Bourbon mixers can complement its taste and take it to the next level.
Bourbon’s earthy and vanilla flavor notes come from the oak barrels, but it also has a distinct smokiness.
While bourbon tastes great in Mint Juleps and Old Fashioneds, there are many more flavor pairings for easy bourbon cocktails.
Best Bourbon Mixers
Scroll ahead to discover a the best bourbon mixers for your next cocktail hour!
If you’re looking to enjoy a perfect bourbon drink, sometimes it’s best not to overcomplicate things. A simple splash or two of H2O can be all it takes.
Bourbon typically boasts an alcohol-by-volume (ABV) of 40%. The strong alcohol content can be overwhelming for some drinkers and mask some of the more delicate flavors.
Adding water to your bourbon can help cut through the alcohol taste and allow the warm, comforting bourbon flavors to shine.
You can customize the strength of your drink by gradually adding water until you reach your desired flavor.
Bourbon and Coke is a classic combo.
The sweetness of the cola complements the smoky flavor of the bourbon.
Despite older generations’ dislike for mixing bourbon, modern drinkers embrace it.
3. Sour Mix
Sour mix is a pre-mixed concoction of citrusy sour flavor and sweetness.
Its origins date back to the 17th century when sailors added citrus fruit juices to spirits to avoid scurvy.
Eventually, the sour taste with added sugar became a mainstay in drinking spirits.
Fresh citrus juices and simple syrup have replaced pre-made bottles of sour mix.
However, if you’re looking for a hassle-free, almost instant way to create the trifecta of sweet, sour, and smoke in a bourbon sour, sour mix is the way to go.
Related: 20 Best Spring Bourbon Cocktails to Sip On This Season
4. Ginger Beer
Bourbon and ginger beer are a match made in heaven.
Ginger beer’s spicy flavor adds a nice kick to the sweet and smoky bourbon.
It’s perfect for making a Kentucky Mule, a twist on the Moscow Mule.
5. Apple Cider
Apple cider is a classic fall drink, and it pairs perfectly with bourbon.
The sweetness of the cider and the smokiness of the bourbon create a warm and cozy drink that’s perfect for chilly evenings.
Related: 11 Best Apple Cider Bourbon Cocktails
Bourbon and coffee make a great combo.
The rich and smooth coffee flavor complements the smoky taste of bourbon.
Coffee liqueur is perfect for making a Revolver.
Bourbon and lemonade are a refreshing duo.
The tartness of the lemonade complements the sweetness and smokiness of the bourbon.
It’s perfect for a hot summer day or a porch hang.
8. Cranberry Juice
Cranberry juice and bourbon make a surprisingly delicious drink.
The tartness of the cranberry juice complements the smokiness of the bourbon.
It’s perfect for making a Bourbon Cranberry Sour. And for fall-inspired bourbon cocktails.
9. Grapefruit Juice
With its perfect level of sourness, grapefruit juice is a great mixer for bourbon cocktails, such as the Penicillin.
Grapefruit is also a “miracle fruit” that contains vitamin C and helps flush out toxins, boost internal efficiency, and improve bodily function.
10. Orange Juice
Orange juice adds some dimension and viscosity to smoky bourbon.
Fresh orange juice with pulp, in particular, contains fiber and flavonoids, which are plant compounds with antioxidant properties.
Adding a drop or two of cocktail tincture bitters or digestive bitters, such as Italian amaros, can balance out the inherent flavor notes in bourbon.
Depending on which digestive bitter is used, the flavors of bourbon can be led in many directions, adding various notes like thyme, anise, mint, cola, and caramel.
12. Sparkling Water
Mixing carbonated water with bourbon is another popular yet simple order at cocktail bars.
Seltzer is a neutral, flavorless fizzy drink that does little to alter bourbon’s intrinsic flavors.
It provides an effervescent texture with every sip, making it refreshing to the mouth.
Different types of sparkling water, such as club soda, sparkling mineral water, tonic water, and seltzer, can be paired with bourbon to create different flavor experiences like a bourbon Rickey.
