Cocktail & Other Recipes By Spirit Bourbon Cocktails

Kentucky Buck

Kentucky Buck cocktail
Image:

Liquor.com / Tim Nusog

The Buck doesn’t stop at Moscow Mules. Just look at the Kentucky Buck, a bourbon-based modern classic from Erick Castro, the co-owner of Polite Provisions and Raised by Wolves in San Diego. The simple and delicious strawberry-and-ginger drink has become a favorite order at bars around the country since it debuted more than a decade ago. 

Castro created the Kentucky Buck in 2008 when he was working at San Francisco’s Bourbon & Branch, where he was developing a submission for the spring cocktail menu. Inspired by in-season strawberries and a lack of bourbon drinks in the classic cocktail books he was reading at the time, he came up with a fruity bourbon-fueled take on the Buck. “I was smitten with the category,” he says of the classic Buck formula, which includes a spirit, citrus, and ginger ale or ginger beer. Castro played around with his version for a couple of months, but the “aha!” moment arrived when he added some Angostura bitters. “Angostura makes everything better,” he says.

The Kentucky Buck didn’t become a permanent menu item at Bourbon & Branch, but six months later, Castro took it to Rickhouse, a new whiskey-focused bar where he had signed on as beverage director. “Every new bar needs a signature drink, and at Rickhouse it just jammed,” he says. He estimates the bar sold more than 30,000 Kentucky Bucks the year it debuted. 

Castro has a few theories as to why the drink took off. “Red drinks always sell,” he says. Not only was it pretty, but its ingredients were familiar to customers. “No one has to go, ‘What’s Averna? Am I saying that right?’ You can look at the drink on a menu and order it with confidence,” he says. 

But the drink’s biggest selling point is almost certainly how delicious it is, no matter what ingredients you have on hand. “In order for a drink to be a classic, or a modern classic especially, there has to be a lot of wiggle room,” says Castro. In the case of the Kentucky Buck, you can use a high-end or bottom-shelf bourbon, lemon or lime juice, or homemade ginger beer or a bottled one. Castro says he has even seen a version of the drink at dive bars made with ginger beer, a squeeze of lemon juice, and a float of strawberry liqueur. The recipe below employs a homemade ginger syrup alongside club soda, producing an extra-refreshing drink. The Kentucky Buck might have gotten its start on a spring cocktail menu, but it’s irresistible any time of year.

Ingredients

  • 2 small strawberries, hulled

  • 3/4 ounce rich ginger syrup (3 parts sugar to 4 parts ginger juice)

  • 2 ounces bourbon

  • 3/4 ounce lemon juice, freshly squeezed

  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters

  • Club soda, chilled, to top (about 2-3 ounces)

  • Garnish: lemon wheel

  • Garnish: strawberry slice

Steps

  1. In a shaker, muddle the strawberries with the ginger syrup.

  2. Add the bourbon, lemon juice, and bitters, plus ice, and shake until well-chilled.

  3. Strain into a Collins glass filled with fresh ice.

  4. Top with the club soda.

  5. Garnish with a lemon wheel and a strawberry slice.