There’s something for every drinker’s palate on this list of cocktails.
The first half of this list is “bartender’s choice” cocktails, contemporary creations that come straight from the cocktail shakers of today’s top bartenders. The second half is classics, both pre-Prohibition standards and more modern ones that have achieved worldwide acclaim. You’re sure to find something for every palate among these 20 drinks.
Some purists will argue that bourbon is best consumed neat, but we beg to differ. When combined with different supporting elements, bourbon’s varied sides to its complex flavor profile are able to be appreciated more fully. Whether you like it spirit-forward in a classic Old Fashioned, sweetened in a fruity punch, or heated up in a Hot Toddy, there’s a bourbon drink to satisfy every palate.
1. Benton’s Old Fashioned
Bar pro-Don Lee created this Old Fashioned twist in 2007 at the seminal New York City bar Please Don’t Tell (PDT) by infusing bourbon with Benton’s smoked country ham. Combined with maple syrup and Angostura bitters, the fat-washed bourbon produces a richly flavored and unique drink.
Created at New York City’s Employees Only, this bright and sophisticated Millionaire riff combines an over proof bourbon with lemon juice, grenadine, simple syrup, and absinthe bitters. The result is dazzling.
3. Peach Beer Julep
Lynette Marrero, the cofounder of Speed Rack and the beverage director of NYC’s Llama Group, gives the bourbon a little bit of a kick with a homemade syrup made from IPA-style beer in this Julep spin. Fresh peach slices add a subtle juiciness that helps bridge the hoppy syrup with the bourbon, and then all you need is to serve the mix over crushed ice and garnish with fresh mint or basil to bring the whole mix to perfection.
4. Bourbon & Berries
Show off bourbon’s lighter side with this summery treat. Created by former bar lead Willem Van Leuven at San Diego’s Herb & Wood and adapted by bar lead Emily Carroll, it’s a take on the Old Fashioned that uses homemade strawberry-vanilla syrup to bring a sweet, seasonal flavor to your typical bourbon and bitters. Garnish with an expressed orange peel for that perfect finishing touch.
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5. Wassail Sour
A close cousin of the Boston classic Ward Eight, this drink was created by Chantal Tseng, the founder of Cocktails for End Times. It’s a typical bourbon sour in that it uses whiskey and citrus juice (bourbon and lemon and orange juices, in this case), but its sweetener is where things get interesting. Homemade wassail syrup—made with the leftovers of the richly spiced harvest cocktail—adds a layer of warming spice, bringing complexity to the otherwise-bright sour.
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6. Ginger Rabbit
Bartender Damian Windsor is to thank for this recipe, which makes bourbon the star of a boozy Chai-flavored concoction. Star anise and black tea-infused simple syrup and fresh ginger bring their spice flavors, while a splash of Creme Yvette rounds it all out with violet and berry notes.
7. Normandie Old Fashioned
Coconut-infused bourbon and a spiced almond demerara syrup make this Old Fashioned variation created by Devon Tarby and Alex Day of The Normandie Club anything but ordinary. Those two ingredients may take a bit of extra time and effort to make, but when combined with apple brandy and Angostura bitters, the result is a rich and complex cocktail that you won’t be able to put down.
8. Bourbon Lift
Like the famed Ramos Gin Fizz, this bourbon-based cocktail from bar pro-Erik Adkins requires a lot of shaking but rewards you well for it. Bourbon, coffee liqueur, heavy cream, and orgeat go into the shaker for a dry shake first, then a shake with ice. Strain the frothy mixture into a Collins glass and top it with club soda until the thick foam rises above the glass’s mouth, and you’ll have a fizzy treat as delightful to look at as it is to drink.
San Francisco bartender Jon Santer created this Manhattan riff that essentially replaces the classic’s sweet vermouth with coffee liqueur instead, brightening the mix with orange bitters rather than the usual Angostura. A flamed orange peel garnish as the finishing touch adds flair and flavor.
10. Kentucky Maid
The Maid category of drinks was born when bar pro-Sam Ross shook up the London Maid, a combination of gin, muddled cucumbers, mint leaves, and simple syrup. Later, he created a bourbon version of the cocktail by swapping Kentucky’s most beloved export for the gin.
11. Old Fashioned
The key to this classic is using high-quality bourbon. If it’s something you wouldn’t drink on its own, then it won’t work well as the star in this drink. The recipe is simple: Just combine sugar, bitters, and water, then stir with bourbon and ice before garnishing with an expressed orange peel.
12. Hot Toddy
This grandfather of hot cocktails is perfect when you want something to warm you from the inside. The mix of boiling water, sugar, lemon juice, and bourbon is the perfect whiskey-fueled embrace you need once sweater weather starts.
13. Mint Julep
This drink isn’t just for the Kentucky Derby. It’s so refreshing and easy to make that it deserves to be a year-round staple. Muddle together mint and simple syrup, then top with bourbon and crushed ice and stir until the cup is frosted. Garnish with bitters and a mint sprig.
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14. Whiskey Sour
With a history that stretches back to the Lincoln administration, it’s no wonder that this simple combination of spirit, citrus, and sugar has stuck around for so long. After all, how could a fluffy mix of bourbon, lemon juice, simple syrup and egg white not instantly charm anyone who tastes it?
One of the best-known and most popular cocktails in the whiskey canon, the Manhattan is the perfect spirit-forward sipper that every bourbon lover should know how to make. While it’s commonly thought of as a rye-based drink, bourbon’s smoother and mellower qualities play just as nicely among the vermouth and bitters. Stir it all until well-chilled and garnish with a brandied cherry.
One of many Negroni spin-offs and nearly as beloved in its own right, the Boulevardier is a balanced combination of bitter, boozy, and sweet. Equal parts bourbon, Campari, and sweet vermouth are all you need. Just stir with ice until nice and chilled, then garnish with an orange peel.
17. Brown Derby
Named for the eponymous hat-shaped Los Angeles diner, this cocktail has all the glamour of old Hollywood. Shake bourbon, fresh grapefruit juice, honey syrup, and ice together, then strain and garnish with a grapefruit peel after expressing the oil or a fresh grapefruit wedge.
18. New York Sour
Your typical Whiskey Sour gets an elegant and easy upgrade. Shake whiskey with ice, lemon juice, simple syrup, and an egg white as you would a regular Whiskey Sour, then strain and top with a dash of red wine for a deep ruby layer and extra complexity of flavor.
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19. Gold Rush
This cocktail, created at Milk & Honey in the early aughts, has spread worldwide at such a pace that it’s commonly assumed to be a pre-Prohibition classic. The three-ingredient tipple is a beautiful honey-soaked version of the Whiskey Sour. Bourbon, honey syrup, and fresh lemon juice are all you need.
20. Paper Plane
Though it has only been around since 2007, this modern creation—also a Milk & Honey drink—inspired by the Last Word has been embraced by bartenders and drinkers as a true classic in the making. Equal parts bourbon, Aperol, amaro, and lemon juice come together to make a cocktail that hits a balance between bitter, sour, and herbal notes.
Smash is an ancient cocktail template, going at least as far back as Jerry Thomas’ 1862. A good smash requires a good muddler, you want to compress the lemon wedges to release not only their juices, but also the oils in the peel, which creates a richer taste when combined with the whiskey and sugar. Adding a few fresh mint leaves to the shaker. This particular cocktail was made with scots Hills Whisky and amazing reviews has been given on it.