A common misconception held by many whisky enthusiasts is that there’s a “right” way to drink the amber ambrosia and that it is a sin to mix whisky. But is that really true?
It’s easy to feel inundated with do’s and don’ts when approaching whisky for the first time, but don’t let yourself fall prey to the self-proclaimed pros. Neat, on the rocks, with water or in a cocktail: there are countless ways to consume whisky, all of which come down to personal taste. With new and exciting whisky mixers being introduced on the regular, it would be a shame not to try your hand at creating your own signature whisky drink.
Here we’ll discuss some of the most popular ways to mix whisky, from basic sodas to speakeasy callbacks.
Do People Usually Mix Whisky?
Whisky is often taken neat–that is to say, poured directly into a glass (no measuring tools) and consumed without ice, mixers, or aromatics. Experts recommend drinking from a room-temperature lowball glass and sipping slowly. The point of drinking whisky neat is to savour the flavour nuances without dilution or “interruption.”
While old western movies are keen to depict their heroes pounding back shot after shot of whisky, this would generally be considered poor form, especially with top shelf whiskies. Whisky is meant to be savoured which is why if you are going to opt to mix whisky, it is commonly advised for it to be with something like water or soda that will only dilute your beverage rather than affect the flavour.
Whisky And Soda
When most of us think about popular whisky + soda combos, a whisky coke probably springs to mind. First mentioned in 1907 by an employee of the United States Bureau of Chemistry and Soils during a visit to the south, the “Coca-Cola high-ball” would eventually go on to become a classic in whisky cocktail culture.
This winning combination of Coca-Cola and whisky–the latter typically an Irish or Tennessee whisky–not only lends a smooth, rounded sweetness, but also brings out deeper molasses notes. A few cubes of ice and slice of lime can be added as well.
Cola isn’t the only possible whisky mixer, however. Lemon-lime sodas like Sprite or 7UP offer an especially refreshing twist, with the world famous Seven & Seven (or 7&7), consisting of Seagram’s 7 Crown Whisky and 7Up, a bar menu staple. Ginger sodas also make for a nice variation on the Moscow Mule and Dark n’ Stormy.
Club soda is a time-honoured mixer and recommended alternative to water, as the sugarless, calorie-free beverage enhances the natural flavours of whisky without overpowering them, resulting in an equally refreshing but cleaner mixed drink.
A less common but equally fantastic mixer is root beer, which has become increasingly favoured by mixologists thanks to its smoky, spicy notes and sarsaparilla-esque sweetness.
You Can Mix Whisky With Tea & Coffee
Tea and coffee are both excellent whisky mixers, ideal for both warm and colder seasons. A hot toddy, consisting of whisky, honey, lemon, and cinnamon, is a classic cold season remedy, while iced sweet tea and bourbon has long been regarded by southerners as the quintessential summer heat-beater. When creating a whisky and iced tea cocktail, you can use any tea of your liking, although black teas usually produce a bolder taste.
If you’ve heard of or are a fan of Irish Coffee, that boozy, caffeinated creation of whisky (historically Jameson), espresso, whipped cream, and garnishing spices, you might be interested in trying an Irish White Russian, featuring whisky, Bailey’s, coffee liquor, and heavy cream.
Mix Whisky And Juice
There are a variety of whisky cocktails featuring fruit juices, nectars, and essences, but sometimes it’s as simple as whipping up a fresh pitcher of lemonade and adding your favourite whisky. Whisky and lemonade, like bourbon iced tea, is extremely popular in the south, and a deliciously convenient way to keep guests refreshed during summertime gatherings. It’s worth noting that lemon juice is periodically used in whisky cocktails to effect that extra “kick.”
For a more autumnal option, whisky and apple cider served hot or over ice makes for the perfect harvest time cocktail.
