Bourbon whiskey has seen a resurgence in popularity in the past decade, as bartenders and mixologists discover new ways to use it.  Bartenders love bourbon because it is a complex spirit with a wide range of flavours including caramel, vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  It can be used as the main ingredient in a cocktail or to add a hint of spice.

Many cocktail drinkers have also gone back to classic cocktails that use bourbon whiskey like the Classic Old Fashioned, Manhattan, Mint Julep, Whiskey Sour, and Ward Eight.  These cocktails have stood the test of time for a reason — they are delicious and really showcase the incredible flavours within bourbon.

So, what can you mix with whiskey?  Given that it is such a flavoursome spirit, you might think there are a limited number of mixers that go with it.  You might be surprised to find that it can mix well with everything from coffee to ginger beer.  This article will share some information about bourbon and the most useful mixers for this popular spirit.

What is bourbon whiskey?

Bourbon whiskey is an American whiskey that is distilled and aged in barrels.  To be called bourbon, the mash that it is made from must be at least 51% corn.  Other ingredients that are often added to a bourbon mash include malted barley, wheat and rye.  Most bourbon whiskeys are made in Kentucky but they can be made in any location within the United States and still be called bourbon whiskey.

The most dominant flavours in bourbon whiskey often include:

  • Caramel
  • Vanilla
  • Oak
  • Toasted rye bread
  • Oatmeal
  • Cornbread
  • Cinnamon
  • Nutmeg

Mixers that go well with bourbon whiskey

A glass of bourbon and coke with ice

There’s mixers all complement or enhance the complex flavours found in bourbon.  Some are used in cocktails while others are simply mixed with bourbon and ice.

Water

When bourbon is in the barrel it is usually 120 proof (60% Alcohol by volume), which is too strong to be enjoyed by the average drinker.  It is then diluted to be around 80 proof (40% ABV) before being bottled, which is a balance between cask strength and the ideal drinking strength.

However, even at this strength, the alcohol and dominant flavours in bourbon whisky can mask the more subtle flavours.  This is why drinkers often add a splash of room temperature water to their bourbon.

The water will seperate the ethanol and guaiacol molecules in the drink.  This will make the make the bourbon more flavoursome and palatable.  Using water as a mixer is simple — gradually add water to your bourbon until you find the “sweet spot” where you can taste all of the flavours that your drink contains.

Coca-Cola

Coca-Cola is one of the most popular mixers used with bourbon whiskey, particularly with young or inexperienced drinkers.  The sweetness of the Coca Cola makes the bourbon easier to drink but the bourbon still retains its caramel, vanilla, and smokey flavour.  To make a Bourbon and Coke:

  1. Place some ice in a medium sized tumbler
  2. Pour in 60 ml of bourbon whisky
  3. Add about 300 ml of Coca Cola
  4. Gently stir
  5. Add a lime twist, wedge or slice (optional)
Soda water

Soda water is water that has been carbonated.  It is a very useful mixer for bourbon because it dilutes the spirit without changing its flavour.  Simply pour some bourbon on ice and blend in soda water until you are happy with its taste.

Ginger ale, ginger beer or ginger syrup and soda

You might be surprised to learn that ginger mixers taste fantastic with bourbon whiskey.  The ginger adds a lot of “zing” to the sweetness and spiciness of the bourbon, making for a drink that is quite refreshing.  Use a ginger mixer like ginger ale the same way you would use Coca Cola — in a glass with ice and a mixture of about 1 part of bourbon to 5 parts ginger ale.  There are also many cocktails that incorporate ginger and bourbon including this terrific ginger ale, lemonade and bourbon cocktail:

  1. Fill a high glass halfway with ice.
  2. Add 45 to 60 ml of bourbon
  3. Add lemonade until inch below the rim.
  4. Fill the remainder with ginger ale or ginger beer
  5. Garnish with a lemon twist
Homemade Eggnog

Homemade eggnog is delicious, particularly in the colder months.  Bourbon is the perfect spirit for pairing with it.  The rich creaminess of the eggnog is enhanced by the caramel and vanilla flavours in bourbon.  Here is a great recipe for homemade eggnog.

Apple Cider

Apple cider has a fresh, tart, and sweet flavour that pairs well with bourbon whiskey.  There are quite a few cocktails that use apple cider and bourbon, including the delicious Tender Knob:

  1. Muddle an apple slice in a cocktail shaker
  2. Add 45 ml bourbon, 60 ml apple cider, 20 ml Agave nectar, and a pinch of cinnamon
  3. Shake for 10 seconds and pour onto ice
Coffee

If you want your cup of joe to really have a kick, consider adding some bourbon.  The bitterness and coca flavours of coffee pair perfectly with bourbon’s sweetness and smokiness.  Check out this cold brew coffee and bourbon recipe:

  1. Combine 75 ml cold brew coffee, 45 ml bourbon, 15 ml triple sec, 15 ml maple syrup with ice in a shaker
  2. Shake it!
  3. Strain into a rocks glass over ice
  4. Add 30 mis heavy cream and orange peel for garnish
Angostura bitters

Although not a mixer, this ingredient gets a special mention because it works so well with bourbon.  Angostura is an aromatic bitter that offsets the natural sweetness in bourbon.  Many cocktails add a dash of Angostura bitters to balance bourbon’s caramel and vanilla flavours.  A classic cocktail that uses Angostura bitters and bourbon is the Bourbon Old Fashioned:

  1. Add half a teaspoon of sugar to 3 dashes of Angostura bitters and 1 teaspoon of water
  2. Swirl until the sugar is almost dissolved
  3. Fill the glass with large ice cubes and 60 ml of bourbon
  4. Add the oil from some orange peel and drop the peel into the glass