13. Ginger Ale
Ginger ale combines ginger flavor with carbonated water and sugar.
It makes an easy 2-ingredient bourbon cocktail that it taste great and mixes up fast!
Ginger Ale adds a spicy kick that complements the smokiness in bourbon.
The lemon-lime flavors in Sprite or 7-up provide all the qualities of lemonade and club soda combined.
This sweet, sour, and fizzy mixer is a staple mixer for bartenders.
Related: Summer Bourbon Cocktails: 15 Top Sipping Options
How to Taste Bourbon and Develop Your Palate
If you want to build a bourbon palate like a pro, then you have to experience it with an open mind.
To develop a taste for bourbon, you need to activate your taste and smell receptors to recognize the different flavor notes in the drink.
Bourbon whiskey is made up of various chemicals that produce thousands of different flavor notes, and the number of notes one can detect depends on how activated their palate is based on their past experiences.
People with a more varied diet will be able to detect more flavor and smell notes in bourbon than those with a limited experience.
This is due to science reasons rather than my personal philosophy.
Visit a bourbon distillery
To develop a whiskey palate, one should start by visiting local distilleries and booking guided tastings.
This allows for an understanding of basic flavor notes and what makes them prominent, while also providing a chance to experience the surroundings of the distillery, such as the scents of the warehouse and the trees and bushes nearby.
The more distilleries you visit, the more sensory memories you’ll have and the better frame of reference for future tastings.
By building these sensory memories, the nuances of different bourbons will become more apparent and enjoyable.
Bourbon Flavor Profile
What does bourbon taste like exactly?
Bourbon has a flavor profile all its own.
So, what makes bourbon taste the way it does?
- Bourbon tasting involves considering the nose, flavor, and finish on the palate.
- The tasting notes in bourbon come from factors like yeast strain and aging in charred oak barrels.
- There are 9 common tasting notes found in bourbon.
Tasting notes in bourbon come from various sources like the yeast strain used, mash bill, and aging process in charred oak barrels, which contribute 60% of the flavor.
Several facets explain bourbon’s unique flavor. The nine common tasting notes in bourbon include:
- wood and nuts
- baking spices
- smoky notes
Popular Bourbon Brands
Let’s talk about bourbon brands and their flavor profiles.
- Jim Beam: This classic Kentucky bourbon is the world’s best-selling bourbon. Sometimes, the best stuff is the most affordable.
- Maker’s Mark: Another Kentucky bourbon, Maker’s Mark is known for its distinctive red wax seal and its smooth, balanced flavor profile.
- Bulleit Bourbon: You’ll also taste some sweetness from the corn and a hint of smokiness from the charred oak barrels.
- Wild Turkey: This Kentucky bourbon is a dependable bourbon that is bottled at 101 proof with a slightly hotter, spicier edge than other comparable whiskeys.
- Knob Creek: is a consistently excellent, 100-proof bourbon that is nutty, rich in caramel and brown sugar flavor with limited-edition 12 and 15-year-old expressions available.
- Evan Williams: is a great cheap cocktail bourbon that is stronger at 86 proof with other good expressions to try besides the classic Black Label.
- Four Roses: Yellow Label is an excellent budget bourbon that is great in cocktails and sipping on its own. It is one of the best bourbons you can find for the price, and the Four Roses Small Batch is also tasty and more moderately priced.
- Michter’s: Has a rich flavor profile with notes of sweet, spice, vanilla, and cocoa, making it an excellent choice for everyday drinking.
- Old Forester: is a bourbon brand known for its inexpensive yet high-quality whiskey. It has more flavor than the average bourbon.
How to Drink Bourbon
You can drink bourbon neat, straight up, on the rocks, or in a cocktail.
Neat bourbon is poured into a glass without any mixers or ice.
Straight up bourbon is poured into a glass and chilled, usually by stirring or shaking with ice, and then strained into a glass without the ice.
Bourbon on the rocks is poured over ice cubes in a glass.