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The Best Bourbon | Brands, Drinks, and Recipes

Updated on January 21, 2011

Best Bourbon Drinks & Recipes

Bourbon is a liquor with a strong and distinct flavor. There are not as many different cocktails as a neutral spirit, such as vodka, but many old and iconic drinks call for this distinct whiskey.

Straight Bourbon

While not exactly a cocktail, many bourbon enthusiasts like their bourbon with no other mixers with it. There are two basic ways to order straight bourbon: Neat or On The Rocks. There is also a relatively new variation using a product called Whiskey Stones.

Neat. This means bourbon with no ice. The alcohol will be at room temperature, and you will be able to taste more of the flavor of the bourbon (but also more of the alcohol). This is traditionally served in a "rocks" or "old-fashioned" glass. The actual bourbon will only fill a small fraction of the glass- don't worry, this is normal and desired. It gives you room to swirl the bourbon if you want to release some of the fragrances.

On the Rocks. Rocks, in this case, is ice. This is a good drink for someone who likes bourbon, but is turned off by the strong alcohol taste of neat bourbon. As the ice melts, it cools the bourbon, which reduces some of the aromas and decreases the burn of the alcohol. In addition, as the ice melts the bourbon becomes slightly watered-down, which also mellows the edge.

Whiskey Stones. This is a compromise between Neat and On the Rocks. The "stones" in this case, are actual stones. They're kept in the freezer, and put in whiskey to cool the bourbon without watering it down.

Manhattan

While not exclusively made from bourbon (it can be made from any type of whiskey), a Manhattan is the most common bourbon cocktail. There are three standard variations of the Manhattan: classic (sweet), dry, and perfect. The Manhattan is a cocktail for the true bourbon lover, and it can often be too strong for people not accustomed to bourbon.

Classic Manhattan. Always distinctive and classy, the Manhattan is a good choice for any cocktail party.

  • 3 oz - Bourbon (or really any whiskey)
  • 1/2 oz - Sweet Vermouth
  • 2-3 drops - Angostura bitters
  • Garnish with a cherry
Combine the liquid ingredients over ice, then stir (do not shake - a shaken Manhattan will be watered down and full of broken ice. A Manhattan can be served Up (martini glass) or On the Rocks (rocks glass). If not specified by the customer, a Manhattan is served in a martini glass (up).

Dry Manhattan. Very similar to the classic, but with dry vermouth instead of sweet.

RECIPE

Perfect Manhattan. The best of both worlds, the perfect Manhattan has equal parts sweet and dry vermouth, and is a good compromise if you can't decide which version to order.

RECIPE

Old Fashioned

Turns out, it's not just a clever name. In fact, the Old Fashioned is possibly the oldest recorded cocktail.

Standard Old Fashioned. The vast majority of the time, if you order an Old Fashioned at a bar, this is what you'll get. It's a little lighter and sweeter than the other version. Like a Mint Julep or a Mojito, expect to have pieces of muddled fruit floating in your drink.

  • 2 orange slices
  • 3 maraschino cherries
  • 1 tsp - Sugar
  • 4-5 drops - Angostura bitters
  • 2 oz - Bourbon
  • Soda water

Add one orange slide, two maraschino cherries, sugar and bitters to an empty rocks glass (also called an "old-fashioned" glass because of its use with  and muddle. Add ice to glass (fill to top) and add the bourbon. Top with soda water and garnish with an orange slice and cherry (alternatively, it can also be garnished with a lemon).

"Old Fashioned" Old Fashioned.This is the original recipe from the 1800s. It calls for fewer ingredients, and has a stronger bourbon taste. You may have trouble ordering this drink at a bar; most bartenders only know the standard version (if that).

  • 1 tsp - Sugar
  • 4-5 drops - Angostura bitters
  • 2 oz - Bourbon

Combine sugar and bitters in an old-fashioned (rocks) glass. Use either a barspoon or muddler to mix the sugar and bitters (it should form a paste-like consistency). Then add ice and bourbon. Swirl or lightly stir drink to combine the ingredients, and you're done. Simple. Clean. Old-fashioned.

Mint Julep

This drink usually brings one thing to mind: the Kentucky Derby. The Mint Julep is the official drink of the derby. It can be made with any type of bourbon, but at the derby, it will always be made with Early Times Bourbon. This drink can be made with mint syrup, but at a bar (or derby), it will be muddled, similar to a Old-Fashioned.

  • 6-8 Mint Leaves
  • 1 tsp - Sugar
  • 2 oz - Bourbon (traditionally Early Times)
  • Soda water

Add the mint and the sugar to a tall glass. Muddle the mint with the sugar. Add ice to the cup (crushed ice is more authentic if you have it). Add the bourbon and fill with soda water. Garnish with a mint sprig or spare leaves.

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