Bourbon has been around for almost 200 years, and bartenders and mixologists are only scratching the surface regarding what it can be mixed with. But don’t let that stop you from exploring! Bourbon is a versatile drink that requires you to try different mixers to bring out the flavor. So read on and learn the best mixers for bourbon.
Mixing bourbon isn’t required, but if you want to unlock the potential of your bourbon. Bourbon has been mixed with several different fruits and syrups for a while, but in the past 10 to 15 years, bourbon and its cocktails have been resurgent. This resurgence has created an innovation that has driven bourbon to new heights.
Now, let’s get to the list!
1. Traditional Favorites
There’s a reason many people choose to pick one of the traditional mixers for bourbon: they like the taste. Bourbon has natural flavors that are often enhanced by using mixers. Of course, some might choose to drink their bourbon straight, but they could miss out on a few tastes by not giving their palette a new experience.
Some of the most traditional mixers for bourbon are as follows:
- Coca-Cola – The most mixed cocktail is probably whiskey and coke. It profoundly impacts how the vanilla tastes and provides bursts of caramel beneath. In addition, it is an easy drink that people who are inexperienced with alcohol can try. Coca-Cola also has several flavored drinks, and combining bourbon, and vanilla coke is encouraged.
- Water – Something you might not consider when mixing bourbon is adding water. Water removes the edge from the bourbon. While some argue it waters down the taste, the trick is to add enough to remove the harsh tones and enable others to shine through.
- Ginger Ale – Another famous mixer for bourbon is Ginger Ale. It works like Coca-Cola, which brings out other flavors in the whiskey. One of the exciting things that Ginger Ale does is give your bourbon a hint of spice and sweetness. As with other mixers, add a small amount to enhance the flavor of the whiskey, not mask it.
- Soda Water – Carbonated or Soda water is another excellent way to mix some flavor into your bourbon. You can add lemon or lime to get a zesty taste, but straight Soda has a way of releasing oaky flavors in the bourbon that are remnants from distilling.
It is easy to go right with all of the traditional mixers. However, if you want something that pushes the envelope, a few more options make you forget everything you’ve known about mixers and what they can do for your bourbon.
2. Off the Beaten Path Choices
If you are clinging to an old favorite like bourbon and soda, you should take a gamble and try one of the less-than-traditional choices. By going this route, you open yourself up for new experiences and new cocktails.
Some non-traditional mixers for bourbon are:
- Coffee – People love mixing bourbon with their coffee. This isn’t a morning drink but a drink that can be had late in the evening as a nightcap. The cocoa and bitter bite of the coffee is an excellent pairing for the sweet taste of your whiskey.
- Egg Nog – The festive drink Egg Nog is excellent to pair with your holiday bourbon. It doesn’t mask the taste but enhances it by unleashing caramel and vanilla flavors that brighten the seasons.
- Apple Cider – Something that works well with bourbon that you might not expect is apple cider. It creates a sweet backing to the smoky oak flavor that bourbon is known for. In addition, when the cider is warmed, it makes an excellent pick-me-up on a blustery fall day.
Non-traditional mixers for bourbon allow the whiskey to maintain its intense flavors. So while you might not find them on your grocery store shelves daily, they appear throughout the year just when you need them.
Now, let’s talk about some of the most commonly ordered bourbon mixers. If you have a good bartender, they know what drinks you will like based on other things you have had. Don’t be afraid to try one of their recommended drinks; chances are they will turn you on to one of the drinks listed below.
Related The 20 Best Ways To Drink Jim Beam Bourbon.
3. “Old Fashioned” Favorites
The Old Fashioned is an American Standard always at the top of the bourbon bar’s most wanted list. It is made by muddling sugar, water, and bitters. Then it is topped off with your favorite bourbon and water. Old Fashioned is customizable and can add flavor in several different ways.
A few ways bartenders can customize an Old Fashioned are as follows:
- Smoking – A Smoked Old Fashioned is the drink of the gods. Bartenders use a machine to fill the remaining parts of the glass with a woody smoke that brings out the flavor in the whiskey. In addition, the garnish will retain the smoke and whiskey flavors, which helps the drink maintain its flavor once the ice melts.
- Garnish – Another bit of flair bartenders can give to you Old Fashioned is to use a unique garnish. Typically, an orange wedge is attached to the rim of the glass. In addition, bartenders will often add lime or pieces of fruit to help absorb flavor.
- Bitters – When muddling, the mixologist could use specific bitters. Some different flavors and essences can be used, which allow the bartender to mingle tastes and piggyback off the smoky taste of bourbon.
You can’t go wrong with a good Old Fashioned. They have a pleasing taste that mutes the bourbon taste while allowing the bartender to freestyle with pleasing customizations like smoking or adding a large garnish.
4. The Manhattan is an Iconic Bourbon Drink
If you want to order a sophisticated cocktail that is bourbon backed but has some great ingredients, look no further than the Manhattan.
A Manhattan, like the Old Fashioned, is a drink that can have many flavors, and people love the tulip-shaped glass and fruits used to garnish it. You make a Manhattan like a martini; only whiskey is used in place of vodka.
