When you picture bourbon and whiskey, what comes to mind? Bonfires and campgrounds, buffalo plaid, a cozy knit blanket, and maybe some softly falling snow, right? But bourbon is delicious 365 days a year—it all depends on the type of bourbon you choose and how you shake (or stir) it up for a cocktail. But before we dive in to our favorite bourbon cocktail recipes, let’s get a brief bourbon 101.
For starters, what’s the difference between bourbon and whiskey? “All bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon,” explains Ashley Barnes, master blender for Off-Hours Bourbon. “Whiskey is the overall category, and bourbon is a subclass within that category,” she says. In order for whiskey to be classified as bourbon, Barnes says that it must be made with 51 percent corn, has to be aged in a new charred oak barrel, and must be made in the United States.
When tasting bourbon, look beyond the usual vanilla and caramel notes. Barnes says you’ll find lighter, fruiter bourbons that may have notes of apricot and strawberry, which pair well with a warm-weather cocktail like a classic whiskey lemonade; other types of bourbon have heavier notes of warm spices like star anise and cinnamon, or even maple syrup. “When we’re talking about a high rye bourbon, you might taste a similar richness that you’d find in a spiced apple cider,” she says. Woodford Reserve and Redemption High Rye Straight Bourbon Whiskey are two solid examples of “heavy” spiced bourbon; the ever-popular Maker’s Mark is a light, easy-drinking bourbon.
Now that you’ve spent a little bit of time in the classroom, it’s time to put your newfound knowledge to the test (or rather, the taste test) with these 20 popular bourbon cocktail recipes.
You may associate bourbon cocktails only with the changing leaves, but you can also stir up a delicious summery drink with the spirit. Here, bourbon is mixed with sweet vermouth, sugar, orange liqueur, cherry juice, and soda water for a bright beverage.
“In this sour, passion fruit pairs with the vanilla and floral notes of Basil Hayden’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon, while the addition of egg white creates a dreamy almost meringue-like foam and velvety texture,” writes recipe developer Max Rappaport.
Fresh basil, fragrant lemons, juicy cherries, honey, and good-quality bourbon come together for a summer bourbon cocktail.
Three quintessential cold-weather staples—bourbon, homemade apple cider, and crème de cacao (it’s basically hot chocolate, right?)—join forces for this bourbon cocktail recipe.
Homemade fresh ginger syrup brings out the warm, spiced notes found in good-quality bourbon. A little bit of triple sec and freshly squeezed orange juice tie it all together.
Consider this the one and only cocktail you need for fall sippin’. Spiced pear liqueur, honey syrup, your favorite bourbon, and rosemary (for garnish) make for one fine bartender-approved drink.
Sweet, floral Lillet Blanc and bright, bitter Aperol are the perfect summer duo. But bourbon, too? It may seem like a strange addition, but the subtle sweetness is enhanced by the fresh, herbal liqueurs.
Meyer lemons are prized because they’re less acidic than regular lemons and more aromatic. They bring the feeling of walking through lemon groves along the Amalfi Coast. Paired with sweet vanilla, orange bitters, and spiced bourbon, it’s a drink that will cure all sense of wanderlust.
The usual notes of caramel and vanilla from bourbon bring new life to a, well, rather old-fashioned cocktail.
Our editors call this bourbon drink a “season-ready sipper starring a few classic fall flavors, like cinnamon, pomegranate, and fresh rosemary.”
"This drink is perfect for the last days of summer, and the ushering in of a new season," says our resident bartender, Elliott Clark.
14. Mint Julep
We can’t talk about bourbon without talking about mint juleps. Take your first sip during the Kentucky Derby but keep shaking them up all throughout the spring and summer.
This four-ingredient cocktail pairs bourbon with Amaro, a bitter Italian digestif, plus Aperol and lemon juice.
16. Boo Radley
Calling all aspiring mixologists! This cocktail doesn’t exactly use liquors that most people have on their bar cart (such as Cynar, an Italian bitter aperitivo, and Cherry Heering), but if you’re in the mood to experiment, it’s a fabulous bourbon cocktail.
Spike this classic black tea and lemonade punch with bourbon for a spirited summer beverage.
“This elixir has everything I look for in a holiday punch, a delicious ruby red color, the effervescence of champagne, a hint of ginger spice, and enough sweetness (but not too much) to coax this rather potent punch down with ease,” writes recipe developer Oui Chef.
19. Hot Toddy
Although a hot toddy is traditionally made with whiskey, bourbon is a seamless substitute in this classic cold-weather cocktail.
Infuse your own bourbon with just a few simple fall staples—peeled apples, whole cloves, and cinnamon sticks. Let it sit for a few days, just until the aroma from the spices is notable.