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The Flavorful Pairings: What Do You Mix Bourbon Whiskey With?

a glass shot of bourbon whiskey

Last Updated on December 16, 2023 by Lydia Martin

When it comes to enjoying a glass of bourbon whiskey, the question arises: What do you mix bourbon whiskey with? Finding that perfect combination of flavors can elevate your bourbon experience to new heights.

The possibilities are endless, from classic mixers like water and ice to contemporary options such as citrus and sweet vermouth. So, let’s embark on a flavorful journey and discover the art of mixing bourbon whiskey, one cocktail at a time.

Table of Contents


What is bourbon whiskey?

Bourbon whiskey is a type of American whiskey that is primarily made from corn and aged in charred oak barrels. [1] It has a distinct flavor profile with notes of caramel, vanilla, oak, and sometimes spice.

By law, bourbon must meet specific criteria, such as being made with at least 51% corn and aged in new charred oak barrels.

Why mix bourbon whiskey?

Mixing bourbon whiskey allows you to explore and enhance its flavors. By combining bourbon with other ingredients, such as mixers, fruits, or herbs, you can create a wide range of classic cocktails that showcase the complexity and versatility of bourbon. 

Mixing bourbon can also provide a more approachable and enjoyable drinking experience for those who prefer a milder or sweeter bourbon whiskey taste. Ultimately, mixing bourbon allows you to experiment, personalize, and discover your favorite bourbon cocktails.

a bottle and a glass of bourbon on the rocks

Classic Mixers


Why add water to bourbon?

Adding a splash of water to bourbon serves several purposes. It helps unlock the aromas in the whiskey, making them more pronounced and allowing for a fuller sensory experience.

Additionally, water can mellow the alcohol content and reduce the initial burn, making it easier to appreciate the intricate flavors within the bourbon.

How does water affect the taste of bourbon?

When water is added to bourbon, it interacts with the compounds in the whiskey, diluting its potency and altering its flavor profile. Water can soften the intensity of the alcohol, making the bourbon more approachable.

It also releases certain volatile compounds, enhancing the release of aromas and revealing hidden flavor nuances such as fruitiness, spiciness, and oak undertones.


How does ice affect bourbon?

Ice has a dual effect on bourbon. Firstly, it chills the whiskey, creating a more refreshing and cooling drinking experience. Secondly, as the ice slowly melts, it introduces a controlled dilution process.

This dilution helps to reduce the alcohol content, making the bourbon smoother and potentially unveiling additional layers of flavor.

Does ice dilute the flavor?

While ice does dilute bourbon, it also has the benefit of tempering any sharp edges or harshness that may be present in the spirit.

However, it’s important to note that excessive dilution can potentially mute the flavors, so it’s best to find a balance that suits personal preference.

Ginger Ale

What is the traditional bourbon and ginger ale cocktail?

The traditional bourbon, ginger ale, or ginger beer cocktail is known as a “Kentucky Mule.” It typically consists of bourbon, ginger ale, and a squeeze of lime juice.

This combination offers a harmonious blend of flavors, with the spicy and effervescent ginger ale accentuating the natural sweetness and complexity of bourbon.

How does ginger ale complement bourbon’s flavors?

Ginger ale’s carbonation and distinct ginger spiciness create a delightful synergy with bourbon. The zesty kick of ginger cuts through the richness of bourbon, enhancing its inherent flavors.

The sweetness of the ginger ale also complements the caramel, vanilla, and oak notes found in many bourbons, resulting in a refreshing and well-balanced cocktail.

3 glasses of bourbon cocktails


What is the popular bourbon and cola combination?

The combination of bourbon and cola is commonly referred to as “bourbon and Coke.” This classic mix has gained widespread popularity due to its simplicity and the balance it brings to the drink. It usually involves pouring bourbon over ice and topping it up with cola.

Does cola enhance or overpower bourbon?

Cola, with its caramel sweetness and fizzy texture, can provide an interesting contrast to the flavors of bourbon.

While it can enhance the whiskey’s inherent sweetness, it’s important to choose a bourbon with enough character to stand up to the boldness of cola.

