- Whiskey Sour
- Manhattan (also known as Manhattan Cocktail)
- Old Fashioned
- Whiskey Smash
- Mint Julep
- Hot Toddy
- Irish Coffee
- John Collins
1. The History of Whiskey
The word whiskey or whisky (confusing, we know) comes from the beautiful Gaelic language. Originally, the word for whiskey was uisce beatha meaning “water of life.” As someone whose long weeks have been revived many times by a nice whiskey cocktail (or whisky cocktail, if you prefer), I can attest to this being true: whiskey is the source of life-giving golden water.
But what’s up with the double spelling? It’s said that the spelling whisky is of Scottish descent, whereas the spelling “whiskey” is Irish. While technically whisky is the “correct spelling,” I personally prefer the added “e.” To placate both groups, I’ll be using both spellings throughout the article interchangeably, because I adhere to the idea that variation is the spice of life
Originally meant as some form of medicine (cue every Scottish grandmother ever trying to kill your cold with a Hot Toddy) it was monks who first brought their distilling techniques to Ireland and Scotland. These fine lads used barley beer and began to distill it, which transformed into our modern conceptions of whiskey. From monastery owned productions to today whisky sure has come a long way.
Nowadays whiskey comes in all different forms from Irish whiskey to bourbon to that classic Tennessee whiskey we’ve grown to associate with folks who rock these types of tattoos. I love it on the rocks, mixed into a whisky cocktail, or taken as a shot when my throat needs a little coating. Whatever way you’re drinking them, a few whiskey cocktails can go a long way.
2. The tools you’ll need
- An apron (check out some stellar options here)
- Cocktail shaker or mixing glass
- 2 oz shot glass
- Cocktail muddler (if you don’t have one, you can get creative with other kitchen tools)
- A strong cutting board
- A high quality paring knife for those fruit wedges
- Cocktail ingredients (details below)
- Glasses to serve your finished whiskey drink in
3. Our Top Ten Whiskey Cocktails
Your meal is sizzling away in its state of the art cookware as you blast “Tubthumping.” Let Chumbawamba singing “he takes a whiskey drink” really set the tone and get ready to make some delicious cocktails.
The best part of these recipes is that you can really utilize a lot of the same ingredients to make different whisky cocktail variations. Remember the best bartenders look sleek in their professional aprons, have the best cutting gear, and know how to get any cocktail party started.
1. Whiskey Sour
A whiskey sour is a go-to at any bar when you want something more fun than a well drink, but don’t want to get too wild with the house-made lavender-jalapeño-gingersnap-matcha tea syrups.
If you’ve ever made a whiskey sour from the comfort of your own home you know just how easy they are to make! Impress your company by serving these up with some small bite appetizers and you’ll be the talk of the town.
*I must note that a true whiskey sour in my book is one with egg whites. Vegans fear not, you can totally opt-out of the egg whites (as many do for those potential health concerns). If eggs aren’t your vibe, just skip that step!
- 2 ounces whiskey
- 1 ounce of lemon juice
- ¾ ounce simple syrup (equal parts water and sugar boiled)
- 1 egg white
- Optional garnish: lemon peel/maraschino cherry/angostura bitters
- Prep your ingredients. I personally love using bourbon for a whiskey sour, but any type of whisky you have on hand will do. If possible, use that slick paring knife of yours to cut a lemon in half and squeeze an ounce of juice. In a bind, you can always use store-bought lemon juice, but the fresher the better! Next, make your simple syrup, which consists of equal parts water and sugar brought to a boil. Note: if you do not have sugar, boiling honey and water is a delicious alternative.
- Next, combine the whiskey, lemon juice, and simple syrup into your cocktail shaker (or mixing glass).
- If you are including the egg white add it to your cocktail shaker without ice and shake, shake, shake. Afterward, you can add some ice. If you are going egg-free then go ahead and add some ice before you shake or stir and give it all you got.
- Pour into glasses and add your garnishes. I think a dash of bitters adds a special touch, but many are just as happy with a bit of lemon peel, or a classic red cherry!
- Cheers and enjoy the perfect drink recipe!
Pre-make some simple syrup and keep it in a jar in your fridge. That way you’ll have the simple sugar, water mixture in a pinch whenever you feel the cocktail craving come on.
2. Manhattan (also known as Manhattan Cocktail)
The Manhattan just sounds like a classy cocktail. If you want to look like someone who knows his or her drink this is a great whiskey cocktail to make at home.
Served generally in a fancy cocktail glass or a martini glass, drinking a Manhattan screams sophistication. I’m Canadian so it’s my duty to ask that you make this particular drink with rye whiskey, but again any type of whiskey will do.
- 2 ½ ounces rye whiskey
- 1 ounce of sweet vermouth
- 2 dashes of Angostura bitters
- Optional garnish: maraschino cherry
- Fill your cocktail shaker (or mixing glass) with ice then add whiskey, sweet vermouth, and bitters and stir well.
- Strain into a fancy cocktail glass and add a cherry on top for that extra class.
