I have and continue to make lots of whiskey cocktails to promote Texas Whiskey through the Festival social channels and blog series. Over time I have noticed similarities and common themes among different whiskey cocktails. From my point of view, most whiskey cocktails are variations of five basic recipes. Whiskey cocktails can be as varied as the choice of whiskeys with unlimited permutations, but let’s look at what I consider the core five.
My Five Core Whiskey Cocktails
The old fashioned is a cocktail made by muddling sugar with bitters, adding whiskey. The garnish is always optional. The core component of the old-fashioned is the muddling of sugar and bitters.
Most every bar I visit has its own take on the Old-Fashioned, but the main ingredients are a sugar cube or simple syrup and bitters. The variations include the whiskeys, type of bitters and additional ingredients.
An example is the Sazerac. It uses Peychaud Bitters, simple syrup or sugar cube but adds an absinthe rinse.
Here are some variations I have shared on social media and or as a blog; the Suburban, Vanilla Tea Old-Fashioned, Maple Old-Fashioned, and Bloody-Fashioned. Not a cocktail but a smoked old-fashioned ice-cube is fun.
The Manhattan is the whiskey cocktail version of the martini. The key difference is most whiskey cocktail versions use a combination of bitters and vermouth. A martini only uses vermouth.
The variations can be as simple as changing the whiskey. Switch from a rye whiskey to scotch and you have a Rob Roy. Add a splash of Absinthe and you have a Blackthorn whiskey cocktail.
I always thought this was a specific whiskey cocktail involving muddled fruit like blueberries. Through this journey, I learned that a smash is a concoction of spirits, sugar, and mint or fruit, either in the form of juice or garnish. The key takeaways are sugar, mint or fruit ( can be juice).
That revelation changed how I viewed this whiskey cocktail. A smash covers the Mint Julep and Mojito to the Whiskey Cobbler. The variety of cocktails you can make with this many ingredients is endless.
The sour is probably my least favorite, but popular among the rest of the world. Sours are mixed drinks containing a base liquor, lemon or lime juice, and a sweetener (triple sec, simple syrup, or grenadine are common.) Cocktails include the whiskey sour, margarita, and sidecar to name a few. When I am researching cocktails for the weekly release I am amazed at how many recipes call for lemon juice. There are so many that I buy lemons every time I go to the store.
I believe this is the most well known of the five core whiskey cocktails, we just don’t call them highballs anymore. Most simply say I take a Seven and Seven, Scotch and soda, or whiskey and Coke. A highball is a mixed alcoholic drink composed of an alcoholic base spirit and a larger proportion of a non-alcoholic mixer. A highball is typically served over ice in a large straight-sided highball glass or Collins glass.
There are cocktails that don’t fall into these categories and some that even cross into multiple. The goal of this article was to share the common trends I see across cocktails. Learning these five core recipes will give you a solid foundation to create most whiskey cocktails and can serve as a great starting place for your own experimentation.