17 Whiskey Cocktails Every Bartender Should Know

As a bartender, you will never run out of whiskey lovers since the whiskey community is constantly growing.  With the growing number of whiskey fans comes more whiskey cocktails. A few tried and true whiskey recipes are essential to make your bar guests happy.

Assignment = understood. Whiskey is versatile, as these drinks prove they know their job. And that’s to taste amazing.

Our team of whiskey-enthusiasts and trusted bartending course instructors at Local Bartending School rounded up a few of the most popular whiskey cocktails. This is the perfect list for a budding bartender who wants to try everything possible behind the bar with whiskey. 

1. Old Fashioned

Image via Canva

The Old Fashioned is a drink that is favored by elites in swanky lobbies and the same in dirty, dusty dive bars. No matter what type of bar you work at for your first day of bartending to your last, the Old Fashioned will be ordered.

Bartenders will forever be duking it out when it comes to muddling cherries in this classic whiskey cocktail. (Don’t hate me, but I’m pro-muddle. And not to brag, but I’ve won a few blind–taste contests, just sayin’…)

But muddling cherries isn’t the only variation to making an Old Fashioned. Try using a demerara syrup or bold bitter flavors.

And for my fellow Northerners and all you in Wisconsin, you need to be using brandy instead of whiskey and adding soda water for your regionally notorious Wisconsin Old Fashioned.

“If you order an Old Fashioned anyplace else in the world [other than Wisconsin], it’s going to be whiskey, usually rye, bitters, sugar, maybe a little water. That’s it. It’s garnished with a lemon peel or an orange peel. It doesn’t have fruit, it does not have soda at all,” says Jeanette Hurt, author of Wisconsin Cocktails.

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces bourbon or rye whiskey
  • Sugar cube and a splash of water (or simple syrup)
  • 2 dash bitters
  • Orange peel and maraschino cherry, garnish

Instructions

  • If you’re using a sugar cube, soak it in bitters. To get things moving, add some water and muddle.
  • For simple syrup variations, combine the simple syrup with the bitters.
  • Next, add the cherry, ice, and whiskey. Mix well. Put the oil from the orange peel on the drink, rub it all around the glass rim, then place it inside the drink.

2. Manhattan Cocktail

Recipe via Food and Wine | Image via Canva

An old and prestigious cocktail recipe, the Manhattan. With just a few ingredients: whiskey, sweet vermouth, and bitters, it is innately classic and simple.

While some drinkers prefer a smoother Canadian whiskey, you can choose either rye whiskey or bourbon.

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces rye, bourbon, or even Canadian whiskey
  • 1 ounce sweet vermouth
  • 2 dashes bitters, Angostura
  • Maraschino cherry, garnish

Instructions

  • Add ice to a mixing glass. Then add rye, vermouth, and bitters. Stir well. Into a chilled coupe, strain and garnish with your cherry.

3. Whiskey Sour

Recipe via LBS | Image via Canva

We’re so obsessed with this whiskey drink that not only did it make this qualifying list of craved cocktails, it got its own feature. Read all about whisky sours here!

The real question here is—to egg or not to egg? Today, we’re egging. Here’s a recipe for a traditional whisky sour. You can find a non-egg variation in the blog linked above.

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces whiskey (bourbon or rye of your choice)
  • 1 ounce lemon juice
  • .5 ounce simple syrup (1:1, sugar to water)
  • .5 ounce or 1 small egg white
  • 2 dashes of Angostura bitters
  • Lemon peel or maraschino cherry, garnish

Instructions

  • Combine all of the ingredients in a shaker. Shake. Add ice and shake again until frothy. Strain and serve in a serving glass (rocks or coupe will do!) Garnish with a lemon twist and cherry to serve.

