Bourbon is the #1 true American-born spirit. It is the end result of technical advances in corn cultivation, distillation as well as a bit of federal regulation. The production of this high maintenance alcohol is also governed by strict laws and rules that must not be flouted.
For instance, the barrel-aged distilled spirit must be produced in the United States to meet the legal definition of Bourbon. Additionally, the spirit must be created with at least 51 percent corn, aged in toasted new oak barrels.
Although bourbon is often relegated to the chillier seasons of the year, the recipes compiled in this article prove beyond a reasonable doubt that bourbon can be the best choice for every season or palette.
What is Bourbon?
Bourbon is a whiskey that is distilled in the United States and is made up of about 51 percent corn. Although Bourbon can be produced anywhere on American soil, the most renowned batches are made in Kentucky.
A Bourbon that is properly made must be aged for a considerable period of time. It requires aging in fresh, charred white oak. Many wonderful things occur when spirits are stored in wood, especially for a long time – up to 4 years – minimum.
What are the differences between Bourbon and other varieties of whiskey?
The charred or toasted barrel-aging that Bourbon undergoes imparts a variety of flavors to the finished product. This is what sets alcoholic beverages apart from other types of whiskeys.
Bourbon takes its unique flavors from the toasted, new oak barrels, and the most dominant of these flavors are caramel and vanilla. When these flavors combine with the smokiness that originates from the barrel char, they lend themselves so beautifully to seasonal all cocktails.
Good Bourbon comes out of the charred but new white oak barrels with nothing added to it. No vanilla extract, no caramel coloring, and must be bottled at over 80 proof. It must be put in the barrel at nothing less than 125 proof, bottled at 40 percent ABV minimum, and must not be distilled at all over 160 proof. This is to give room for more flavoring congeners to remain in the distillate.
And of course, it must be made from at least 51 percent corn in the mash, with barley and rye taking up the remaining space. Bourbon is one of the few spirits which has a lot of standards.
Since Bourbon is predominantly composed of corn, the spirit has this sweetness about that is incredibly unique, though the flavor profile has several influences. But you will still be able to detect the taste of whatever makes up the rest of the grain bill. You will not only feel the robust influence of the toasted new, white oak, but you will also perceive the climate of the rickhouse – i.e. the unique storage facility where huge casks of Bourbon are arranged in a high pile and rotated as the climate changes and as they age gracefully.
The 10 Best Bourbon Cocktails Today
Make no mistake about it; the number of Bourbon cocktails you can mix is countless. This is because it is incredibly versatile and the #1 whiskey of choice for many enthusiasts. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Bourbon cocktails make several impressive appearances in many recipes.
There are many ways you can enjoy your favorite Bourbons. However, Bourbon cocktail menus usually vary, depending significantly on what you are ordering.
Here are the top 10 best Bourbon cocktails you can mix:
1. Old-Fashioned Cocktail Recipe: The Whiskey Classic
Creating timeless and highly impressive cocktails is easy, but that is only if you know how. This old-fashioned drink is one of the best and most enjoyable ways to dress up your favorite spirit. This classic cocktail has been served and enjoyed since the mid-19th century – i.e. the mid-1800s – and has remained immensely popular ever since.
The old-fashioned cocktail recipe is pretty simple, though it has been adapted over the years since it was discovered back in the 19th century. You are at liberty to personalize it to your taste, which may be somewhat affected by the type of whiskey you choose.
Rye whiskey is good, but Bourbon does better and has always been the perfect choice over the years for making this iconic drink. You will enjoy the bitter-sweet, fruity flavors of this cocktail depending on the type of whiskey you use to enhance the alcoholic beverage.
Ingredients to use
- 2 ounces of Bourbon
- 2 to 3 dashes of angostura bitters
- Orange peel: to serve as a garnish
- 1 cube of sugar
- Splash of club soda: optional
- Maraschino cherry: optional
- Orange slice: optional
Method of Preparation
Get the ingredients and place the cube of sugar in the old-fashioned glass. Next, fill the glass with bitters and add an orange slice to enhance the taste. Then mix them up.