Vermouth is a classic bar staple. It goes great in martinis or mixed with a bit of soda water. For this drink, make sure your vermouth is sweet vermouth not dry vermouth or it just won’t taste the same!
3. Old Fashioned
Of all the whiskey cocktail recipes, this is the first that comes to mind. If you have known anyone obsessed with the TV series Mad Men, it’s likely they’ve shown up at your house party with the full ingredients to this whiskey cocktail in hand.
Commonly confused with the Manhattan, this whiskey drink leaves the vermouth aside in favor of sugar, a bit of water, and a classic orange twist.
- 2 ounces of rye whiskey or bourbon whiskey
- 1 teaspoon of simple syrup to taste (or a sugar cube if you want to be really fancy looking, or just regular sugar will work!)
- 1 teaspoon of water (don’t add this if you prefer a stronger drink)
- 2 dashes of bitters
- Optional garnish: orange peel
- Combine simple syrup (or sugar), bitters, and water in a glass until sugar is fully dissolved (note: if you’re using simple syrup your sugar will already be dissolved).
- Fill the glass halfway with ice (a nice big cube works best) and stir the combination.
- Squeeze the orange peel (a lemon peel would work too!) and add it to the mixture.
- Lastly, add the whiskey.
- Stir and enjoy!
If you don’t have Angostura Bitters feel free to substitute Peychaud’s bitters or any aromatic bitters on hand. Also, for a really good Old Fashioned, you’ll want to include the orange peel!
4. Whiskey Smash
This cocktail is the perfect excuse to use up that mint that’s been growing in your garden all spring. A refreshing mix of citrus, mint, and a backend of bourbon makes for the perfect sunny day cocktail recipe for any whiskey lover.
- 2 ounces bourbon whiskey (but any whiskey will do!)
- 1 ounce of simple syrup
- 8 mint leaves (spearmint is preferred, but peppermint will do in a pinch!)
- 3-4 lemon wedges
- Optional garnish: mint sprig
- Combine the mint leaves and lemon into a cocktail shaker.
- Muddle them together. If you don’t have a muddler on hand use a spoon or any kitchen utensil to crush the mint and lemon as much as possible.
- Add your simple syrup (remember the 1 part sugar, 1 part water ratio) and bourbon (or whatever whiskey is on hand).
- Fill the shaker with ice and shake, shake, shake it up.
- Strain into a glass and add your mint sprig for extra flair.
Adding a little splash of ginger beer to this recipe may just be the best idea we’ve ever had. Be warned though, that ginger beer is alcoholic!
5. Mint Julep
If you’ve ever been to the Kentucky Derby (or if you’ve ever heard of it) you know this cocktail well. A mint julep is a southern classic and a stellar excuse to pour yourself a delicious bourbon cocktail and wear that outrageously fancy hat. The key to this cocktail is really the crushed ice and lots and lots of mint.
- 2 ½ ounces of bourbon whiskey
- Roughly 6 mint leaves
- 1/2 ounce of simple syrup or 2 sugar cubes
- Crushed ice
- Optional garnish: more mint of course!
- Muddle your mint with your simple syrup or sugar cubes into a mixing glass.
- Add in your bourbon.
- Pour the combination into the glass and fill it with your crushed ice.
- Add more mint for garnish and tip your hat as you cheers!
The more aggressively you muddle, the more mint you’ll taste. Also, the more mint leaves you add, the more refreshing this whiskey cocktail will be.
6. Hot Toddy
My great aunt used to make this for us every time we visited her little cottage. Used in the heart of winter to warm you up or prescribed often to kill a cold, this is not the whiskey cocktail recipe I’d recommend for summer (nor children with colds).
But if it’s a rainy or snowy day and you need a little pick me up, this will hit the spot. In my household, we use Scotch whisky exclusively to honor our dear aunt who swore a Hot Toddy could cheer you right up. But, just like all of these recipes, an Irish whiskey, rye whiskey, or bourbon will do just fine.
- 1 ½ ounces of Scotch whisky (or any whiskey)
- 4 to 6 ounces of hot water
- 1 tablespoon of honey
- 1 tablespoon of lemon juice
- Optional garnish: lemon twist or cinnamon stick
- Heat your water in a kettle, on the stove, or in the microwave as you gather the rest of your ingredients.
- In an Irish coffee glass or mug combine honey, lemon juice, and your choice of whiskey (Scotch whisky is obviously best).
- Pour your hot water in and add your optional garnish.
- Wrap yourself in a warm blanket and sit near a fire to enjoy.
Ginger is absolutely stellar for any type of sore throat or cold. Add a bit of fresh ginger into the mix and this hot toddy will transform into a hot commodity.
7. Irish Coffee
The one and only time I ever visited Ireland I was enamored by the cobblestone streets and lovely old men whose accents I couldn’t understand. I was endeared by the Irish love of “having a pint” and the fact that ordering an Irish coffee early in the morning seemed socially acceptable. If you’re looking for a caffeine boost with a bit of booze this is the whiskey cocktail for you.
- 1 ½ ounces Irish whiskey
- 2 teaspoons of sugar (brown sugar works best)
- 4 ounces hot coffee
- Optional: 1 ounce of heavy cream or whipped cream
- Brew yourself some coffee as you gather the rest of your ingredients.
