup. It’s sweet, spicy, citrusy, and boozy and is sure to cure what ails you (as long as what ails you is a thirst for whisky).

Vieux Carre
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1. Vieux Carré

This famous cocktail is New Orleans through and through. It was created in 1937 by a bartender named Walter Bergeron at the Carousel Bar in Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans. Its name means “old square” and is a tribute to the iconic French Quarter. This complex, flavorful drink is made with rye whiskey, cognac, sweet vermouth, Bénédictine, and local favorite Peychaud’s bitters.

Whiskey bottles
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Stock up on different styles of whiskey

If you read the above cocktail explanations, you likely realized that to craft them (and many others) you’ll need a few different types of whisk(e)y on hand. Stock your home bar or bar cart with at least one (or two) bottles of single malt Scotch whisky, blended Scotch whisky, rye whiskey, and bourbon whiskey. If you want to take a deeper dive into whiskey, you’ll also purchase a bottle of Japanese whisky, Canadian whisky, and Irish whiskey.

Why not throw in a bottle of Australian whisky and something from Taiwan’s Kavalan or another global whisky while you’re at it? The key is to explore the flavors. Try some of the above classic cocktails, experiment with your home combinations, and have fun. Home bartending is all about creativity. As a bonus, you get to drink whatever you mix up. What could be bad about that?

Christopher Osburn
Christopher Osburn is a food and drinks writer located in the Finger Lakes Region of New York. He's been writing professional
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