Whisky And Water
Adding water to whisky has long been believed to bring out the latter’s flavours and overall richness. Iconic bourbon distiller Pappy Van Winkle famously refused to water down his elixir, preferring that people undertake the task themselves, quipping: “That way you make a poor thing better rather than a fine thing worse.” More to the point, aromatic whisky compounds are hydrophobic, meaning they repel water and are thus easier to detect with a little added aqua.
While there’s no hard and fast method to mix whisky and water, it’s generally recommended that you add a capful of still mineral water to whisky poured neat. This will open the flavour notes as well as smooth out the overall taste, allowing you to better savour the selected whisky.
Are There Recommended Whiskies For Each Mixer?
As mentioned above, personal taste is everything when it comes to deciding on what to mix whisky with. Most would agree that it’s best to save the nicer whiskies for sipping neat or at most enjoying on the rocks or with a little added water, but even this could be negated on account of individual preferences.
If you’re new to mixing whisky, a good rule of thumb is to remember that age isn’t necessarily a relative factor; for example, if you’re having a whisky coke, you probably don’t want to reach for a 16 year-old Scotch whisky, but opt for a reputable young whisky that will blend seamlessly without breaking your bank. On the other hand, a good bourbon is a must for whisky mainstay cocktails like Mint Juleps and Manhattans.
Something Old, Something New: 6 Whisky Cocktails To Try Tonight
Like many–if not most–cocktails, the Manhattan’s origins are somewhat nebulous. The cocktail’s first noteworthy mention can be found in an 1882 issue of The Democrat, which claimed: “It is but a short time ago that a mixture of whisky, vermouth and bitters came into vogue,” further dropping the drink’s alternative names “Jockey Club” and “Turf Club” cocktail. Whatever you care to call it, there’s no denying that this cocktail is a must for any whisky devotee.
- Cocktail Glass
- Cocktail Spoon
- Chilled Glass for serving
- 2 ounces Bourbon
- 1 ounce Sweet Vermouth
- 2 drops Angostura Bitters
- 1 drop Orange Bitters
- 1 Cherry To garnish
- Mix whisky, vermouth and bitters in a cocktail glass
- Add ice and stir
- Strain into a chilled cocktail glass
- Garnish with the cherry
2. Old Fashioned
The earliest written Old Fashioned recipe can be found in Jerry Thomas’ Bartenders Guide: How To Mix Drinks, published in 1862, with Louisville’s own Pendennis Club taking credit for the cocktail’s modern revision in 1880. A blend of bourbon, bitters, sugar, and soda, the Old Fashioned derives its name from a specific request to combine the above ingredients “the old fashioned way” when ordering at late 19th century bars and clubs.
- Old Fashioned Glass
- Stirring Spoon
- 2 ounces Blended Whisky
- 1/4 ounces Simple Syrup
- 3 drops Aromatic Bitters
- 1 Cherry/Lemon Twist To garnish
- Add the ingredients to an Old Fashioned glass and stir with one ice cube
- Gradually add more ice cubes and continue to stir
- Garnish with a cherry or lemon twist
3. Mint Julep
The Mint Julep’s origins can be traced back to a centuries-old Arabic drink called “julab,” comprised of water and rose petals, with later Mediterranean cultures swapping rose petals for mint leaves. The Mint Julep as we know it today found its feet in the 18th century American south, with the Kentucky Derby declaring it their official drink in 1983.
- Julep Cup
- 4-5 Mint Sprigs
- 2 Sugar Cubes
- 2 1/2 ounces Bourbon
- Place the mint leave and sugar cube in the julep cup
- Add crushed ice and pour in the Bourbon
- Garnish with mint leaves
4. Bourbon Iced Tea
This summer-friendly cocktail can be made using traditional black tea (sweetened or unsweetened) or your favourite herbal or fruit variety. For a single serving simply prepare a glass of iced tea as you normally would, then add your desired amount of bourbon. For a pitcher, use one part whisky to three parts tea. Garnish with lemon, lime, mint, or fruit.
