Bourbon lovers don't always have it easy when it comes to craft cocktails. While there are plenty of whiskey drinks in the classic-cocktail pantheon, most, such as the Manhattan and its many relatives, were designed with the drier, spicier flavor of rye whiskey in mind.
Compared to rye, bourbon tends to have a softness and a sweetness that renders many cocktails flabby, especially those mixed with the herbaceous flavors found in vermouth. (Notable exceptions include the mint julep, originally a brandy drink but now unimaginable without the smooth sweetness of bourbon; and the Old Fashioned, the whiskey version of which likely started out with rye but when mixed with bourbon still results in a drink that's a resounding "yes".)
But bourbon is delicious! Fortunately, some contemporary bartenders have worked out cocktails that play to bourbon's strengths; one of the more noteworthy is a drink called the Revolver.
Introduced by San Francisco bartender Jon Santer around 2003, the Revolver was originally made with the rye-heavy Bulleit Bourbon (Bulleit, Revolver—get it?), which has a spicy spark that's accented with orange bitters and buffered by a dose of rich coffee liqueur. Santer mixed the drink with the Jamaican coffee liqueur Tia Maria; while they'll result in a somewhat different drink, the Revolver is worth trying with other coffee liqueurs such as Firelit, a Bay Area-made liqueur flavored with Blue Bottle Coffee; Galliano Ristretto, an Italian liqueur flavored with espresso beans; Araku, a rum-based liqueur from Venezuela; or of course the rum-based Kahlua, from Mexico.
Many bourbon lovers occasionally spike a cup of coffee with a slug from their favorite bottle; the Revolver is the same flavor principle in reverse, putting the bold bite of the whiskey up front and rounding out the flavor with coffee and the brightness of orange peel. If you're a bourbon drinker, the Revolver is one cocktail worth getting to know.
- 2 ounces bourbon (a rye-heavy bourbon such as Bulleit, Buffalo Trace or Basil Hayden is recommended)
- 1/2 ounce coffee liqueur
- 2 dashes orange bitters
- Garnish: wide strip of orange zest
Combine bourbon, coffee liqueur, and orange bitters in a mixing glass and fill with ice. Stir well until chilled, about 30 seconds. Strain into chilled cocktail glass.
Twist orange peel to express oils over drink and use as garnish (or, for a better floor show and a deeper flavor, flame the orange twist and then use the twist as garnish.)