Top Whiskey Cocktails to Make at Home
Whiskey aficionados might shun the idea of mixing this varied and complex spirit into whiskey cocktails. But, this isn’t so for all whiskey lovers or anyone curious about and getting acquainted with the drink. In fact, whiskeys range in all sorts of flavor profiles that are brought out when mixed with different combinations.
To best experience and appreciate these flavors, try different whiskey cocktails (not such a hardship for some of us!) Just take a look below for the best recipes to do this — including some lesser-known gems and more than century-old classics.
How to Choose the Best Whiskey to Make Whiskey Cocktails
So, you’ve hit the liquor store aisles and are facing rows and rows of whiskey bottles. This can be downright overwhelming even for seasoned whiskey drinkers! The good news is you can easily navigate the waters and choose the best whiskey.
There are many ways to choose the best whiskey for your taste and purpose, but here are three solid tips to lead you in the right direction.
TASTE, NOT PRESTIGE, COMES FIRST IN WHISKEY COCKTAILS
Since there aren’t that many distilleries in the world and only about 130 licensed to produce Scotch whiskey, it makes sense that some budget brands actually make the high-end premium spirits you’ve heard so much about. (But don’t worry if you haven’t done your brand research ahead of time — take a moment to search online or ask a staff member for help.)
So, there’s a fair chance you’ll find two extreme yet identical options, except for a few years of aging time. Now, you’re probably wondering if a shorter aging period impacts whiskey quality. The truth is that most American whiskies — sitting in their warm Kentucky oak casks — don’t require aging nearly as long as scotch or brandy do.
THE MASH BILL MATTERS IN WHISKEY COCKTAILS
A whiskey’s mash bill, or grain mix, indicates a ton about its flavor profile. Think of how the grains in different breads taste and use that as a guide to how different whiskies will taste. Overall:
- Rye is strong, dark, spicy, and dense.
- Wheat is sweeter and softer than rye.
- Corn is sweet, corny, and caramel.
- Barley is malty and dry.
Since corn is the cheapest grain here, it goes into a lot of whiskeys which can mean some whiskey flavors taste less complex or interesting. Of course, this isn’t always the case (tying back to the above point on tasting!)
GO FOR A HIGH PROOF WHISKEY FOR COCKTAILS
Remember, you’re buying whiskey, not water, so look for bottles with higher proofs. The higher it is, the better the whiskey’s flavor is maintained (if you find it too strong, you can always dilute it a bit). It’s handy to do this with cocktails so that other flavors like vermouth or citrus come out properly without being overpowered by the whiskey.
You know you’re getting 100 proof (50% alcohol by volume or ABV) when a label states “bottled-in-bond” or “bonded”, but you could go down to 93 proof.
Best Whiskey Cocktail Recipes
Check out our collection of the best whiskey cocktail recipes around. There are many flavor profiles and something here for everyone.
MANHATTAN WHISKEY COCKTAIL
If you’re up for straightforward, classic whiskey cocktails, say no more. The versatile Manhattan is well-loved and perfect for nearly any occasion.
To make it: Mix two ounces of whiskey, one ounce of sweet vermouth, and a few dashes of aromatic bitters in a mixing glass. Add ice. Stir well and strain into a chilled cocktail glass, then garnish with a cherry.
MINT JULEP WHISKEY COCKTAIL
The Mint Julep comes with an old 18th-century history when America’s southerners used alcohol for self-medication, and juleps (rye steeped with mint at the time) helped relieve stomach pain. Mint Juleps became the Kentucky Derby’s traditional drink and, since the 1930s, are enjoyed over 100,000 times each year.
Balanced by herbal, sweet, and smoky notes, this is one of the easiest whiskey cocktails to make. Simply:
- Place the leaves of 4-5 mint sprigs and two sugar cubes or a ½ ounce of simple syrup into a julep cup, Collins glass, or double old-fashioned glass.
- Muddle well until you smell the mint and the sugar is dissolved.
- Add 2.5 ounces of whiskey and small crushed ice.
- Stir until the glass is frosted, then garnish with mint.
BOULEVARDIER WHISKEY COCKTAIL
Sometimes thought of like a whiskey Negroni, the classic Boulevardier is probably older. It’s less popular than its Italian counterpart, but the only difference is the gin base gets swapped for whiskey. Try it yourself:
- Mix two ounces of whiskey, ¾-ounces of Campari, one ounce of sweet vermouth, and a dash of orange bitters into a cocktail shaker.
- Shake over ice.
- Pour into a martini or coupe glass, and garnish with orange peel.
