Whiskey holds a world of flavor in just a drop of amber liquid. It comes in many styles — be it rye, bourbon, or Scotch — and a range of tastes, from oaky or smoky, to spicy or sweet. While it may have a reputation for being a heavier, stronger spirit, there’s an array of whiskey-based cocktails that will satisfy any palate, whether you prefer something light and tangy, or something dark and peaty.
There’s a reason everyone loves whiskey. From Japan to Ireland, firewater is universal and no matter the time or place, there’s a whiskey cocktail that’s perfect for the occasion. From boozy classics to fruity seasonal concoctions, here are 22 of the best and most essential whiskey cocktails.
The first Sazerac was made in New Orleans in the early 19th century by Haitian pharmacist Antonine Amédée Peychaud. The original drink was intended to be a medicinal concoction and was made using brandy as its base. While more modern versions of the cocktail employ rye as a base, we’re still convinced it has healing properties. Plus, making one is simple. Just add some rye, Demerara syrup, Peychaud’s bitters, and your desired amount of absinthe in a glass and stir. Garnish with a lemon rind and toast to the Big Easy.
The Whiskey Sour is a stellar example of “less is more.” The American classic needs only a few basic ingredients in order to hit the spot: whiskey (most often bourbon), simple syrup, and any kind of citrus (so long as it is never, under any circumstances, sour mix). Adding an egg white to the mix gives the cocktail a silkier texture, but it isn’t required for taste — sours are easy to knock back, regardless.
Unlike revenge, drinks aren’t always best served cold. Case in point: the Hot Toddy. You can make one using ingredients you probably have on hand — whiskey, honey, and lemon. The best part of it all? We’ve gathered some evidence that a good Hot Toddy may help drinkers battle a cold or flu, so you can sip in peace, knowing it’s for your health. This is a home remedy we can get behind.
The Manhattan has the ability to give a drinker an air of sophistication for its sleek serve and boozy profile. Legend has it that the classic cocktail has been around since the 1870s and originated in New York City, mixed in honor of the hometown presidential candidate Samuel J. Tilden. The Manhattan can be made with bourbon or rye, though some more modern versions opt for the former. Simply mix together the whiskey of your choice, sweet vermouth (or 50/50 sweet vermouth and dry vermouth for a Perfect Manhattan), some bitters, and garnish with a maraschino cherry or an orange peel.
The Old Fashioned is — well, it’s in the name. It’s one of the oldest cocktails in history, and there’s no doubt that its quality has led to its longevity. All it takes to make is a healthy helping of bourbon or rye, a bit of simple syrup (or a sugar cube), and some Angostura bitters. You can top it with an orange or lemon peel and sip on it thoughtfully like “Mad Men’s” Don Draper.
While bourbon’s commonly used in a number of fruity tea punches given its Southern roots, we figured the peach is one of its better pairings. It’s definitely one that speaks to its origins. This recipe uses frozen peach slices in place of ice cubes, so there’s no need to worry about a diluted drink if you’re imbibing during the afternoon of a summer scorcher. It also calls for pineapple and lemon juice, and a dash of black pepper to enhance the natural spiciness of bourbon while complementing the sweetness of the fruit.
Raise your glasses, movie buffs. The Blood and Sand was invented in the 1930s following the 1922 silver screen debut of Rudolph Valentino’s bullfighter movie, “Blood and Sand.” It’s one of the few classic cocktails made with Scotch, though you’ll also need some cherry Heering, sweet vermouth, and orange juice before you can start sipping.
The Boulevardier has roots in the Prohibition era, and we can see why it was so popular — this bourbon-based riff of the Negroni is so delicious we’d go in the slammer for it. Served with some Campari and sweet vermouth on the rocks, it has a refined European feel with an American twist. In fact, the drink was invented by Erskine Gwynne, an American living in Paris in the 1920s.
The Mint Julep was invented in the late 1700s and was originally intended to be a digestive aid. While we can’t exactly speak to its medicinal merit, we can vouch that it is the best beverage to indulge in during the Kentucky Derby. Made with Kentucky’s homegrown spirit, some simple syrup, and mint, the Mint Julep has been the official drink of the Derby since the 1930s and if you want to go the traditional route, be sure to serve it in a pewter or silver cup for a touch of prestige.
The Rob Roy is yet another drink crafted in the halls of a 19th-century hangout for New York’s upper echelon — some believe that it was originally made at the Waldorf Astoria in NYC (which was then called the Waldorf Hotel). Unsurprisingly, the cocktail is not so different from its coevals, the Manhattan and the Old Fashioned: The Rob Roy is also made with Angostura bitters and sweet vermouth, but its base is Scotch instead.