Fill the old-fashioned glass with ice, and then add some Bourbon. Stir the mixture well and finish it off with a splash of club soda if you like.
Garnish the drink with cherry and an orange peel. Serve and enjoy.
Rye whiskey was the initial choice for this cocktail, but over the years, the selection of excellent ryes dwindles. And so bourbon became the go-to alternative towards the latter part of the 20th century.
2. John Collins Bourbon Whiskey Highball
The John Collins cocktail is a delectable sour drink that is ideal for every occasion. This tasty bourbon is perfect for sipping every day and comes in a refreshing but straightforward style.
The fact that the John Collins bourbon cocktail shares significant similarities with the Whiskey Sour – except for ice and soda, etc. – makes it easy for regular drinkers to remember the recipes. What is more, every bartender worth his salt knows how to mix a good John Collins bourbon whiskey highball.
You are at liberty to choose your favorite spirit or any bourbon in your john Collins. Excellent options include Wild Turkey, Basil Hayden’s, and Dry Fly Washington Bourbon 101.
- 1 ½ ounces Bourbon
- 2 ounces club soda
- 1 ounce lemon (juice of)
- ½ ounce simple syrup
- Maraschino cherry: garnish
- Orange slice: garnish
Method of Preparation
Get a Collins glass and pour the bourbon, syrup, and lemon juice. Add some ice cubes.
Then, stir the content of the Collins glass thoroughly. Top up the mixture with club soda, and then garnish the drink with an orange and cherry slice.
The john Collins Bourbon whiskey highball can also be prepared by shaking vigorously. All you need to do is to get hold of a mixing tin and secure it on top of the Collins glass.
Then give the entire mixture a quick shake just before you add the club soda.
Although you can use other styles of whiskey – such as blended, rye, and Canadian whiskeys – to make the john Collins cocktail, Bourbon is usually preferred.
Furthermore, there are two options you can utilize to create the sour component of the john Collins Bourbon highball. You can either make the drink with fresh lemon juice along with simple syrup as discussed in this section or replace them with a commercial sour or fresh-made sour mix.
But for perfect balance, Bourbon connoisseurs recommend using fresh-squeezed lemon juice. Of course, there are several varieties of john Collins highball out there. Take your time to experiment with different spirits and other ingredients as well.
3. Perfect Manhattan Cocktail with Knob Creek Bourbon
One of the greatest Bourbons to mix into a simple cocktail – such as the Perfect Manhattan – is Knob Creek. And the reason for this is because of its full-bodied flavor.
The Perfect Manhattan is quite easy to mix; all that is required is a bottle each of dry and sweet vermouths along with a great Bourbon whiskey. A dash of bitters ups the ante in terms of taste. Stir everything, and you are good to go!
- 2 ounces Knob Creek Bourbon Whiskey
- ½ ounce dry vermouth
- ½ sweet vermouth
- Dash aromatic bitters
- Maraschino cherry: garnish
Method of Preparation
Get all the ingredients together and pour them into a cocktail shaker pre-filled with some ice cubes. Stir the content of the cocktail shaker well for a few minutes.
Then, strain the content of the cocktail shaker into a cocktail glass and garnish the drink with a maraschino cherry.
Serve the drink, relax, and enjoy!
Consider the following tips when choosing the ingredients for this particular cocktail:
- The whiskey – If this is the first time you will taste this cocktail, then Knob Creek Bourbon is the best option for you when it comes to making a Perfect Manhattan. However, you should take note that Knob Creek is not the only spirit that can be used to make this cocktail.
- The vermouth – To create a perfect Manhattan cocktail, you need to make sure that the sweet, as well as the dry vermouths, are poured in equal proportions. In the cocktail universe, that is the true definition of “perfect.”
Any brand of vermouth out there can be utilized anytime you decide to make this cocktail. The favorites, however, are Noilly Prat and Vya.
Tastes differ; some enthusiasts may prefer sweet vermouth from one brand and go for the dry vermouth of another brand. So, it depends significantly on your taste.
The good thing about all this is that the majority of vermouths on the market today are pocket-friendly, so you are free to shop around as much as you like.
