Food & Drink

Four Recipes that Mix Magic with Bourbon’s Perfect Pairings

Elevate your pour with ginger, tea, bénédictine, or bacon for surprisingly splendid sips

A bar cart spread of bourbon, Benedictine, ginger, tea, and bacon

Photo: Johnny Autry

Bourbon’s distillation chiefly from corn can initially make for a spirit that lacks distinct contours. Distillers offset this slackness by using secondary grains, such as rye, and through long aging in oak barrels, which provides a tannic edge as if from a tea bag. Lower-shelf bourbons tend to have more corn and spend less time in a barrel, and so can be rounder and less edgy. Which means they play well with others—a good mixing bourbon is an easy-to-lead dance partner.

So who can do the leading? Bourbon gets along with an array of complementary ingredients, but a few rank among the most consistent and amenable partners. Try these pairings and see how they improve your cocktail choreography.

Hello Friday: Bourbon + Ginger


    • ½ oz. bourbon (Old Grand-Dad 100 Bonded recommended)

    • 2 tsp. Angostura bitters

    • Spicy ginger ale (Blenheim recommended)

“Bourbon and ginger” in one form or another has been a mainstay since the last century, and surely got a boost when Greta Garbo snarled, “Gimme a whiskey, ginger ale on the side, and don’t be stingy, baby” in the 1930 movie Anna Christie. The snap of ginger melds superbly with the sweet softness of bourbon. This modern adaptation of the pairing by Chall Gray, co-owner of Little Jumbo in Asheville, brings a low-proof, high-impact mix of whiskey and bitters, with the tang of strong ginger to wake you up and get your feet moving.


  1. Add bourbon and bitters to a double old-fashioned glass filled with ice. Stir, then top up with ginger ale.

Lapsang Souchong Manhattan: Bourbon + Tea


  • For the tea infusion

    • ¼ cup loose Lapsang souchong tea

    • 10 oz. bourbon

  • For each Manhattan

    • 2 oz. tea-infused bourbon

    • ½ oz. oloroso sherry

    • ⅛ tsp. vanilla extract

    • 1 barrel-aged cherry, for garnish

When it comes to bourbon, tea is a versatile but overlooked mixer. With its astringent, tannic qualities, it can serve as scaffolding for flabbier bourbons, or add another dimension to splashier pours. This Manhattan variation is featured in the upcoming Bourbon Land (Artisan Books), out in April from the noted Louisville chef Edward Lee and a guide to all things bourbon, including some fifty recipes that incorporate the spirit. Stacie Stewart, the general manager and director of cocktails at Lee’s newest restaurant, Nami, crafted this drink, which calls for a flash infusion of Lapsang souchong tea, lending smoky depth and a sort of intrigue found chiefly around campfires.


  1. Make the tea-infused bourbon: Add tea and bourbon to a container with a tight-fitting lid, like a mason jar. Cover with lid and swirl rapidly; let rest for 10 minutes. Strain out tea with fine-mesh strainer. Store bourbon in a bottle or decanter.

  2. Make the Manhattan: Add tea-infused bourbon, sherry, and vanilla to a mixing glass. Add a good amount of ice and stir for 15 to 20 seconds. Strain into your favorite whiskey glass and garnish with cherry.

The Counterfeit: Bourbon + Bénédictine


    • 1 dash lemon bitters (may be omitted)

    • ½ oz. amaro (Meletti or Montenegro recommended)

    • ½ oz. Bénédictine

    • ¾ oz. fresh lemon juice

    • 1½ oz. high-rye bourbon

    • Lemon peel, for garnish

This French liqueur dates conclusively to 1863, and with less evidence to the sixteenth century. It has a biting, herbal, medicinal quality that can do a swing dance or quadrille with bourbon, depending on other ingredients and your mood. This drink by Paul Calvert of the Ticonderoga Club in Atlanta balances citrus with the herbal elements of amaro and Bénédictine, with the bourbon providing the steady bass drumbeat in the background.


  1. Put all ingredients except lemon peel in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake until well chilled. Strain into a rocks glass over ice, and garnish with lemon peel.

Benton’s Old-Fashioned: Bourbon + Bacon


  • For the bacon-infused bourbon

    • 1 (750 ml) bottle bourbon

    • 1 oz. liquefied bacon fat

  • For each old-fashioned

    • 2 oz. bacon-infused bourbon

    • ¼ oz. maple syrup (Grade B preferred)

    • 2 dashes Angostura bitters

    • Orange twist

That bacon and bourbon go well together may not come as a surprise. (I mean, what doesn’t go with bacon?) But it may be surprising how easy it is to make bacon-infused bourbon, which adds robustness and gives off a comfort food vibe when combined with maple syrup in this take on the old-fashioned. Bartender Don Lee created this modern classic at PDT, one of the original modern speakeasy bars in New York City, and you’ll now find variations of it on bar menus across the South and beyond. The original recipe called for the super-smoky bacon made by Allan Benton in Madisonville, Tennessee. Substitute your favorite smoked bacon, or better yet, hew to the original and order from Benton by mail.


  1. Make the bacon-infused bourbon: Add liquefied bacon fat to the bourbon in a nonreactive container and let sit for 4 hours. Then place in the freezer for 4 hours so that the fat solidifies. Strain through cheesecloth to remove the fat, then rebottle the bourbon.

  2. Make the old-fashioned: Add bacon-infused bourbon to a mixing glass filled with ice. Add maple syrup and bitters. Stir until chilled. Strain into a rocks glass, preferably over a large ice cube. Rub the rim with orange twist, then drop into glass.