Some things that can be done to enhance the flavor of Manhattan are:
- Sweet Vermouth – Sweet Vermouth is a fortified wine that adds spice and sweetness to bourbon. It has a floral bouquet that allows the whiskey’s barrel-distilled taste to shine through. Sweet Vermouth can come in an array of styles, and each can add a different flavor to your Manhattan.
- Bourbon – A Manhattan benefits from all kinds of whiskey, not just bourbon, and it is easily influenced by bourbon that has hints of honey. Today many distilleries make bourbon infused with several different ingredients, like vanilla, that could make your Manhattan to die for.
A Manhattan is another great drink that can come with some fantastic garnish and a bevy of intriguing tastes. By using some old tricks with the Sweet Vermouth and bitters, your mixologist can craft a cocktail that erupts with smoky flavors.
5. Bourbon Sours are Tangy, and Smoky
Bourbon Sour is a drink that some people could immediately shoot down because of the egg white. The Sour is a popular drink that uses the acid in an egg white to enhance the flavors of simple syrup and lemon juice. You shake all the ingredients with ice and strain them into a glass. The mixture will be frothy, and the bourbon should be masked with only hints of smoke.
A few exciting things that can be used to enhance the flavor of your Bourbon Sour are:
- Lime Juice – There are several limes, each with a distinct taste. When used as the juice for a bourbon sour, these limes could bring higher hints of citrus, while others could have strong floral flavors.
- Simple Syrup – Simple syrup is a neat term for liquified sugar used to add sweetness to drinks. Simple sugar is added to a Sour to increase the bite of the lime juice and can be altered with substances, like blackberries, that make Bourbon Sour have touches of berry.
Bourbon drinks are versatile, and knowing what goes into them allows you to pick the flavors as you taste the drink. In addition, bourbon’s distinct taste is excellent, with so many other ingredients that you can experiment with at home and teach your homemade choice to your local bartender.
Related The 3 Best Chasers for Bourbon.
6. The Mint Julep is a Well Known Bourbon Drink
The drink of the Kentucky Derby is the Mint Julep. It is a drink that most people in the South are familiar with and is made with bourbon, water, shaved ice, and a garnish of mint. It is also filled with sugar which gives it a candy taste.
Some things you can add to a Mint Julep to enhance the bourbon are:
- Cremè de Cacao – An excellent way to add some chocolate to your Mint Julep and mimic a cookie favorite is by adding some cremè de cacao. It will give the bourbon a massive hit of chocolate that pairs well with sugar.
- Champagne – Another interesting additive for your Mint Julep is champagne. It gives the bourbon a bubbly taste that resembles adding soda water. All you need do is add 4 oz of your favorite champagne to a Julep and stir.
The Mint Julep is a drink that is fancy while having solid roots. The bourbon gives it a bite, while the sugar and water work to keep the edge minimal. Using additives allows you to change the flavors until you have something you enjoy.
7. Some Flavors are Distilled into the Bourbon
Another angle for flavor in your bourbon comes from the distillery. For centuries people have made mash from fruits and grains that produce a whiskey that comes with a distinct taste. In addition, flavors added during the distilling process have lingering effects on the whiskey, making them excellent platforms for mixers like Coke.
Some flavors that could be distilled into your bourbon are:
- Honey – Honey is an additive that distillers use to cut some of the harsh taste from their brew. Honey is a natural sugar that dissolves in a larger liquid but leaves its strong, sweet taste behind.
- Vanilla – Another aromatic flavor often associated with bourbon is vanilla. What is most interesting is that the taste comes from the barrels used during aging. The oak barrels emit the taste of vanilla into the whiskey.
- Cinnamon – A favorite additive of whiskey makers is cinnamon. It adds spice to the mixture and leaves a hot aftertaste people enjoy. In addition, it can be an excellent choice around the holidays when the egg nog needs a kick in the tail.
Flavor in bourbon isn’t necessarily a mixer, but infusions have sprung up in every category of alcohol sales, and there is no sign of it slowing down. In addition, bourbon’s versatility ensures that people will experiment with distilling and mixers for generations.
“Bourbon goes well with so many different things that can enhance the caramel and vanilla tastes in the whiskey,” says Victor Spivey of the Busted Oak Bourbon Society. “There are a few standards, like Coca-Cola, but when you venture outside the normal mixers, you unlock what your whiskey can really do.”
Mixers for bourbon are numerous, and all have different impacts on how the liquor tastes. There are some standard mixers, like Ginger Ale or Coca-Cola, that some people swear by. These are great options, but if you want something to spice up your bourbon, you should look for unconventional mixers like apple cider which makes a warm drink for the cold months.
If single mixers aren’t your thing, there’s a host of bourbon cocktails that will open your taste buds up to smoky and sophisticated cocktails drank in some of the most high-end establishments on the globe. Mixing bourbon unleashes flavors pent up during distilling, and each pairing creates a new taste.
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Anne James has a wealth of expertise in a wide array of interests, including quilting, cooking, gardening, camping, and making jelly.
She has a professional canning business and has been featured in the local newspaper, and has been her family canner for decades. Anyone growing up in the South knows that there is always a person in the family who has knowledge of the “old ways,” and this is exactly what Anne is.
With over 55 years of experience in these endeavors, she brings a level of hands-on knowledge that is hard to surpass.
Lovingly known as “Jelly Grandma” by her grandkids, Anne hopes your visit here has been a sweet one.