You should, however, take note of this warning: vermouths are renowned for not having the best shelf life. Make sure you refrigerate the alcoholic beverage soon after opening it.
Mark the bottle with the date you opened it before refrigerating. And make sure that it does not spend more than three months before you consume it.
The cherry – Be careful when choosing the red maraschino cherries that you will need when preparing this cocktail. Most of the neon red maraschino cherries at some liquor stores are not worth it as most of them are artificially sweetened and dyed.
This could impair the overall taste of the cocktail. So, take time to visit a good natural food store. You can also make your own cherries as well since they will remain long after the drink is gone.
The bitters – In most cases, making the Perfect Manhattan requires the use of aromatic bitters. And the best-known brand that will never disappoint you is Angostura.
But then, playing around with a variety of aromatic bitters is considered a good sport. There are more than a few companies who produce great and highly impressive aromatic – and other flavorful ranges – of bitters these days.
So, take out some time to visit the local store to check for offerings from both the Fee Brothers as well as the Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters.
There is no iota of doubt that bitters make a significant impact when making the Perfect Manhattan. So, have fun with as many as you can lay your hands on.
4. Classic Bourbon Mint Julep Cocktail
The mint julep is a well-known Bourbon cocktail that is linked to the American horse race scene. It is the traditional or official drink of the Kentucky Derby, an event that takes place annually on ever first Saturday of the fifth month of the year, i.e. May.
More than 80,000 mint juleps are served at Louisville while countless more are enjoyed by fans throughout the country who couldn’t make it to the venue of the event for one reason or the other.
According to tradition, mint juleps are served in pewter or silver cups which are held by the handle in such a way that gives ample room for optimum frost. Of course, you can serve mint juleps in tall glasses as well.
Aside from the Bourbon, mint, and sugar, the only other ingredient required to make this cocktail is crushed ice. If you make use of any other form of ice, you will not be able to recreate the same type of mint julep enjoyed by thousands at the Kentucky Derby.
Therefore, take your time to crush those cubes of ice in your possession before you mix this cocktail.
- 4 to 5 mint sprigs (leaves only)
- 2 ½ ounces Bourbon whiskey
- ½ ounce simple syrup or 2 sugar cubes
- Mint sprig: garnish
Method of Preparation
Gather the ingredients and pour the simple syrup – or sugar – into a julep cup, double old-fashioned glass or Collins glass, along with the mint leaves.
Muddle the content in order to dissolve the sugar – if you used sugar instead of simple syrup.
Pour in the Bourbon and fill up the julep cup or glass with crushed ice. Stir well until the julep cup becomes frosty.
Then, garnish the cocktail with a mint sprig, serve with a straw and enjoy.
Other Tips for Heightening the Pleasure You Will Derive From This Cocktail
- Crushed ice is crucial. You can place ice cubes in a cloth bag – known as Lewis bag – or wrap them in a towel. Then give the bag several good whacks until the ice cubes are crushed into granules.
- Gently mix your mint julep. The aim is to open up the veins of the mint leaves such that essential oils will be released. Be careful not to tear the leaves to pieces as they can easily get stuck in your teeth. You don’t want that to happen to you.
- Stir well. Take your time to stir this cocktail as soon as you have built it until the glass or julep cup becomes frosty. It could take anything from thirty seconds to one minute, but the longer you do it, the better the drink will taste.
- Use your favorite Bourbon. Bourbon is the only liquid in a mint julep, so it will make a lot of sense if you choose any of the high-end Bourbon brands to make this cocktail.
The cocktail may have been sweetened with mint and sugar, but what you will taste when you drink the mint julep is the spirit.
Find the best Best Bourbon for Your Mint Julep here
5. The Classic Whiskey Manhattan Recipe with Variations
The Manhattan cocktail is one of the oldest and finest classic cocktails. This simple drink recipe does not require too many ingredients to make. You are at liberty to make use of Bourbon or rye whiskey, though a few drinkers prefer a smooth Canadian whiskey.
There are several ways you can adapt the Manhattan to your own taste, just like you would a gin martini. The Manhattan is so popular that is has inspired hundreds of variations.
