We’re in the midst of an American whiskey revolution, and bartenders are on the front lines. Whether you favor the spice of rye, the smooth corn sweetness of bourbon or the dizzying array of flavors found in domestic single malts, there’s a cocktail to showcase it. These are the 10 American whiskey cocktails you should be drinking now.
Can't make it to any of the bars serving these great drinks with bourbon and other American whiskeys? Try mixing the White Summer Sazerac from this list at home.
The cocktail menu at The Fat Radish runs vegetal, mixing house-made juices and tinctures with small-batch spirits like New York’s own Kings County distillery, producers of bourbon, moonshine and other American whiskeys. The White Summer Sazerac features a blend of its corn and rye whiskey with a touch of Bolivian Singani 63 brandy, Italian Italicus aperitivo, celery and fennel bitters, and celery salt, finished with a few spritzes of absinthe.
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The latest menu at White Cap is garage-sale themed and illustrated by local artist Lauren Linagen and features drinks named after sundresses and fly rods. The Snow Shoes starts with George Dickel rye mixed with smoked pineapple, pecan orgeat, lime and bitters. Served over crushed ice and dusted with lime zest, it’s robust, zesty, smoky and bright all at once.
Bar director Stacie Stewart plays with ingredients from grilled shishito peppers to the caraway-cumin-dill savoriness of kummel liqueur. Her Kentucky Michelada is served tall and generous, featuring bourbon-barrel ale and nutty-citrus-herbal flavors from oranges, hazelnut and a botanical digestif. The cocktail is knocked into balance with a pinch of salt.
Proxi specializes in global street food served in a lofty, elegant space. Head bartender Josh Relkin utilizes his culinary school background and stints at iconic restaurants and bars like Alinea, The Aviary, Per Se and The Violet Hour to hone his culinary cocktails. The Melody & Harmony features Evan Williams bottled-in-bond bourbon, its vanilla notes complemented with kumquat, lemon, fresh mint and Giffard white crème de cacao liqueur.
The one true cocktail oasis near painfully touristy Times Square and the Theater District, The Rum House has been a respite for jazz, rum and classic cocktails for decades, thankfully brought back to life, with improved cocktails, in 2011 by the Ward III crew. With its old-school NYC vibe and piano bar sultriness, you can slip away from the noise outside for a dram or well-made drink. But they don’t just do right by rum. American whiskey plays a prominent role in the classics, as it does in the Broadway Circa 1985 cocktail. An homage to the Manhattan, it combines Old Overholt rye and funky Plantation O.F.T.D. rum with a mix of Cinzano rosso vermouth, Zucca rabarbaro liqueur, demerara sugar and a couple dashes of Angostura bitters.
One of the most hyped restaurants (and toughest reservations) in the country right now is Che Fico, a modern taverna with unique pizzas, pastas and only-in-S.F. magic from chef David Nayfeld. Equally worth the hype are Christopher Longoria’s impeccably balanced drinks pulling from the herbs- and produce-driven focus he has long been known for but with a spirit-forward angle. Rosemary is a tall refresher of rye whiskey, lemon juice and cabernet that gains depth from Cappelletti amaro sfumato rabarbaro and Angostura bitters.
The drinks may be basic at Charleston’s Swig & Swine, but you come first and foremost for gifted pitmaster and chef Anthony DiBernardo’s stellar barbecue. Whether pulled pork, brisket, ribs or sausage (get a platter of all three), his is some of the best barbecue in Charleston. Bourbon is the obvious pairing, and the bar and cocktails are heavy with it, including Charleston’s own Virgil Kaine ginger-infused bourbon. The Big Bubba is a simple but refreshing mix of this local bourbon with ginger beer, pineapple and fresh basil that’s crisp, sweet and spiced, washing down all that delicious meat.
The elevated grub at The Happiest Hour is an ode to Southern California, where fast food first went mainstream. The classic-style cheeseburger is arguably one of the best in NYC. The cocktails, though straightforward soda sippers, are well-balanced and refreshing. The What the Doctor Ordered is a house standard for a reason: House sarsaparilla, vanilla and wintergreen soda is amped up with your choice of rye whiskey, aged rum or scotch. We recommend the American rye whiskey.
Ever since Michael Kudra came on board, three-Michelin-starred Quince has become destination-worthy for its drinks as well as chef Michael Tusk’s brilliant food and pastas. Kudra plays with vintage spirits in cocktails from Quince’s robust selection of rare whiskeys, amari and grappa. Though classic, his Elmer T. Lee Old Fashioned is not to be passed over. With notes of vanilla, clove and leather, Elmer T. Lee is one of Buffalo Trace’s cult whiskeys and as the base of this Old Fashioned is deftly mixed with orange bitters. Kudra’s attention to oft-overlooked details, like exact ratios and stirring with different kinds of ice, results in silky texture and balance—a perfect Old Fashioned.
Baba serves a range of snacks and set-price brunches on weekends with cocktails that occasionally feature Eastern European spirits like rakia (a fruit brandy that’s big in the Balkans) or slivovitz (plum brandy). Serbian-born beverage director Danilo Simic infuses bourbon with caramel popcorn in the Cinema Manhattan, mixed with cherry bitters and a port–Coca-Cola reduction instead of sweet vermouth, paired with sweet and spicy popcorn for a salty-sweet combo.
Mixing your cocktail