A little over a century after the Sazerac was first created, the Vieux Carré was born in New Orleans’ French Quarter. The cocktail is made with rye, Cognac, sweet vermouth, a spoonful of Benedictine, and both Angostura and Peychaud’s bitters. It was invented in 1938 at the Hotel Monteleone’s famous Carousel Bar, which is fitting, because this is a recipe we’d like to take for a spin again and again. But hold your horses, because the Vieux Carré is bitter, sweet, and very, very potent.
While perhaps slightly lesser known than its sibling the Tom Collins, the John Collins is no less delicious. Swapping out gin for whiskey, the classic highball features bright citrus from freshly squeezed lemon juice, balanced by simple syrup and topped off with a few ounces of bubbly club soda.
A recipe that’s as easy to make as it is to remember, the Rusty Nail features just two ingredients for a no-frills imbibe. To try your own, add Scotch and honey Drambuie liqueur to a mixing glass with ice. Stir and strain into a chilled rocks glass over fresh ice to serve.
Though its exact origins are unclear, it is known that the Whiskey Smash has been enjoyed for hundreds of years. Though it fell out of fashion in the early 20th century, it has been making a comeback in recent decades thanks to the bourbon boom sweeping the nation. To try one for yourself, muddle lemon in a cocktail shaker before adding bourbon, simple syrup, and ice. Shake until the tin has frosted over, pour into a rocks glass, and garnish with mint.
The Kentucky Maid was created by NYC’s Sam Ross (the same bartender behind the Paper Plane) and has been referred to as a cross between the Whiskey Smash and the Mint Julep. The cocktail combines the spiced sweetness of bourbon with the brightness of mint leaves, cucumber slices, and lime juice for a vivacious sipper.
Featuring a split base of Irish whiskey and Scotch, the Cameron’s Kick first appeared in 1922 in Harry MacElhone’s “ABC of Mixing Cocktails.” While the drink fell out of popularity in the ‘30s when its recipe was misprinted — calling for orange bitters in place of orgeat — it made a comeback in the early 2000s when David Wondrich found the original recipe and brought it back into public consciousness. To make your own, shake together blended Scotch whisky, Irish whiskey, lemon juice, and orgeat before straining and serving with a lemon twist for garnish.
The Emerald’s build, which consists of Irish whiskey, sweet vermouth, and orange bitters, has earned the cocktail the nickname “the Irish Manhattan.” It first appeared in the early 20th century, with some referring to it as The Rory O’More after the man with a hand in organizing the 1641 Irish Rebellion. No matter what you want to call it, the cocktail is a treat worthy of a toast to the Emerald Isle.
For those of us who love a good glass of red but may be in the mood for a cocktail, the New York Sour is the perfect pick. A variation of the classic Whiskey Sour, the build adds a dry red wine float on top of the traditional whiskey, lemon juice, simple syrup, and egg white blend. Be sure to garnish with a brandied cherry for added sweetness or a lemon peel for acidity before serving.
While it was originally referred to as the Fernet Cocktail, due to its immense popularity north of the border in the 1920s, the cocktail was eventually renamed the Toronto. The bitter drink uses rye and a quarter-ounce of Fernet-Branca as its base, and is slightly sweetened by Demerara syrup. When stirred with Angostura bitters, the cocktail becomes more multifaceted and complex, with notes of spice, black licorice, and herbs. Be sure to garnish with an expressed orange twist before serving.
The Bobby Burns is pretty meta as far as cocktails go: It’s a riff on the Rob Roy, which is actually a riff of the Manhattan. The drink — which consists of blended Scotch, sweet vermouth, and Bénédictine — first appeared in Henry Craddock’s “Savoy Cocktail Book.” Garnish with a lemon twist and serve in a Nick & Nora.
In 1923, a competition was organized by teetotaling banker Delcevare King challenging participants to invent an offensive word for those who could be pegged as “lawless drinkers” at the height of Prohibition. The winning term was “scofflaw” which inspired a Parisian bartender to cheekily create a cocktail of the same name the following year. The drink’s rye base is combined with dry vermouth, fresh lemon juice, and a touch of grenadine that brings a syrupy pomegranate twist to the concoction.
If bacon is your favorite part of waking up in the morning, consider a Benton’s Old Fashioned to bring the breakfast food into the evening. The cocktail originated at NYC speakeasy Please Don’t Tell where it quickly became the bar’s best-selling drink. Made with bacon-infused bourbon, the Benton’s Old Fashioned is sweetened with maple syrup for its woody and caramel notes before two dashes of Angostura are stirred into the mix. While the concoction may not be one you can whip up in a jiffy, every sip is certainly worth the work it took to get there.
The article 22 Essential and Popular Whiskey Cocktails From 2023 appeared first on VinePair.