But before you go off chasing the variations, it is recommended that you start with the original Manhattan.
The Manhattan is a cocktail that is ideal for any occasion, including dinner etc. It also pairs remarkably well with a wide variety of foods. You can also enjoy it with your friends on a casual night.
- 2 ounces Bourbon (or Canadian whiskey or rye whiskey)
- 2 to 3 dashes Angostura Bitters
- Cherry: garnish
- 1-ounce sweet vermouth
Method of Preparation
Gather the ingredients and then pour them into a mixing glass along with some ice cubes. Stir the content of the mixing glass well.
Then strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and garnish the cocktail with the cherry.
6. The Sidecar Cocktail Recipe
The Sidecar is a timeless brandy sour drink and one of the best cocktails of all time. It is as popular in this day and age as it was a century ago and an excellent introduction to what a tremendous sour drink truly is.
This recipe was initially made with either Armagnac or cognac. Either of these alcoholic beverages make excellent cocktails.
However, in recent years, it has become a common practice among Bourbon connoisseurs to make this cocktail with Bourbon, thus creating a Bourbon Sidecar. Some highly adventurous individuals even make the drink with cherry brandy.
Nevertheless, whichever liquor or spirit you choose to make use of for your Sidecar cocktail, you need to extra careful with the other required ingredients. Find the perfect balance between sour and sweet is highly crucial as too much liqueur or lemon can efficiently destroy the intended flavor.
- 2 ounces bourbon (Armagnac or cognac)
- ¾ ounce lemon juice
- 1 ounce Cointreau orange liqueur
- Lemon or orange twist: garnish
Method of Preparation
Gather all the ingredients and pour them into a cocktail shaker. Add some ice cubes, and then shake exceptionally well.
Strain the content of the cocktail shaker into a chilled cocktail glass. Then garnish the drink with a lemon twist. Serve and enjoy!
You may also rim the glass with sugar, which is a nice contrast to the sour alcoholic beverage.
7. Three Wise Men: The Shot Drink That Mixes 3 Great Whiskies
If you are looking for one of the most popular shots for your party, the “Three Wise Men” should be your #1 choice.
The “Three Wise Men” are Jim Beam, Johnnie Walker, and Jack Daniels. These three can be mixed to produce a very strong shot of whiskey.
But why should anyone want to mix three whiskeys in a single shot? It may look somewhat odd, but in reality, the resulting taste of this cocktail is highly enjoyable. This hybrid whiskey – which consists of a hint of Bourbon, a little Scotch, and a touch of Tennessee whiskey – results in a tasty cocktail that only a few have enjoyed so far!
- ½ ounce Bourbon (Jim Beam Bourbon)
- ½ ounce Scotch (Johnnie Walker Scotch Whiskey)
- ½ ounce Tennessee whiskey (Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey)
Method of Preparation
Pour the three varieties of whiskeys into a cocktail shaker, then fill it up with ice cubes. Shake it thoroughly and then strain its content into a shot glass.
Serve and enjoy your hybrid whiskey.
- You can make a trio of whiskey shots if you like, especially if you want to enjoy each of these whiskeys on its own. You can try this in a bar with your friends or any interested individual.
- Pour each whiskey into separate shot glasses and line them up in a row in front of you. Then work your way down from one end to the other. You will get drunk very fast, so be careful! But it is going to be fun.
- You can minimize your chances of getting drunk by filling the shot glasses only one-third of the way.
- You can make two other varieties of this drink, and they are known as “Three wise men go hunting” and “Three wise men visit Mexico.”
The former will involve adding ½ ounce Wild Turkey Bourbon while the latter will require the use of ½ ounce Jose Cuervo Gold Tequila.
9. Steelers Cider Warm Punch Recipe
Anyone can enjoy the warm and comforting combination of Bourbon with apple cider which is evident in this Steelers Cider recipe.
This warm cocktail was created by the renowned Maker’s Mark primarily for the Steelers’ 2011 play when they jostled for the title in Superbowl XLV against opponents, the Green Bay Packers.
