Make no mistake – we love to keep our whisky as classic as can be, garnished with little more than a ice cube or two to better bring out all those lovely subtleties and secondary notes. But that’s not to say that we’re completely averse to experimenting from time to time, and discovering the kind of cocktails which allow us to completely reappraise our favourite spirits.
Unusual and often bizarre cocktails bring a real sense of fun and ceremony to whisky drinking, and explore the harmonies which exist between the flavours in the spirit and the added ingredients. They’re not necessarily the kind of things we’d like to sip on at the end of long day, but when the sun is blazing and we’re surrounded by friends and laughter, they can really hit the spot.
We’ve scoured the great whisky cocktail recipe books of the world, and have spent some serious time with our cocktail shakers in order to seek out the best of the uncommon interpretations out there (it’s a hard job, but someone’s got to do it…). We reckon we’ve uncovered five absolute gems that are sure to take your whisky game to the next level, and which are guaranteed to impress your guests and set your taste buds alight. Enjoy!
Unlike most of the whisky cocktails in this list, The Sazerac would more accurately be described as a ‘lost classic’ rather than an unusual new creation. Indeed, this particular cocktail is one of the oldest recorded whisky cocktails in the world, and dates back to the 1800s when it was dreamed up by a Louisiana chemist seeking a cure for ‘tropical malaise’. Despite its medicinal origins, this cocktail is a delicious, deeply flavourful use of whisky, and provides an unforgettable and highly sophisticated taste sensation.
- 1 oz Absinthe (to be used as a rinse)
- 2 oz Rye Whisky
- 3 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
- ½ tsp of sugar or sugar syrup
Add the absinthe to a glass, along with an ice cube. Allow the ice to chill and slightly louche the absinthe, and swill it well around the glass to coat the base and sides, before draining. Add the rest of the ingredients, shake well with more ice, then pour into an Old Fashioned glass and garnish with a lemon twist.
Maple Rye Sour
Despite containing two quintessentially Canadian ingredients (Rye Whisky and maple syrup) this particular cocktail was invented in the legendary Clover Club in Brooklyn. It’s a trendy, relaxed, and utterly delicious cocktail, which provides a real punch of flavour on the finish.
- 2 oz quality Rye Whisky
- ½ oz fresh lemon juice
- ½ oz fresh orange juice
- ¼ oz maple syrup
- ¼ oz Luxardo Amaro Abano liqueur
- Orange twist, for garnish
Combine all of the ingredients (minus the garnish) in a cocktail shaker along with plenty of ice, and shake vigorously until well chilled. Pour into a Sours glass, and add the orange twist.
Blood Orange Bourbon
Bourbon and citrus is one of those flavour combinations which was always meant to be, and in this cocktail, the bittersweet sourness of the blood orange really brings out that caramel complexity we know and love from a great Bourbon. It’s essentially a twist on a Whiskey sour, yet one which brings a real sense of grown-up and exotic sophistication from the choice of citrus juice in the mix. Deeply flavourful, gorgeously complex, and about as satisfying as it’s possible to be.
- 4 fresh raspberries
- 1 ½ tbsp lime juice
- 1 ½ tbsp blood orange juice
- 1 ½ tbsp ginger syrup (see recipe below)
- 4 tbsp Bourbon
- 2 tbsp Club Soda
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 inches of root ginger, peeled and sliced into thin discs
Muddle together the raspberries, ginger syrup, lime juice, and blood orange juice in a cocktail shaker. Pour in the Bourbon, and stir well to combine. Strain into a glass with plenty of ice. Top up with Club Soda, garnish with more raspberries and a slice of blood orange.
Bourbon Sweet Tea
America’s South is a part of the world with an absolute treasure trove of unique and utterly delicious recipes. If you want to explore the roots of Bourbon, and create a cocktail which reflects the origins of this all-American spirit, then you can’t go far wrong with a Bourbon sweet tea. It’s the not the kind of cocktail you’ll want to drink every day… but on those days when the sun is beating down, and you want to relax in your garden with a cooling, tasty, laid-back Bourbon drink, this one well and truly ticks all the right boxes.
- 1 cup of homemade sweet tea (recipe below)
- 1 oz Bourbon
- 1 lemon wedge
- Mint leaves to garnish
Sweet Tea Recipe
- 3 cups of boiling water
- 8 black tea bags
- ¾ cup of sugar
- 3 cups of cold water
- 10 mint leaves
First of all, prepare your homemade sweet tea. Boil your 3 cups of water, add the tea bags and the mint leaves, and leave them to steep – just cover the pot, and leave it to one side for 15 minutes. While your tea is still hot, stir in the sugar until it has all dissolved, then add the cold water, pour into a pitcher, and stick it in the fridge to chill.
For the cocktail, add the tea, Bourbon, and a squeeze of lemon juice to a tall glass. Stir, top with ice, and garnish with the lemon wedge and a couple of mint leaves.
This unique cocktail takes the classic flavours of a timeless Indian chai, and brings those warming spices into the lightly spiced sweetness of your favourite Bourbon. It’s a simple masterclass in harmonising flavours, and once tried, won’t be forgotten in a hurry. What’s more, it’s a fantastic update to the classic Hot Toddy, and if you’re feeling a little under the weather, this warm cocktail is sure to get you back on your feet in no time at all.
- 2 cinnamon sticks, broken
- 20 black peppercorns
- 16 cloves
- 8 cardamom pods (seeds removed from the pods)
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- Pinch of fresh nutmeg
- 1 quart of whole milk
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- 1 tbsp loose leaf black tea
- 3 oz Bourbon or Rye Whisky
First of all, use a spice grinder to blend all the spices to a powder. In a saucepan, bring the quart of milk up to a simmer. Remove from the heat, and add the tea, the sugar, and the spices. Leave to stand for 10 minutes, before straining it all into a bowl. Give the saucepan a good wipe to remove the spice residue. Return the chai to the saucepan, and gently warm through. Add the whisky, stir well, and serve hot.