4. Kentucky Mule

Recipe via Bulleit | Image via Canva

A cousin of one of my favorite drinks, the Moscow Mule, is the Kentucky Mule. If the Moscow Mule is served with vodka, what might you guess is in the Kentucky variation? I’ll give you a second… though you came here looking for whiskey drinks so that might give it away.

Yup, the Kentucky Mule simply swaps bourbon for vodka.

Bartenders, these are easy to suggest when you’ve got an indecisive guest who likes whiskey. They’d never order this on their own accord but always sip it up and think I’m amazing for suggesting such a tasty cocktail.

Ingredients

  • 1.25 bourbon, I like Bulleit or Buffalo Trace
  • .5 ounce fresh lime juice
  • Ginger beer
  • Lime wedge

Instructions

  • In a copper mug, add ingredients to build. Stir gently and use a lime wedge or wheel for garnish.

5. Mint Julep

Recipe via Liquor.com | Image via Canva

Ahh, the Mint Julep. Perfect for derby days and summertime cocktail sipping. The mint cools you off while the bourbon warms your cold, betting soul.

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces whiskey
  • .25 ounce simple syrup
  • Bitters, Angostura
  • Mint leaves, around 8-10

Instructions

  • Muddle mint leaves in a tin cup. Add whiskey and use an ice scoop to grab and pack ice down into the cup. Stir until frosty. Using more crushed ice, make a dome-like effect on top and garnish with more mint and bitters.

6. Irish Coffee

Image via Canva

Bartenders working where winter is bound to come year after year, Irish Coffee better be in your repertoire of whiskey drinks. A hot cup of caffeine and bourbon seems to be the trick to keep bar guests warm all winter long.

Whatever you do, don’t you dare forget the whipped cream. I did once while bartending in Chicago and nearly got ostracized for it. It’s not my fault the bar didn’t have whipped cream, okay? I’m a bartender, not a pastry chef; you won’t catch me making whipped cream from scratch.

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces Irish whiskey
  • 6 ounces hot coffee
  • 2 ounces Baileys or cream liqueur, optional
  • Whipped cream, not optional

Instructions

  • Pour in ingredients to combine in a coffee mug. Finish off with whipped cream, or else.

7. Hot Toddy

Image via Canva

Another classic for our whiskey lineup: the hot toddy. Good for scratchy throats and hygge-filled vibes at your bar.

The toddy is here to party. Try adding bitters, chamomile tea, or swapping lemons to oranges and honey to sugar—just a few variations I’ve seen across regions.

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces whiskey or bourbon
  • .25 ounce fresh lemon juice
  • 1 bar spoon honey
  • 6 ounces of hot water
  • Cinnamon, cloves, lemon, and star anise, garnish

Instructions

  • Pour the boiling water over the bourbon, lemon juice, and honey. Combine until the honey dissolves. Add the cinnamon stick, lemon, cloves, and star anise as garnish.

8. The Godfather

Recipe via The Spruce Eats | Image via Canva

Drinkers of this cocktail might be familiar with The Godfather. However, this drink isn’t really all that common, but totally worth knowing.

Whiskey and amaretto makeup The Godfather. Two simple ingredients are all it takes to make this cocktail, making it very simple to prepare and very pleasing to your guests.

Most people opt for blended scotch, although some use a single malt or even a bourbon. The latter, however, is more reminiscent of bourbon’s baking spice notes than scotch’s honey and smooth smoke notes.

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces scotch whisky or bourbon
  • .25 ounce amaretto

Instructions

  • Add ice to a mixing glass and add liquor, stir. Strain over fresh rocks (always!) and serve.

9. Sazerac

Recipe via NYT Cooking | Image via Canva

The rye Sazerac is a tasty cocktail full of kick and depth. It might have a few too many muscles, though. In the recipe, rye and cognac are equal parts, not as a gesture to a lost classic, but because they work well together.

When it comes to variations for the Sazerac, the limit does not exist. From using tea-infused whiskey to maple syrup, even Thai-chili-infused bitters, your mixologist mind can go off when you’re drafting up the newest Sazerac.

