A fascinating spirit made all over the world, whiskey (or whisky depending on where it’s made) is an exciting spirit category to explore. Not only does it taste delicious sipped neat, but it lends itself well to a host of mixed drinks.
“Whiskey is remarkably versatile,” says Kara Newman, Wine Enthusiast writer at large and spirit reviewer. “Sure, it’s enjoyable neat or over ice. But whiskey’s vanilla and spice meld beautifully with a wide range of mixers. And those looking to temper with whiskey’s strength may find that it’s even better when judiciously mixed.”
While Cola and other sodas are popular whiskey mixers, we asked the experts for their go-to orders and some extra things to keep in mind.
What Can You Mix with Whiskey?
We think the more accurate question is ‘what can’t you mix with whiskey? But Newman has some helpful tips to keep in mind on what flavors work best and why when it comes to whiskey mixers.
Ginger beer or ale mix “well with all whiskey types. Whiskey’s natural spice notes meld well with the sweet spices of ginger ale and ginger beer,” says Newman.
“Cola’s a bit harder to mix,” she says. “Personally, I think it works well with whiskey style that includes a bit of char: bourbon, Tennessee whiskey. There’s a reason Jack and Coke is a classic. Tennessee whiskey and Cola are both full-bodied, and the allspice/vanilla of cola blends beautifully with Tennessee whiskey’s oak and spice.”
One mixer you should avoid? “Tonic water,” says Newman. “Gin and tonic is great. Whiskey and tonic means you hate whiskey. And maybe yourself.”
Here are some of the best whiskey mixers according to Wine Enthusiast staff and other drinks pros to try the next time you want to shake up (or stir up) a new favorite.
The Best Whiskey Mixers
Why We Love It: “One of the best things you can do for your home bar might be adding a water carbonation system such as the SodaStream or Aarke. You have an immediate and endless supply of bubbly water dialed to your liking (and think of all those single-use bottles you’re sparing), and you’ve mastered one of the more versatile [whiskey] mixers. Add a splash of soda over a couple of ounces of whiskey or bourbon on the rocks in you have a slow sipper that tickles your nose. Add in a dash of citrus bitters or [a] squeeze of lime to brighten and refresh it even more.” —John Capone, Wine Enthusiast Managing Editor, Print
Why We Love It: “Amaros can lend to the more medicinal or sweeter spectrum. What you pair is really up to your palate, or whatever amaro you have around from the last family gathering or holiday meal. And while something like Nonino, with its blend of bitter and sweet and vanilla notes, can make a fine Manhattan with your favorite bourbon, you may prefer more herbaceousness all around. An example of this is Facccia Brutto’s Amaro Gorini (aged in whiskey barrels) mixed with rye. This pulls out the pepper and spice in each that plays against the sweetness of the amaro. Add a splash of ginger liqueur and lime juice and top with soda water and you’ve got yourself a quick and basic Roman Highball.” —J.C.
Why We Love It: “You can’t go wrong with a simple whiskey-ginger. A combo of whiskey and ginger ale is my go-to drink in dive bars. ”—Rachel Tepper Paley, Wine Enthusiast Digital Managing Editor
“My go-to is on the rocks, but when I was in Ireland I was turned onto mixing whiskey with ginger ale. Other popular options aside from Coke or Pepsi (from my bartending days) are iced tea or ginger beer.” —Craig Chamberlain, Wine Enthusiast Senior Tasting Coordinator
Vermouth and Bitters
Why We Love It: “My go-to is a simple, classic Manhattan, two parts Maker’s Mark or Woodford Reserve Bourbon, one-part sweet red vermouth and a couple of dashes of bitters, stirred with a little ice. No shaking, no frills, all smooth and deep. Oh, and I plop a maraschino cherry in there when I have them.” —Jim Gordon, Wine Enthusiast Senior Tasting Editor
Why We Love It: “Pellegrino Limonata or any sparkling lemon soda. Whiskey sours are delightful because the interplay of sweet and tart works so well with whiskey—all kinds of whiskey. Mixing whiskey with lemonade or a sparkling lemon soda is a shortcut to whiskey sours and variations like the Gold Rush and even the smoky Penicillin.” —Kara Newman, Wine Enthusiast writer at large and spirit reviewer.
Warm Apple Cider
Why We Love It: “One of my favorite bar orders during the colder months is a Classic Hot Toddy. I know—it doesn’t exactly match the vibe of beer bottles and vodka cranberries. But the combination of warm apple cider and whiskey is both inviting and satisfying. It also makes quite a statement.”—Samantha Sette, Wine Enthusiast Digital Web Producer
Why We Love It: “I love to use simple syrup and lemon juice as a whiskey mixer for a very quick DIY whiskey sour. I love a good sweet-and-sour drink, and this one always hits the spot. ”—Arielle Weg, Wine Enthusiast Senior Digital Editor
Why we love it: “Everybody’s heard of ‘backs,’ shots of all sorts of brines served alongside a shot of whiskey. But I actually find that olive brine works really well as a whiskey mixer. It brings a delicate salinity and umami to whiskey drinks, especially those made with bourbon or Tennessee whiskey like Jack Daniel’s as the salt balances the sweetness from the corn in the whiskey. Dirty Sue [Premium Olive Juice] is always at our bar, not only because it’s the best on the market, but also because it was created by a bartender right here in Los Angeles. Try it in a Dirty Whiskey Margarita.” —Keith McCarthy, General Manager, Jones Hollywood, West Hollywood, California
Try the Recipe: Whisk(e)y A Go Go
Recipe courtesy of Keith McCarthy, General Manager, Jones Hollywood, West Hollywood, California
- 2 ounces Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey (Or any other whiskey with sweetness)
- 1 ounce Go Go juice (ingredients and directions follow)
- 1 ounce simple syrup
- 1/8 ounce Dirty Sue Premium Olive Juice
- Half an orange wheel and cherry, for garnish
Add ingredients to a cocktail shaker with ice and shake vigorously. Fill an old-fashioned glass with fresh ice and strain the cocktail into the glass. Garnish with an orange wheel and cherry.
Go-Go Juice Directions
Mix two-parts fresh lemon juice with one-part fresh lime juice and one-part fresh grapefruit juice.