Fall is in the air, and that means our cocktail cravings are turning to dark spirits and bourbon is back on the brain. We’re starting to whip up Old Fashioneds and Manhattans, but we’re always looking for a new drink to embrace autumn with, too. To go beyond our stalwart options, we asked bartenders for their favorite underrated bourbon cocktails. Here’s what they said.
The most underrated bourbon cocktails, according to bartenders:
- The Birdcage
- The Manhattan
- Whiskey Smash
- New York Sour
- Gold Rush
- Left Hand
- Cocoa Puffs Old Fashioned
- Remember the Maine
- Stone Face
- Paper Plane
- Lion’s Tail
- A La Louisiane
“Andrew O’Loughlin of the Penrose came up with a great Jungle Bird riff, the Birdcage, that substitutes bourbon in place of rum and leans into fall flavors. The drink combines bourbon, Method Sweet Vermouth, and cinnamon-spiced Demerara syrup for a burst of fall flavor. Like the Jungle Bird, we add a red bitter liqueur and fresh pineapple juice. It’s a tiki drink for the Northeast.” —Pete Vasconcellos, beverage director, Albert’s Bar, NYC
“The Manhattan. You may ask, is this underrated? Yes, it is. The Manhattan is underrated by the younger generation and doesn’t get the attention it deserves. It’s very classic, with distinct flavors.” —Jon Badaracco, general manager, STATE Grill & Bar, NYC
“A Whiskey Smash, when prepared properly, is the most underrated bourbon cocktail. It is just perfect in its simplicity. Muddle mint, lemon, and sugar, add 2 ounces of bourbon, and serve over crushed ice. I love the idea that it probably tastes roughly the same as it did when it appeared in the “Jerry Thomas Bartenders Guide” in 1887. It is a huge improvement on the Mint Julep, which just seems like an incomplete cocktail by comparison. The addition of acid and aromatic oil from the muddled lemon brightens up the drink into a refreshing summer cooler.” —Rob Ficks, bar manager, Pammy’s, Cambridge, Mass.
“One of my favorite old cocktails to make — which I tend to never see anymore and used to fly off the shelves when I was cutting my teeth in the industry — is a super traditional New York Sour. This is a bit of a gimmicky drink, but I find it perfect for autumn because it’s still refreshing and not too theme-y — I’m looking at you pumpkin spice Negroni!” —Nick Perdue, beverage & entertainment director, Tzeva, Sarasota, Fla.
“The Boulevardier, the Negroni’s cousin, is a bourbon cocktail I believe is underrated. It’s a perfect balance between bourbon, Campari and sweet vermouth, which makes this cocktail very special.” —Cristian Martinez, beverage & food manager, The Foundry, Dayton, OH
“It may seem counterintuitive, but the best time of year for citrus is in the winter. I love this time of year for drinking a Gold Rush, a cousin of a Bee’s Knees cocktail. It’s a cocktail with bourbon, honey syrup, and fresh lemon juice. It is slightly spicy and refreshing.” —Alex Cuper, beverage director, El Che Steakhouse & Bar, Chicago
“One of my favorite cocktails for fall is a Left Hand cocktail, created by Sam Ross. This cocktail is a variation of a Boulevardier that includes bourbon, Campari, sweet vermouth, and chocolate bitters.” —Demi Natoli, beverage director, White Limozeen, Nashville
“The Cocoa Puffs Old Fashioned is a Broken Shaker staple. [With] High West Bourbon, High West Double Rye, and Cocoa Puffs cereal, this cocktail is the perfect bitter yet sweet sip. The playful flavors of the Cocoa Puffs seamlessly blend with the rich, smoky taste of the High West liquors, making the drink an elegant twist on a classic cereal and bringing us all back to our childhood.” —Jose Perez-Roura, property bar manager, Broken Shaker, Miami
“Manhattans and Old Fashioneds get all the love, but the next level up in bourbon cocktails is the Remember the Maine. A combination of bourbon, rye, sweet vermouth, Heering Cherry, and an absinthe rinse, the Remember the Maine is delicious and especially perfect for cold weather.” —Jessi Pollak, bar manager, Spoon and Stable, Minneapolis
“Surely the most underrated drink with bourbon is the Stone Face, a mixture based on bourbon, Angostura, and apple cider. If you have an excellent apple cider, this with bourbon [creates] the perfect blend of vanilla, season, and caramel, all notes that recall the autumn season.” —Massimiliano “Max” Barbetta, Bartender, Antica Pesa, Brooklyn
“Sam Ross’s Paper Plane cocktail continues to impress me as a modern classic. It’s a riff on a Last Word, substituting bourbon for gin, Aperol and Amaro Nonino for Maraschino, and Chartreuse and lemon for lime. It’s an equal-parts cocktail that flexes how a bartender with a good palate can create a unique and balanced cocktail using ingredients found behind an average bar. Try it with N.Y. State-made Neversink Select Bourbon, finished in the casks of their exquisite Apple Aperitif, for a lovely fall flare.” —Leif Huckman, beverage manager, INNESS, Accord, N.Y.
“In my perspective, the most underappreciated gem among bourbon cocktails is the New York Sour. This cocktail artfully combines a unique medley of ingredients that typically don’t find themselves mingling: zesty lemon, frothy egg white, robust red wine, and, of course, the heartwarming embrace of bourbon. The vibrant citrus notes are elegantly tempered by the velvety interplay of egg, sugar, and bourbon, resulting in a harmonious symphony of flavors. As the final touch, the inclusion of red wine adds a sublime rounding quality, leaving you yearning for another sip of this remarkable concoction.” —Judy Elahi, beverage director, Gravitas, Washington, D.C.
“Remember the Maine is one of my favorite bourbon cocktails, whether I’m making it for myself or sharing it with guests. Thanks to the rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, and absinthe, it’s somewhat of a cross between a Sazerac and Manhattan — the perfect drink to pull out for someone who enjoys boozy cocktails. Bonus: How else are you going to move through your Cherry Heering?” —James Coleman, beverage manager, Le Cavalier, Wilmington, Del.
“The Lion’s Tail is an autumnal all-spice variation on a Whiskey Sour — scratches all the fall spice itches in one delicious drink! It’s one of our favorite cocktails in the Speed Rack arsenal of classic cocktails. It can be tricky to balance the allspice with the bourbon but once you get it, it’s just right.” —Ivy Mix, co-owner, Leyenda and FIASCO! Wine and Spirits, Brooklyn
“I love a good Boulevardier, especially when you kick up the bourbon and slightly lower the sweet vermouth — though I’m a vermouth snob and it’s gotta be Carpano Antica. It’s just a touch sweet, a bit bitter, and all-around delicious!” —Stephanie Reading, bar manager, Birdie G’s, Santa Monica, Calif.