Ingredients

  • Absinthe
  • 1 sugar cube
  • 2 dashes bitters, Peychaud’s
  • 2 ounces Sazerac
  • Lemon peel

Instructions

  • Swirl absinthe in a chilled rocks glass to coat. Then in a mixing glass, add sugar cube and muddle with bitters, adding rye and ice. Stir mixture and strain into service glass. Twist a lemon rind to release oils over the cocktail. Lemon twist garnish? Optional.

10. Boulevardier

Recipe via Tipsy Bartender | Image via Canva

The Boulevardier, a variation on the classic Negroni, combines whiskey, vermouth, and Campari for the perfect balance of sweet and bitter.

What sets the Boulevardier apart from the Negroni is its distinct flavor profile. Gin-based Negronis are refreshing, while whiskey-based Boulevardiers are warming. The perfect drink to suggest on a chilly fall or winter evening.

Ingredients

  • 1.5 ounces bourbon
  • 1 ounce Campari
  • 1 ounce sweet vermouth

Instructions

  • In a rocks glass, fill with ice. Pour in Scotch, then Drambuie. Use a lemon twist for garnish.

Bartender to Bartender Tip: Here’s how to say this five-dollar French word.

11. Rusty Nail

Recipe via Mix That Drink | Image via Canva

The Rusty Nail recipe follows a rough formula. Our taste buds don’t like half-and-half, but others swear by it. If you are just beginning, we recommend you start with 2 ounces Scotch and 1/2 ounce Drambuie and work your way up from there.

People tend to layer the ingredients, but we’re not really fans of that practice. Even so, we do think it’s a good choice for a nightcap.

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces scotch
  • 1 ounce Drambuie
  • Lemon twist

Instructions

  • In a rocks glass, fill with ice. Pour in Scotch, then Drambuie. Use a lemon twist for garnish.

12. Vieux Carré

Birthed in the same place as the bar in Ernest Hemingway’s writings is the Vieux Carré.

The cocktail was sparked by the ethnic diversity in New Orleans’ French Quarter in 1937. It was created by Hotel Monteleone’s head bartender Walter Bergeron. Italians like sweet vermouth, the French prefer Cognac and Benedictine, Americans like rye whiskey, and Caribbean islanders like bitters.

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces rye whiskey or bourbon
  • 1 ounce lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • .75ounce simple syrup
  • 1 egg white (optional)
  • .5 ounce red wine

Instructions

  • Shake the whiskey, lemon juice, simple syrup, and egg white (optional) until well-chilled in a shaker filled with ice. Then strain into a rocks glass over fresh rocks. You’re going to pour the red wine slowly over the back of a bar spoon so that it floats on top.

13. New York Sour

Recipe via Liquor.com | Image via Canva

Despite its name, the New York Sour is whispered to have begun around the 1880s near Chicago. Eventually, and after adopting several ‘sour’ names, a bartender in Manhattan finally made this drink super popular and gave its permanent name of New York Sour.

Though not typically included in the recipe, an egg white is an option for some guests. It’s a mouthfeel thing, really.

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces rye whiskey or bourbon
  • 1 ounce lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • .75 ounce simple syrup
  • 1 egg white (optional)
  • .5 ounce red wine

Instructions

  • Shake the whiskey, lemon juice, simple syrup, and egg white (optional) until well-chilled in a shaker filled with ice. Then strain into a rocks glass over fresh rocks. You’re going to pour the red wine slowly over the back of a bar spoon so that it floats on top.

14. Rob Roy

Recipe via The Spruce Eats | Image via Canva

 Have a bit of Deja-Rob? The Rob Roy may seem like a Manhattan, but it isn’t. Think of Rob Roy as a Scotch variation to a Manhattan.

It’s known that a single-malt Scotch pretty much ruins the drink, as the vermouth and bitters take over some of its distinction.

