As much as I love lighter spirits like gin and tequila, when fall hits, it's whiskey that finds its way into my glass more often than not. That could mean a spicy rye or a peaty Scotch, but today we're sticking with the booze that got me into whiskey in the first place: bourbon.
Sweet, oaky, and relatively mild, bourbon is at home in all sorts of cocktails. Whether you're in the mood for a spirit-forward Old Fashioned, a honey-sweetened Bee's Knees variation, or a citrusy grapefruit sipper, we've got 15 recipes to keep you drinking and loving bourbon right through spring.
Perhaps no cocktail better showcases good whiskey than an Old Fashioned. Because it's made with nothing more than bourbon, sugar, and bitters (plus an orange or cherry garnish, of course), whatever spirit you use will come through in force, so make it a good one. While it's trendy nowadays to make the drink with spicy rye, bourbon is traditional and provides a slightly sweeter backdrop. If you've got company coming, Old Fashioneds are great to make in big batches—check out this recipe, which is designed expressly for that purpose.
The Boulevardier is like an autumnal cousin to the Negroni, replacing the gin with whiskey (either bourbon or rye) to complement the sweet vermouth and Campari. That substitution brings a huge change, turning a usually lean, bright cocktail richer and more complex. A Negroni may be good any time of year, but a Boulevardier will seem especially apt as the temperature drops if you want an elegant, dependable drink to warm you from the inside.
Even if Derby Day seems far away, there's no reason to wait to enjoy a frosty, refreshing mint julep, especially if summer tends to linger where you live. Using a mix or an artificially flavored syrup will put you on the fast track to ruining your julep; if you want to make it right, you have to use fresh mint—gently muddled, not smashed to death, to avoid releasing the herb's bitter flavors. For something a little different, try our chocolate variation, made with a good-quality crème de cacao instead of simple syrup.
Hot Caramel-Popcorn Bourbon Apple Cider
When it's numbingly cold out, you can't go wrong pouring a nip of warmth-giving bourbon into a mug of hot apple cider. In this recipe, we make that classic pairing even better by steeping the bourbon with caramel popcorn, giving the drink a nutty, toasty flavor. Because all popcorn needs butter, we float a pat on top of the finished cocktail.
Bittersweet Amaro- and Whiskey-Spiked Coffee
This rich spiked coffee walks the line between sweet and savory by pairing bourbon and crème de cacao with caramelly, bittersweet Averna and herbal Gran Classico—and, of course, hot coffee. If you find the drink a little too sweet as is, just add more coffee for extra bitterness. Plain, unsweetened whipped cream is a fine garnish; for a more unusual touch, try flavoring it with a little extra Gran Classico.
Improved Iced Coffee
Not in the mood for a hot eye-opener? This elaborate chilled beverage starts with iced coffee instead, mixing it with bourbon, Luxardo Maraschino liqueur, cream, Demerara syrup, absinthe, and orange bitters. The maraschino may seem to dominate the drink at first, but the bourbon will become more assertive as you sip.
Sparkling Bourbon Pear Cocktail
This festive batched cocktail gets a pronounced—but not overwhelming—fall flavor from a roasted-pear purée. The simple, sweet blend of caramelized pears and lemon juice is mixed with bourbon and maple syrup to form the cocktail's base. To serve, pour the mixer into a glass, top off with sparkling wine, and sprinkle with ground clove.
The Gold Rush is similar to the Bee's Knees—a mix of gin, lemon, and honey—but with high-proof bourbon in place of gin, resulting in a drink that tastes like a more complex version of a whiskey sour. While other varieties will work, I find that intense buckwheat honey stands up best to the bourbon.
Triple Crown (Whiskey Sour Cocktail With Amaro)
Another elevated take on the whiskey sour, this one gets its flavor from citrusy Montenegro Amaro and grapefruit-scented pamplemousse liqueur. The sweetness of the pamplemousse nicely complements the vanilla in the bourbon, while the amaro provides just enough bitterness for balance.
Colder weather means we're approaching peak citrus season, and this cocktail makes the most of it by showcasing bittersweet pink-grapefruit juice. We let the juice shine by keeping the rest of the drink simple, adding just bourbon and simple syrup. A grapefruit-wedge garnish isn't strictly necessary, but I think it's a pretty addition.
This strong, dark sipper requires just two ingredients: Booker's Bourbon and Punt e Mes vermouth. Booker's is bottled at 120-plus proof, so it's capable of standing up to the bitter vermouth in a 1:1 ratio. You can also use a lower-proof (and cheaper) bourbon, like Jim Beam Black, but you might need to use a 2:1 ratio to keep the bitterness in check.
5-Spice Bourbon Punch
Bourbon cocktails don't have to be intensely strong—on a milder fall day, you might prefer this refreshing punch, made with bourbon, lime juice, club soda, and a syrup infused with five-spice blend: Sichuan peppercorns, star anise, cinnamon, cloves, and fennel. Making the syrup with whole spices rather than store-bought five-spice powder both gives it a better flavor and makes it easier to strain.
Turkey and Sage Cocktail
This cocktail drinks like Thanksgiving in a glass, thanks to pumpkin, sage, and turkey—or, rather, Wild Turkey 101 bourbon. It's not just the pun that led us in that direction: Wild Turkey's caramel and vanilla notes make it a natural match for pumpkin, and its high proof helps it stand up to the woodsy sage.
Pomegranate Bourbon Cocktail
This drink incorporates pomegranate in two different forms: tart molasses and fresh juice. Mixing in fresh-squeezed orange juice adds some necessary sweetness to an otherwise tart cocktail. There are enough strong flavors mingling here that you can use any decent bourbon—don't feel the need to break out the top-shelf liquor.
Maple Bourbon Eggnog
Who says eggnog is suitable only for Christmastime, especially when it's this tasty? The eggnog itself is a fairly standard formula, but it gets extra depth from maple syrup. What really sets this apart, though, is the crispy bacon-strip garnish, which plays well with the sweet maple—sprinkle on bacon bits, too, if you want to get crazy with it.