- Mix the sugar, Irish whiskey, and coffee into a fancy Irish coffee glass or any mug that you have.
- Add some cream if you enjoy a richer flavor or leave it black and sip!
Whip cream is always encouraged on any hot coffee beverage.
A classic cocktail with a snappy-sounding name is sure to impress your guests. Originally this recipe called for a rye whiskey, but you can never go wrong with switching up rye for a bourbon whiskey.
I warn you that this recipe is slightly more labor-intensive than the rest, but only marginally.
- 2 ounces rye whiskey
- 1/4 ounce of absinthe (or anise liqueur)
- 1 sugar cube (or simple syrup)
- 3 dashes of Peychaud bitters
- Ice cubes
- Optional garnish: lemon twist
- Fill a glass with ice as you gather the rest of the ingredients.
- Soak the sugar cube with the bitters and muddle it into a mixing glass like you saw Ryan Gosling do in that one movie.
- Add the rye whiskey and stir it up.
- Meanwhile, remove the ice in the glass and rinse that same cooled glass with absinthe. Meaning, add the absinthe, swirl it around, and then toss the absinthe.
- Pour the contents of the mixing glass into the chilled, absinthe rimmed glass.
- Add a lemon twist and a bit of ice and serve it confidently to your guests.
This whiskey cocktail calls for absinthe, that green fairy that has been rumored to cause a ruckus. Drink responsibly.
9. John Collins
As a gin lover, this is my second favorite cocktail Collins. These Collins drinks always consist of some sort of fizzy ingredient, which I personally quite enjoy in a cocktail.
While the original recipe usually calls for a club soda, I’ve used a ginger ale in a pinch and quite enjoyed the outcome. That’s what’s great about being an at-home bartender, you get to mix and match ingredients as you please!
- 1 ½ ounces of whiskey (Tennesse whiskey is great in these)
- 3/4 ounce lemon juice
- 3/4 ounce simple syrup
- 4 ounces club soda (or ginger ale!)
- Optional garnish: orange slice or cherry
- Mix whiskey, lemon juice (freshly squeezed please), and simple syrup into a cocktail shaker.
- Add the ice and shake away!
- Strain the contents into a Collins glass and fill that glass with ice.
- Add the club soda (or another fizzy element) and stir.
- Garnish as you see fit and enjoy!
These days flavored carbonated water can be found just about anywhere and work perfectly in these types of recipes.
While we recognize that this last one is slightly cheating because it’s not really a whiskey cocktail, we couldn’t resist putting it on the list. Technically more of a shooter, this is the type of “cocktail” you want when you really want to spice up the night.
Note: this drink is absolutely not for anyone who hates 1) pickles or 2) vinegar. As a Canadian, embracing vinegar is pretty much a requirement so this has always been one of my preferred ways to take shots, in the event that I decide to revert back to my university self.
- 1 ½ ounce of Irish whiskey (traditionally Jameson, but again any bourbon or whisky will do)
- 1 ½ ounce of pickle juice
- Pour two separate shots: one of pickle juice, the other of whiskey.
Don’t knock it until you try it! The sourness of the vinegar works wonders against the strength of a good whiskey shot.
Frequently Asked Questions?
Is whiskey bad for you?
While any alcohol should be consumed in moderation, whiskey is not necessarily bad for you. As long as you are staying hydrated and drinking responsibly the Irish may argue that a bit of whiskey is just the thing you need for a happy and healthy life.
What is the best whiskey cocktail?
I personally am a huge fan of whiskey sours. The sweet and the sour with a kick of whiskey make for a perfect combination in my book. But there are many who prefer a more whiskey forward taste and they may prefer an Old Fashioned for example. The trick is to try a few and see what you like!
What are the 6 basic cocktails?
We’ve covered a few of them in this list. The Daiquiri, the Jack Rose, the Manhattan, the Martini, the Old Fashioned, and the Sidecar are the basic cocktails that any respected bartender should know how to make.
What mixes good with whiskey?
That depends on what you like but you surely can’t go wrong with a bit of citrus. Anything orange or lemon will compliment it well, even if that just means adding a twist to your whiskey on the rocks. I also knew someone who loved a whiskey and apple juice combination.
What is a good whiskey?
There are so many different types of whiskeys. I love a whiskey made from Japan, whereas my whiskey loving father prefers a good bourbon. A good whiskey is very dependent on the flavor profile of the consumer. I’d recommend trying a few and seeing which ones you prefer.
What is the best whiskey to drink straight and what’s the smoothest?
I love Hakushu 12-Year-old whiskey because it’s a bit sweeter than others and goes down smooth. But you can never go wrong with anything Johnnie Walker (though technically that’s a Scotch whiskey). Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, just like whiskey lovers love the whiskey they love. While some may prefer a Glenmorangie 18-Year-Old whisky, someone else may be perfectly happy with a Jack Daniels on the rocks.
Written by Monique NicholasBased in Vancouver, Monique enjoys jumping into bodies of water, sending postcards, and adding lemon to every single one of her dishes.