Although the Steelers failed to clinch a win in that particular game, this warm cocktail survived the defeat and remained one of the most fantastic drinks that fans who love great game day parties, can enjoy.
The Steelers Cider Warm Punch is not confusing to make. It is usually prepared in large batches so that it can be easily mixed up enough to serve any number of guests. The warmth, which helps to open up definite aromas of both the Bourbon and cider, also allow the flavors of the spice to mix in perfect harmony.
Prepping this cocktail before the game begins is easy, and by pre-game, it is ready for the heat.
- 8 ounces Maker’s Mark Bourbon Whiskey
- 6 cloves
- 32 ounces apple cider
- ½ teaspoon ground allspice
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 1 thinly sliced lemon
Method of Preparation
Combine both the Bourbon and cider in a medium-sized saucepan. Add cloves, allspice, lemon, and cinnamon sticks.
Heat the entire mixture by applying medium-heat to the saucepan until the surface of the fluid is just about to start bubbling. Then, put out the heat.
Pour the liquid into an Irish coffee glass and garnish it with a cinnamon stick.
- Use Maker’s Mark Bourbon – Maker’s Mark is one of the best and most popular Bourbons in the United States and exceptionally perfect for making this particular cocktail. It remains one of the topmost choices for warm cocktails.
- When heat is applied to this whiskey, it opens up its sweeter profile perfectly. This is the primary reason why traditional winter spices are employed when making this drink.
- Warm apple cider cocktails are perfect for family holidays, all-day services, etc. All that is required is to combine all the ingredients, and then warm them up throughout the day.
It is an excellent way to allow your guests to enjoy the drink as much as they desire while the atmosphere is filled with a pleasant, seasonal aroma.
10. Kentucky Coffee Cocktail
Okay, you guessed right. Kentucky coffee is a combination of coffee and Bourbon. This recipe is relatively straightforward and simple, and the fact that you can liven things up a bit by tossing a little honey liqueur into the mix can be pretty exciting.
This tasty combination is one of the unique delights that Bourbon drinkers enjoy as it keeps them warm on the coldest days of the year.
Bourbon, which perfectly complements coffee, lends big caramel and vanilla undertones while some impart salient notes of spice and cinnamon. And for this recipe to be complete, therefore, the natural spiciness and bold flavor of Wild Turkey 101 as well as American Honey Liqueur, is required.
This spiked coffee is an all-American one that openly celebrates Bourbon at its best.
You can soften the flavors of this cocktail by dressing it up with some whipped cream. But the best way to enjoy it is to leave it the way it is described here. You can make it more robust by choosing strongly-brewed dark roast coffee.
- 1 ounce bourbon whiskey
- 6 ounces hot coffee (or suitable enough to fill the mug)
- ½ ounce honey liqueur (Wild Turkey American Honey Liqueur)
- Whipped cream: garnish
Method of Preparation
Gather all the ingredients, and then pour the Bourbon and honey liqueur into a pre-heated Irish coffee glass or coffee mug. Fill the mug or glass with freshly-brewed hot coffee.
Garnish the cocktail with whipped cream if that is what you like.
- Warm-up your glass to avoid drinking the last few drops of cold coffee. Just fill your Irish glass or mug with hot water as the coffee keeps brewing. You can also get and heat a water-filled mug in a microwave for about ten to fifteen seconds or so.
- Dump out the water and then build your cocktail.
- Wild Turkey 101 is one of the boldest Bourbons out there today. Others in its class include Bulleit and Knob Creek. The higher the alcohol content of these beverages, the stronger the flavors they portray. This, of course, is a highly desirable element in coffee drinks.
- You can make use of the regular coffee produced from your drip coffee maker. However, you can make a better Kentucky coffee by making use of thick, rich coffee.
See more Bourbon cocktail options here:
How Well Does Bourbon Pair Well with Food?
The sweetness and smokiness of Bourbon make it ideal for pairing with a lot of foods. It is the whiskey of choice for tailgating parties, autumn fireside cookouts, etc. Smokier meats usually go exceptionally well with Bourbon.
