Here are all the best whiskey cocktails! Pick from these easy classic drinks using bourbon, Scotch, Irish and rye whiskey.
Got a great bottle of whiskey? Let’s make a cocktail! Here’s a list of the best whiskey cocktails that’s a true history lesson…so you can count your drinking as learning, too! These classic cocktails span the ages: starting in 1688, through the 1800’s to the Prohibition Era and today. Sample from all the classic whiskey cocktails, and then see what modern bartenders are whipping up. The cocktail recipes in the list below include:
Rye whiskey cocktails
Scotch whisky cocktails
Irish whiskey cocktails
There are summer whiskey cocktails, and drinks more suited for fall and winter. There are easy whiskey cocktails and craft drinks with more unique ingredients. They’re sweet, sour, spicy, spirit-forward, fruity: there’s truly something for everyone, even those on the fence about this spicy spirit. Let’s get to the list: because it’s truly something special.
First up: the most classic whiskey cocktail of them all. The Whiskey Sour! It's balanced and sweet tart, with the spicy whiskey against the acidity of lemon and the sweetness of simple syrup. Use maple syrup to add a nuanced flavor or stick with the traditional simple syrup. Try an egg white foam topping to make a Boston Sour.
The whiskey smash dates back to at least the 1880’s! It was listed in a bartender guide published in 1887. So you can imagine people in the Victorian times guzzling down this drink! It’s a summer whiskey cocktail made with lemon, mint, whiskey, and sweetener, and served with crushed ice.
Here’s a refreshing whiskey cocktail: the classic Whiskey Highball! This two-ingredient cocktail originated around the turn of the 20th century and it’s still popular to this day. Why? It’s so easy to make: no cocktail shakers or fancy ingredients required! It’s an intriguing way to enjoy the flavors in a sip of whiskey. This drink has two variations: one straight classic for whiskey lovers, and one as a more balanced drink. Serve it in summer or anytime you need a bubbly refresher.
The Old Fashioned is barely a cocktail at all: just lightly sweetened booze seasoned with bitters. But it’s become one of the most famous classic whiskey cocktails there is: possibly because it’s the oldest. This baby dates back to the early 1800’s, before the words classic and cocktail were even said next to each other. The recipe is pretty standard, but everyone has their own spin. Here’s how to make a classic bourbon Old Fashioned cocktail that lets the whiskey shine.
Here's a classic whiskey cocktail: the Manhattan! It goes all the way back to the 1870’s, so it’s older than most cocktails (which sprung up in the 1920’s and 30’s). The drink was invented at a club called The Manhattan Club in New York City, hence the name. It’s a three ingredient cocktail, but there’s so much going on in one sip! Vanilla, oak and caramel notes from the bourbon, sweet and spicy from the vermouth, and bitter and herby from the bitters.
The Boulevardier is a classic cocktail that was invented in the 1920’s. It’s a variation on the Negroni that swaps gin for whiskey. It's thought to have been invented by an American writer who founded a monthly magazine in Paris called the Boulevardier. It’s essentially a Negroni made with whiskey instead of gin, and wow! The sweetness of the bourbon perfectly balances the flavor.
Here’s a refreshing Irish whiskey cocktail perfect for summer: meet the Irish mule! This spin on the classic Moscow Mule is bubbly and light, with a spicy whiskey finish. It’s a good intro drink to whiskey and a way to make any party more fun! Even better: it couldn’t be easier: all you do is pour 3 ingredients into a glass. Now that’s our kind of cocktail!
The mint julep is actually one of the oldest whiskey cocktails there is: it originated in the Southern US in the eighteenth century. The first mention of it was in 1784 -- as a prescription for a stomach ache! Yep, it was actually prescribed as medicine back in the day. It wasn’t until 1938 that the julep was promoted as the official drink of the Kentucky Derby. It's a great summer whiskey cocktail, but you can drink it anytime.
The Paper Plane cocktail is a drink featuring bourbon, Aperol and amaro created in 2007 by bartender Sam Ross. He later started making it at the famous Milk & Honey bar in New York City. This one is a brilliant study in balance and contrast. It’s bitter, sweet and tangy all at once, hitting a magical synergy between the bourbon and amaro.
This classy whiskey cocktail has a retro name and a sweet tart flavor: it’s the Gold Rush! The name makes it sounds like a 1920’s mixed drink, but it’s actually a modern take on the classic whiskey sour. This spin on the whiskey sour using honey syrup instead of simple syrup was invented in the mid-2000’s in New York City. The honey gives this cocktail a depth and richness that simple syrup lacks.
The New York Sour is a well-known variation on the whiskey sour that floats a layer of red wine on top. It’s thought to have been invented by a bartender in the 1880’s in Chicago, then picked up and made popular in New York City (hence the name). The red wine adds intrigue, complexity and a fruity acidity: not to mention it looks simply stunning with the bright two-toned layer.
The bourbon Sidecar is a variation on the classic Sidecar, one of the great sour cocktails. It was invented in the 1920s, and the name likely came from an American army captain who drove around in a motorcycle sidecar. Change the brandy to bourbon, and you’ve got a whole new drink! This one trades the fruitiness of brandy for the spicy sweet finish of bourbon whiskey.
Here’s a drink that surprised us with its complex, creamy flavor: Milk Punch! This tasty drink is one of the oldest cocktails there is: it was first written down in 1688 in Scotland! Featuring brandy, bourbon, milk and sugar, it’s a popular brunch drink in New Orleans and in the American South. When you take the first sip, you'll realize the genius of it: the creamy, cool milk against the spice of the brandy and the nuance of vanilla extract.
