Bourbon. One of those exquisite, tantalizing liquids we can drink any time, in any weather, in any place on Earth. Sometimes we like it neat, sometimes we like it on rocks, and hell, sometimes we take it in a shot glass. If you need a great sipping bourbon, might we recommend Four Roses Single Barrel? Any way you serve it to us, we’re happy to have it. And that includes a bourbon cocktail.
For some reason, bourbon cocktails are still frowned upon by some purists. For the life of us, we can’t understand why. Does it stand on its own? Hell yeah, it does. But sometimes we’re looking for a blend of delicious liquids. And while there are certainly plenty of bourbons to reserve for sipping on their own, some bourbons work even better in the context of a cocktail.
The Best Bourbon Cocktails
So, even if you’re content enjoying your dram of bourbon, we think every guy should know their way around the classic bourbon cocktails. Whether you’re mixing it up for yourself or simply being a good host, these are the best bourbon cocktails to keep in your arsenal.
The Bourbon Old Fashioned
The Ol’ Reliable of the bourbon cocktail stable. The Old Fashioned is one of those cocktails that any bourbon guy—aficionado or not—will recognize at the drop of a hat. Part of the allure is that it’s a hard cocktail to screw up. Even if you don’t know your way around a cocktail shaker. Toss a sugar cube (or a teaspoon of sugar or simple syrup), a few dashes of bitters, and two ounces of your favorite bourbon into an old fashioned glass. Stir until the sugar dissolves, then add ice, stir to chill, and then garnish with an orange wheel and maraschino cherry. Recipe
New York Sour
People talk crap about New York sours all the time, but it’s important to understand that there’s a huge difference between the kind of sours you get in a proper whiskey sour cocktail, and the kind of sours you get from one of those pre-made messes of high fructose corn syrup swill you can buy in the store (or get at your local dive bar). We always opt for a New York Sour because aside from looking totally badass, we love the flavor contrast the red wine adds to a drink we might normally consider a bit too sweet for our palates.
It’s also really simple to make. Two ounces bourbon, one ounce fresh lemon juice, one ounce simple syrup in a cocktail shaker. Fill with ice, shake, and strain into a rocks glass. Then gently float a half-ounce of red wine (preferably something fruity, like Shiraz) on top. What results is very deep and complex cocktail that’s a little bit sweet, a little bit sour, and a lotta bit tasty. Recipe
Another well-known-but-criminally-underrated bourbon cocktail, the Mint Julep was a cultural staple in the American south during the 19th and 20th centuries. And it’s still the official drink of the Kentucky Derby. This interesting bourbon-based cocktail involves adding bourbon to a Julep cup, along with simple syrup, fresh mint, and shaved ice, and turning it into a delicious adult treat for the summertime. Recipe
The original iterations of this Prohibition-era cocktail usually included rye whiskey (rye was a lot easier to come by than bourbon at the time). But bourbon is most preferred today. What’s the difference you might ask? Well, we’ve got you covered. The story behind the Scofflaw cocktail is pretty awesome, but that’s not why it makes our list. It’s here because it’s really simple to make and delicious. Two ounces bourbon, one ounce dry vermouth, a quarter ounce lemon juice, a half-ounce grenadine, and a couple dashes orange bitters. Toss it all into a cocktail shaker, shake vigorously, and then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. That’s it. Recipe
Is the Manhattan a basic drink? Sure. It’s simple, fruit-forward, and ubiquitous. But we don’t care. There are plenty of ways to riff on this cocktail. And the Manhattan is a classic cocktail. Original recipes would call exclusively for rye but we think there’s nothing wrong with throwing bourbon in the mix. Add two ounces of bourbon, one ounce of sweet red vermouth, and a couple of dashes of bitters to a mixing glass with ice. Stir until chilled. Then, strain into a chilled coupe glass and garnish with a cherry (or three). Enjoy! Recipe.
While bourbon drinks are often perfect for warming up on a cold winter’s night, we wanted to through in some summer-friendly options. And this one is perfect. Swap in a solid bourbon for whiskey in this easy, refreshing highball. While whiskey is almost always called for, pick out a bourbon that will play well with strong citrus flavors. Combine one and a half ounces of bourbon, an ounce of fresh lime juice, half an ounce of simple syrup in a Collins glass with ice. Top it off with club soda and garnish with an orange slice and a maraschino cherry. Throw on a pair of shades and enjoy the warm weather. Recipe.
We’re real grateful the world is in the midst of another cocktail revolution because so many seemingly forgotten classics are making their ways back to sticky wrap-around bar tops all over the country. One of those is the boulevardier, which is essentially a Negroni, but with bourbon instead of gin. And while we’re huge fans of the Negroni, it’s a drink we reserve for warmer, sunnier days. The boulevardier, on the other hand, which is a mix of equal parts bourbon, Campari, and sweet vermouth, is a drink we’d take year-round. It offers the beautiful and complex symphony of the Campari melding with the sweet vermouth. But the bourbon really grounds the drink and keeps it from getting too sharp in a way that gin sometimes fails to smooth over. The best part is that it’s as simple as mixing everything into a glass, filling with ice, stirring, and then straining into a chilled cocktail glass. It comes garnished with a cherry or an orange peel, depending on what you’re looking for out of it. Recipe
The Gold Rush is another new-age bourbon cocktail we can’t get enough of. We love it because it’s simple to make, with just three ingredients. Fresh squeezed lime juice, honey, and bourbon. And before you even think about calling it a Hot Toddy, let us stop you. This boozy cocktail packs an incredible punch, with four ounces of bourbon in every glass. And respectable toddies are made with lemon. You heathen.
The real trick here is properly dissolving your honey into an appropriate syrup with water. We’ve seen recipes say the formula should be anywhere from one part honey dissolved into one part boiling water, to three parts honey to one part boiling water. Either way, you can experiment to find the recipe you like best. Recipe
Cherry-Bourbon Soda Can Cocktail
I’m a sucker for ridiculously simple cocktails. Add booze to a soda or beer can and call it a day. And it doesn’t get much better than this summer-ready cola cocktail. Pop open a can of cherry cola soda and sip a bit off the top. Add 1 1/2 ounces of bourbon, 1 ounce Campari, and a squeeze of fresh lime. No need to be super precise here, this is all about simplicity. Pop your can into your favorite koozie, sit back, and soak up the sun. Recipe.
Is the Mitch Morgan technically just a shot with a bacon garnish? Absolutely. Is that still a cocktail? Why not? It’s a drink with a name.
This bourbon cocktail comes to us from the resort-side party town of Telluride, Colorado, and originated in a little barbecue spot called Fat Alley Barbecue. It’s named after the man who invented it. Do the flavors complement one another? Not particularly, no. But it is bacon and bourbon, and frankly, that’s all we’re concerned with. Recipe
Want to read more about bourbon drinks? Click here for Cool Material’s Guide to Bourbon.