The key is to strike a balance where the bourbon’s subtle flavors are not overpowered by the cola but instead work in harmony to create a satisfying and enjoyable cocktail.

Contemporary Mixers


How do citrus fruits pair with bourbon?

Citrus fruits like lemon, lime, and orange bring a vibrant and tangy element to bourbon cocktails. The natural acidity of citrus juices can counterbalance the richness of bourbon, creating a refreshing and lively flavor profile.

What are some citrus-based bourbon cocktails?

Several popular bourbon cocktails incorporate citrus fruits. The “Whiskey Sour” is a classic example, made with bourbon, fresh lemon juice, and a touch of sweetness from the simple syrup.

The “Bourbon Smash” combines bourbon, muddled citrus wedges (such as lemon or orange), and a hint of sweetness from a sweetener like simple syrup or maple syrup with a splash of club soda water.

The “Bourbon Sour” is a classic cocktail made with bourbon, fresh lemon juice, a touch of sweetness from simple syrup, and sometimes an egg white for added texture.

The ingredients are shaken vigorously with ice cubes in a cocktail shaker and then strained into a glass, creating a frothy and tangy drink.

Sweet Vermouth

What is the classic bourbon cocktail made with sweet vermouth?

The classic bourbon cocktail made with sweet vermouth is the “Manhattan.” It typically consists of bourbon, sweet vermouth, and a dash of bitters.

This sophisticated and complex cocktail highlights the interplay between the bourbon’s robust flavors and the herbaceous and slightly sweet characteristics of sweet vermouth.

How does sweet vermouth balance bourbon’s flavors?

Sweet vermouth brings a nuanced sweetness and herbal complexity to bourbon cocktails. It softens the intensity of bourbon while adding layers of flavor, such as botanicals, spices, and a gentle bitterness. The combination of bourbon and sweet vermouth creates a well-rounded and sophisticated drink.


What role do bitters play in bourbon cocktails?

Bitters, which are concentrated botanical extracts infused with aromatic herbs and spices, play a vital role in bourbon cocktails.

They add depth, complexity, and balance to the drink by enhancing or contrasting with the flavors of the bourbon.

Bitters can introduce notes of bitterness, citrus, or herbal undertones, depending on the type used.

Which types of bitters are commonly used with bourbon?

Several types of bitters work well with bourbon. The most commonly used bitters include Angostura bitters, which provide a balanced blend of spices and bitter notes, and orange bitters, which add a bright, citrusy character.

Other options include aromatic bitters, cherry bitters, and chocolate bitters, each offering their unique flavor profiles.

Unique Mixers

Apple Cider

How does apple cider complement bourbon’s flavor profile?

Apple cider, with its natural sweetness and autumnal flavors, can beautifully complement the characteristics of bourbon. The combination creates a delightful blend of caramel, vanilla, and orchard fruit notes.

The slight tartness in apple cider adds a refreshing dimension as you drink bourbon, making it a perfect choice for fall-inspired bourbon cocktails.

Are there any popular bourbon and apple cider cocktails?

One popular bourbon and apple cider cocktail is the “Apple Bourbon Smash.” It typically involves muddling fresh apple slices with bourbon, adding apple cider, a touch of lemon juice, and a sweetener like maple syrup.

This cocktail showcases the harmonious marriage of bourbon and apple cider, resulting in a balanced and flavorful bourbon drink.

Maple Syrup

What is the maple bourbon cocktail?

The maple bourbon cocktail is a delightful blend of bourbon and maple syrup, often accompanied by a splash of citrus juice or bitters.

This cocktail combines the warmth and sweetness of maple syrup with the rich caramel notes of bourbon, resulting in a smooth and decadent drink.

How does the sweetness of maple syrup enhance bourbon?

Maple syrup’s natural sweetness complements the sweetness inherent in bourbon, creating a luscious and velvety texture.

It adds a distinct caramelized flavor that harmonizes with the oak and vanilla notes found in many bourbons, elevating the overall drinking experience.