Here’s a whiskey cocktail that’s sweet, citrusy and just plain fun: the Brown Derby cocktail! This 1930’s retro drink was named after a restaurant chain in LA. It tones down spicy whiskey with sweet grapefruit juice. The unique thing about this drink? It uses honey syrup instead of the traditional simple syrup, which adds complexity and mellow undertones.
Let's move on to rye whiskey cocktails! Love a Manhattan? Then you absolutely must try this unique spin on the classic whiskey cocktail: the Brooklyn! The Brooklyn is a mixed drink named after the Brooklyn neighborhood in New York City. It’s a spin on the Manhattan using rye whiskey, dry vermouth and Maraschino liqueur. The first printed recipe for this drink appeared in 1908.
Here’s a classic rye whiskey cocktail that’s one of the greats: the Sazerac! The Sazerac is made with Cognac or rye whiskey, absinthe, and Peychaud’s bitters. It's a little like an Old Fashioned, but the absinthe gives a black licorice finish to each sip! This outlawed liquor is now back in good graces (since 2007, at least), and it’s good reason to try this famous slow sipper. It’s the official drink of New Orleans and one of the oldest cocktails there is.
Do you love spirit-forward drinks like the Sazerac or a Manhattan? Then this rye whiskey cocktail's for you: the La Louisiane! This unique drink is a classic cocktail from the 1800’s that most people have never heard of. It’s a lot like a Sazerac: but better. It's got more roundness and complexity in flavors: herbal from Benedictine, lightly sweet from vermouth, with a black licorice finish from absinthe.
Here’s a crisp, punchy three-ingredient drink that’s sleek and sippable: the Old Pal cocktail! It’s complex and spirit-forward, a unique rye whiskey cocktail if you love dry cocktails like a Manhattan. The Old Pal pairs bitter Campari with dry vermouth and fiery rye whiskey into a drink that’s dry, bitter and spicy all at once. Some might say the Old Pal is a variation on a Negroni, but it’s actually closest to the Boulevardier.
Want a sophisticated rye whiskey cocktail to impress? Try the Toronto!A fancy spin on the Old Fashioned, the Toronto features whiskey and Fernet-Branca. It's alcohol-forward, with a sophisticated, complex, and rich flavor. It balances the earthiness of the rye whiskey with the subtle bitterness of the Fernet-Branca.
Looking for a spirit-forward classic whiskey cocktail? Try the Vieux Carre! This unique classic cocktail comes from New Orleans: the name means “French Quarter” in French. It’s strong and alcohol forward, made with not one but two types of bitters. The complex flavor is ideal for whiskey lovers who love to relax with a slow sipper in hand.
Let's move onto Scotch cocktails! The Blood and Sand cocktail is one of the few classic Scotch cocktails, and features blood orange juice and cherry liqueur. It was named after the 1922 silent movie about a bullfighter called Blood and Sand. The natural tie in? The blood orange juice, of course! Instead of spicy and boozy like most Scotch cocktails, it’s the exact opposite! It’s light and semi-sweet, with a balanced and cherry-forward flavor.
Here’s a whiskey cocktail for Scotch lovers and drinkers who need a little extra convincing: try the Godfather! This Scotch and amaretto cocktail is deliciously simple. With just two ingredients, it balances the nutty sweetness of amaretto with the spicy finish of whiskey. The hint of amaretto gives the Scotch a unique intrigue that makes it more palatable than drinking straight up.
Are you a Scotch lover? Here’s the whiskey drink for you: the Penicillin cocktail! This modern classic cocktail highlights the peaty flavor beautifully. Combining Scotch with lemon, honey and ginger makes for a sort of high-class version of the Whiskey Sour. While it pleases even non-Scotch fans (me), you’ll need two bottles of Scotch…making it a drink for die hards. While it sounds like a classic cocktail, this one was invented in the 2000's in New York City.
The Rusty Nail was born back in the 1937 at a British Industries Fair. Then it disappeared into history, only to reappear in the 1960’s as the “in” drink of the moment. This slow sipper got popular in the 1960’s, pairing whisky with Drambuie, a Scotch-based liqueur. All you need is two ingredients and you get lots of flavor: honey, herb and sweet notes from the Drambuie, and a spicy finish from the Scotch.
What if you’re a Scotch lover and a Manhattan lover? Make the Rob Roy! The Rob Roy is a Manhattan made with Scotch whisky instead of bourbon or rye. This booze-forward drink is the perfect way to enjoy a good Scotch! It’s a retro slow-sipper that’s been around since 1894.
This easy whiskey sour recipe is perfectly balanced and so easy to make! Garnish with an orange peel and a cocktail cherry.
2 ounces (4 tablespoons) bourbon whiskey*
1 ounce (2 tablespoons) fresh lemon juice
3/4 ounce (1 1/2 tablespoons) pure maple syrup (or simple syrup)
Garnish: Orange peel and a cocktail cherry
Ice, for serving
Add the bourbon whiskey, lemon juice, and syrup to a cocktail shaker. Fill with a handful of ice and shake until very cold.
Strain the drink into a lowball or Old Fashioned glass. Serve with ice, an orange peel and a cocktail cherry.
*You can use any variety of whiskey, but we prefer it with the sweeter flavor of bourbon.
Keywords: Whiskey cocktails
There are so many great cocktail recipes! Whether you’re an amateur home mixologist or just want to mix up a great drink with whatever’s in your liquor cabinet, we’ve got you covered. Here are some of our best cocktail collections out of our 200+ drinks:
Sonja Overhiser is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best healthy cookbooks of 2018. She’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food blog A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.
Alex Overhiser is an acclaimed food photographer and author based in Indianapolis. He’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the recipe website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Alex is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best vegetarian cookbooks by Epicurious.