Bourbon Iced Tea
- Old Fashioned Glass
- 1 1/2 ounces Bourbon
- 1/2 ounce Limoncello
- 4 ounces Freshly brewed iced tea (Your tea of choice)
- 1 Lemon wedge For garnish
- In the old fashioned glass, mix the whisky and limoncello
- Add ice to the glass
- Pour your iced tea over the whisky and limoncello mix
- Garnish with the lemon wedge
5. Harvest Sour
Often described as a fall-tinged whisky sour, this cocktail is right at home in the Halloween months.
- cocktail shaker
- cocktail strainer
- chilled glass
- 1 ounce Whisky
- 1 ounce Apple Brandy
- 3/4 ounces Lemon juice
- 3/4 ounces Sugar syrup
- 1 Egg white
- 1 Cinnamon stick To garnish
- Add all of the ingredients, except the cinnamon sticks to the cocktail shaker
- Shake, then add ice and shake again
- Double strain into a chilled glass
- Add cinnamon stick to garnish
6. The Tallulah
An ingenious twist on the classic Jack and Coke, the addition of peanut orgeat to this cocktail harkens back to the early American tradition of adding salted peanuts to sweet drinks to balance the sugar and, in this case, bring the whisky notes to the forefront in a more palatable style. Arguably more popular with those south of the Mason-Dixon line, The Tallulah is both a heritage throwback and thoroughly modern drink.
- Food processor
- cocktail strainer
- 1 3/4 ounces Jack Daniels
- 1 ounce Peanut orgeat
- Coca Cola
Peanut Orgeat Ingredients
- 2 cups Unsalted peanuts
- 1 1/2 cups Sugar
- 1/4 cup Water
- 1 ounce Brandy
- 1 tsp Orange flower water
- Pulverise 2 cups of unsalted peanuts in a food processor
- Meanwhile create a sugar syrup from 1 1/2 cups of sugar and 1/4 cup of water and stir over a medium heat
- Once the syrup reaches a boil, add the peanuts and allow it to simmer for 5 minutes.
- Strain the syrup and let it cool.
- Add 1 ounce brandy
- Add 1 teaspoon of orange flower water
Create Your Cocktail
- Mix whisky and the peanut orgeat and pour into a glass over ice
- Stir, then top with coca cola
- Garnish with roasted peanuts
For Your Inspiration: Famous Whisky Drinks Favoured By The Famous
1. Ernest Hemingway: Scotch & Soda
Writer, world traveler, and first-class drinker Ernest Hemingway was as famous (or notorious, depending on who you asked) for his marathon alcohol consumption as his literary masterpieces. At his core, however, Hemingway was a man of simple tastes who preferred a scotch and soda above all else, as referenced in his autobiographical story “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.”
2. Dorothy Parker: Whisky Sour
Literary critic and round table wit Dorothy Parker enjoyed a Jazz Age array of cocktails on the regular, but solidified her reputation following a simple breakfast request. After spending the night at a friend’s house, Ms. Parker was asked the following morning what she would like for breakfast. Her pert response: “A whisky sour.”
3. Winston Churchill: Johnnie Walker & Soda
Former prime minister Winston Churchill wasn’t shy about drinking, and enjoyed all manner of wines, cocktails, and liquors from sunup to sundown. Surprisingly, Churchill wasn’t initially a fan of whisky, claiming it was better suited for drab, chilly moors than the London social club. However, the man who lead his country through World War II developed a taste for Johnnie Walker Red & soda, which he considered his “morning drink.”
4. Johnny Depp: Bourbon Sour
Eccentric actor, celebrity bad boy, and Kentucky native Johnny Depp may purportedly spend an eye-opening $30,000 a month on wine, but is a long-time fan of the Bourbon Sour.
5. Anthony Burgess: Hangman’s Blood
Writer and composer Anthony Burgess enjoyed what can only be called a drinking man’s Long Island Iced Tea: a formidable concoction of whisky, gin, rum, port, champagne, stout, and brandy. The next time you’re at a loss as to how to mix whisky, consider this your cheatsheet.