Exploring Bourbon Cocktails

Old Fashioned

What are the ingredients and preparation of an Old Fashioned cocktail?

The Old Fashioned cocktail is a timeless classic. You will need bourbon, a sugar cube (or simple syrup), a few dashes of bitters (typically Angostura), and a twist of citrus peel for garnish.

The sugar cube is muddled with bitters, bourbon is added, and the drink is stirred with ice until chilled. It is then strained over fresh ice and garnished with the citrus peel.

What type of bourbon works best for an Old Fashioned?

When choosing a bourbon for an Old Fashioned, selecting one with enough character and complexity to shine through the other ingredients is important.

A bourbon with a higher proof and bold flavors can stand up to the dilution and balance the sweetness of the sugar and bitters.

Rye whiskey bourbons or those with spicy notes and robust profiles are often favored for this classic cocktail.

Mint Julep

How do you make a classic Mint Julep?

The classic Mint Julep is synonymous with the Kentucky Derby and Southern hospitality. You’ll need bourbon, fresh mint leaves, sugar (or simple syrup), and crushed ice to make it.

The mint leaves are muddled with sugar, bourbon is added, and the mixture is strained over crushed ice in a traditional silver or pewter cup. It is garnished with a sprig of fresh mint.

What makes mint a good pairing with bourbon?

Mint’s refreshing and herbaceous qualities complement the smoothness and warmth of bourbon. It adds a cooling sensation and a vibrant aroma to the cocktail.

The combination of bourbon and mint creates a wonderfully balanced and invigorating drink, perfect for warm weather or any occasion calling for a touch of Southern charm.

Experimenting with Bourbon Mixers

Fruit Juices

Which fruit juices work well with bourbon?

Many fruit juices can harmonize with bourbon, providing a burst of natural sweetness and acidity. Orange, pineapple, cranberry, and grapefruit juice are among the popular choices. [2]

These juices can add complexity and depth to bourbon cocktails, creating a delightful balance between the fruit flavors and the whiskey’s robust profile.

How can fruit juices elevate bourbon cocktails?

Fruit juices can elevate bourbon cocktails by adding layers of fruity sweetness, tanginess, and refreshing quality. They can help to soften the whiskey’s flavors and create a well-rounded taste experience.

When combined with the right proportions and complementary ingredients, fruit juices can enhance the complexity and appeal of bourbon cocktails.

Herbal Infusions

What are some herbal infusions that complement bourbon?

Several herbs and botanicals can be infused with bourbon to create unique flavor profiles. Some popular choices include rosemary, thyme, basil, lavender, and cinnamon.

These infusions can impart their aromatic qualities, earthiness, and herbal nuances to bourbon, adding complexity and a hint of intrigue to cocktails.

How can you create infused bourbon at home?

Creating infused bourbon at home is a fun and creative way to experiment with flavors. To make an infusion, you can place your chosen herbs or spices in a clean glass jar and pour bourbon over them. 

Let the mixture sit for several days or weeks, periodically tasting to achieve the desired flavor intensity. Once the infusion is complete, strain out the solids, and your flavored bourbon is ready to be used in cocktails.


Is bourbon good for mixed drinks?

Yes, bourbon is an excellent spirit for mixed bourbon drinks. Its distinct flavor profile, characterized by notes of caramel, vanilla, oak, and sometimes spice, adds depth and complexity to cocktails. 

Bourbon’s versatility allows it to blend well with a wide range of mixers, creating balanced and flavorful drinks. 

Whether you prefer a refreshing citrus-based cocktail, a classic combination like bourbon and ginger ale, or more adventurous mixers, bourbon can elevate your mixed drink experience.

Is bourbon and Coke good?

Coke can mix with bourbon well; thus, the name “bourbon and cola,” or a “bourbon and Coke cocktail,” is a popular and widely enjoyed combination. 

The sweetness and carbonation of the cola help to mellow out the robustness of the bourbon, creating a smooth and enjoyable drink. 

The caramel and vanilla flavors in bourbon harmonize with the caramel notes in Coke, resulting in a balanced and refreshing cocktail.




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