NEW YORK SOUR WHISKEY COCKTAIL
For a spin on the infamous Whiskey Sour cocktail, take a trip to New York with a red wine float! This eye-catching cocktail has depth beyond its looks, as the wine and whiskey combine the more you taste it. You’ll first get mainly wine, then Whiskey Sour.
Some people like to mix their New York Sour up instead before they start sipping. So, why not make two of these whiskey cocktails and see which you prefer?
Combine two ounces of rye whiskey, an ounce of lemon juice, and ½ an ounce (or a bit more, to taste) of simple syrup into an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake well. Strain into an old-fashioned glass with ice. To float the red wine on top, slowly pour ¾ ounces of dry red wine over the back of a spoon.
WHISKEY ALEXANDER COCKTAIL
Take the classic Brandy Alexander to a new level with this “Whiskey Alexander” and awaken your senses with its creamy goodness.
Into a cocktail shaker, add an ounce each of Creme de Cacao, your favorite whiskey, and half-and-half or cream, along with a dash of salt and another dash of simple syrup. Give the mixture a good shake for at least 20 seconds. Add some ice, and shake for 20 seconds more. Strain into a chilled coupe glass and garnish with nutmeg.
PIMM’S CUP WHISKEY COCKTAIL
Another classic, the Pimm’s Cup was created in 1840s London by bartender James Pimm. To make this refreshingly light whiskey cocktail, add one and a quarter ounces each of whiskey and Pimm’s No. 1 along with ¾-ounces each of lemon juice and mint simple syrup to an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Gently stir. Add three ounces of club soda and give the mixture another stir. Strain into an ice-filled julep cup and finish it off with a mint sprig garnish.
Old Fashioned Whiskey Cocktail Recipes
Old Fashioneds were actually how cocktails (and not just whiskey cocktails) were defined in the early 1800s: alcohol (rye, originally), water, sugar, and bitters. About three-quarters of a century later, bartenders got creative and began using different spirits like whiskey.
These days, there are many Old Fashioned flavor options but one thing is consistent: they’re super easy to make. Here are a few Old Fashioned variations to try for yourself.
CLASSIC OLD FASHIONED WHISKEY COCKTAIL
Combine two teaspoons of simple syrup, 2-3 dashes of orange and Angostura bitters, two ounces of whiskey, and one large ice cube in a cocktail glass, and stir for one minute. Over the glass, squeeze an orange peel, twist it, and toss it into the drink. Add a cocktail cherry as garnish.
SMOKED ROSEMARY OLD FASHIONED WHISKEY COCKTAIL
To make this unique Old Fashioned with smoked rosemary:
- Pour two ounces of whiskey, half an ounce of simple syrup, and a couple of dashes of Angostura bitters over a cocktail glass with ice.
- Squeeze and twist the orange peel and place it in your glass.
- Light two pieces of dried rosemary on fire and place them on top of (not in) the drink.
- Cover the glass with your shaker for about 10 seconds and watch the fire go out and drink infuse with smoke.
- Slowly remove the shaker and the burnt rosemary.
CHOCOLATE OLD FASHIONED WHISKEY COCKTAIL
This tasty treat requires a bit of planning, as you’ll make your own chocolate-infused whiskey to use in the cocktail and it needs to sit for three days. To do so: Add a quarter-cup of chocolate-covered or roasted cacao nibs to an infusion jar and fill it up with your favorite whiskey (though rye’s spiciness goes nicely with the chocolate). Shake it up well and leave it to set for about three days, until the flavor is well balanced. At that point, strain the cacao nibs and bottle the whiskey mixture.
You’re now ready to make the cocktail:
- Into an old-fashioned glass, combine one brandied cherry, half an orange slice, a few dashes of mole bitters, and a half-ounce of demerara syrup. Muddle.
- Fill the glass with ice and add 2.5 ounces of your chocolate-infused whiskey, then give it a light stir.
- Add the other orange slice half and one brandied cherry to garnish.
PUMPKIN OLD FASHIONED WHISKEY COCKTAIL
Brrrr…fall sure is coming soon, and what better way to ring it in than with a good ‘ole pumpkin Old Fashioned? All you need to do is combine 1.5 ounces of bourbon whiskey, a half-ounce of orange liqueur, two tablespoons of pureed pumpkin, a dash of aromatic bitters, and an ounce of real maple syrup into an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Give it a good shake and, through a fine-mesh strainer, strain it into a chilled old-fashioned glass with ice. Add a rosemary sprig or orange peel as garnish.
As you can see, there are plenty of whiskey cocktails out there for any palate. Give some of these a try to melt your day away or wow your guests!