However, it does not imply that you should do away with the Bourbon bottle as soon as it becomes time to consume dessert. Many sweets that emerge during fall benefit significantly from the caramel-vanilla notes that characterize Bourbon.
Just like Scotch. Bourbon also has a few terminologies to navigate. But they are not too technical, so you have nothing to worry about. Another critical thing to take note of is that Bourbon does not have aging minimums. For example, Bourbon that spends barely 50 minutes in a toasted, new white oak can be sold legally.
However, the good news is that most Bourbons out there are allowed to age for a more extensive period.
“Straight Bourbon” refers to a legally compliant Bourbon which has been aged for at least 2 years. Bourbons that are aged less than the customary 4 years must carry an age statement boldly printed on the bottle.
So, if you come across a straight Bourbon without any age statement on its label, it simply means that it is at least 4 years old.
Bottled in Bond
“Bottled in Bond” Bourbons are few; however, they comply with the 1897 Bottled in Bond Act which is the United States’ government’s way of ensuring purity and authenticity. This was during the period when production practices were very questionable.
At the time, the Bottled in Bond Act required that authentic Bourbon must be the product of one distillery and produced within one distilling season. It must also be aged in the warehouses – that will be supervised by the United States government.
“Small Batch” is not really a legal term when referring to Bourbon as it was made popular by Jim Beam, the famous Bourbon big boy. “Small Batch” refers to Bourbons that have been blended from a “particular” selection of barrels that have been intentionally blended for both consistency and control.
Single Barrel Bourbons
“Single Barrel” Bourbon refers to a Bourbon that comes from only one barrel. These bourbons usually express the peculiarities of their aging cycles instead of the combined skills of the blender and distiller.
Single barrel Scotches are scarce, but that does not imply that they are not out there somewhere.
High Corn Bourbon
“High Corn” Bourbon has from 60 to 70 percent corn in the mash bill which makes them noticeably sweeter.
High Rye Bourbon
“High Rye” Bourbon has a more pronounced spice.
Cask Strength Bourbon
“Cask Strength” Bourbons are not usually cut down to 40 percent alcohol by volume (ABV), so they are generally more potently flavorful and alcoholic. If you are a beginner, wine enthusiasts advice that you stay away from this variety of Bourbon until you are well-grounded in the Bourbon universe.
Sweet Mash Bourbon
“Sweet Mash” Bourbon involves the use of new yeast, thus resulting in different flavors.
Sour Mash Bourbon
“Sour Mash” Bourbon – which is a term that is commonly used on Tennessee Whiskey as well – refers a Bourbon that has had some of the sour mash from a previous batch added to the new on. It is synonymous to the way some bakers add a little part of sourdough into a fresh dough to aid flavor and consistency.
However, with Bourbon, the resulting spirit is not affected, but only the mash remains sour. As you drink more Bourbon every day, you will notice that this alcoholic beverage is somewhat fussed over. Some distilleries may specify or recommend the use of water that is filtered by the limestone shelf in Bourbon County.
New Bourbon drinkers, however, need not be hyper-specific; just buy an affordable Bourbon and find something great in the bottle.
FAQs About the Best Bourbon Cocktails
If you don’t like to drink your bourbon plain, you can always mix it up with Cola, which goes great with grill and you can always combine bourbon with angostura bitters for having a refreshing glass which still doesn’t taste like bourbon only.
When you don’t have sufficient liqueurs to mix with bourbon, you can always make yourself an Old Fashioned cocktail which only requires Angostura bitters, sugar, lemon peel, and bourbon, of course.
There are also other combinations with bourbon, lemon juice, and orange juice; triple sec, bourbon, orange juice, club soda, and ice, etc.
One of the best bourbons to use for cocktails are Maker’s Mark and Four Roses, but you can also go for cheaper bourbons as the flavor gets altered with the other ingredients anyway.
If you love both beer and bourbon, good news for you – YES, you can mix these two, just make sure you don’t drink too much, as you can experience headaches the next day.
These are just a few Bourbon cocktails that you can try at home. Be versatile; test the recipes with other types of Bourbon different from the regular ones mentioned in each recipe until you arrive at the perfect one that suits your palate at all times.