You may break out Highland Park or Bruichladdich with your Rob Roy, if your guest is alright with the upgrade. If so, upgrade the vermouth too, if you choose Carpano Antica Formula or Vya. You can also swap out the Angostura for orange bitters or something else you like.

This drink is flexible and lends well to the premium route. So if you’re putting a menu full time, take your time building the recipe and invest in higher-end products here.

Ingredients

  • 1.5 ounces scotch whiskey
  • .75 ounce sweet vermouth
  • 2 dashes bitters, to taste
  • Maraschino cherry

Instructions

  • Pour the whisky, vermouth, and bitters into an ice-filled mixing glass. Stir. Strain. Garnish with a maraschino cherry.

15. Whiskey Smash

Recipe via Liquor.com | Image via Canva

What do you get when you mix a Mint Julep and Whiskey Sour? A Whiskey Smash.

This drink started arguably years before but officially debuted in the 1887 book by Jerry Thomas, “Bartender’s Guide”. Since this cocktail is a good 135 years old, we’re thinking it’s here to stay and should be in your whiskey-drink-toolbelt.

So baby bartender, when you’re creating this classic whiskey cocktail, slap the herbs to really knock those oils out. Along the same lines, be sure to muddle well, so you can release both lemon juices and oils (which both create a higher flavor profile when whiskey and sugar are combined). Slapping herbs and mighty muddles are your friends, not only for Whiskey Smashes but any recipe calling for herbs and muddling.

Ingredients

  • 3 lemon wedges
  • 2 ounces bourbon
  • .75 ounce simple syrup
  • 4-6 mint leaves

Instructions

  • In a shaker, muddle lemon wedges. Shake with ice, bourbon, simple syrup, mint leaves, and ice. Strain over fresh ice in a rocks glass. Add mint to garnish.

16. Bensonhurst

Recipe via Diffords Guide | Image via Bell’ Alimento

Taking its name from a neighborhood in the greater New York area, like a Manhattan, Brooklyn, or Green Point, the Bensonhurst cocktail is a real eclectic mix.

Rye whiskey is mixed with maraschino liqueur, Cynar, and dry vermouth, which all should not mix, but some come together.

Even though this cocktail might be an acquired taste, we really like how the different notes from each ingredient balance. Just like in New York, here you’ll find a melting pot of tastes and impressions.

Ingredients

  • 1.5 ounce rye whiskey
  • .33 ounce Luxardo Maraschino liqueur
  • 1 ounce Noilly Prat Extra Dry
  • ⅙ ounce carciofo amaro

Instructions

  • Blend all ingredients together by stirring with ice. Then strain into a chilled coupe glass.

17. Sweet Ruby

Recipe via Men’s Journal | Image via Canva

Bartenders in the south, you better be ready with this easy, bourbon drink recipe. Southerners love their sweet tea, or in this case peach tea, but they’ll love it, even more, when you throw a good bourbon in there.

Ingredients

  • 1.5 ounce bourbon
  • .25 –.5 ounce simple syrup
  • 3 ounces peach tea

Instructions

  • Mix in a Collins glass with ice, and a lemon wheel or mint for garnish.

Become a Whiskey Pro with Local Bartending School

Now, instead of panicking when a whiskey person sits down at your bar and seems to know more about whiskey than you do, you can suggest a few classic whiskey cocktails to keep up.

Like a good whiskey, being a good bartender can be sort of an aging process. But not always! Fast-track your bartending career and get certified in a week so you can banter all things scotch, whiskey, or rye all night long—all with the help of your Local Bartending School.

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Carrie Jean Lipe

Carrie Lipe has been writing creatively since childhood but jump-started her professional writing after college. She's an Indiana native, Ball State Hospitality graduate, and a bartender with over 10+ years in the industry. You can find her making basil Moscow mules when she's not writing. Follow her professional journey on Instagram! @contentbycarriejean

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