Even looking over a cocktail menu can be intoxicating. The list of flavors and imagining how they will mix is enticing. It’s easy to get swept up in the options. When you are at brunch at the wharf dc a nice whiskey cocktail can make the whole experience. Should you try something new today or stick with an old favorite? There is no shortage of criteria to consider when choosing the best option – the occasion, your mood, and your preference for specific ingredients.

One of the most important factors is the base liquor used in a recipe. One classic liquor used in many popular recipes is whiskey. While it is capable of standing alone on the menu, adding ingredients can enhance the flavor of the whiskey and combine it in ways that may be surprising!

Here are some factors that go into deciding what makes a great whiskey cocktail.

Let’s Get Technical

First, we need to have a solid grasp of what exactly whiskey is. Whiskey is defined as a distilled alcohol that is made from fermented grains such as rye, barley, corn, or wheat. The type of grains used, the distilling and aging processes, and the manufactured region determine the kind of whiskey. For example, Scotch is whiskey from Scotland, and Bourbon consists of at least 51% corn, which makes for a sweeter flavor.

Single malt is a whiskey typically made from barley and water, and if you introduce other grains or a second distillery, it may become a double malt or beyond. Flavors will vary by variety, but generally, all whiskey will have a rich flavor with sweet notes of smoke and oak. These variations may pair differently with added ingredients, but when in doubt, experimenting with new combinations is a fail-proof way of making a great cocktail.

Keep It Simple

The most basic whiskey cocktail may be the Bourbon and Branch. The name of this cocktail originates from the Bourbon distilleries perched on cool water streams branching off from larger rivers. Today, it generally refers to whiskey mixed with plain water (non-carbonated).

Adding minimal water to whiskey brings out the flavor notes, allowing you to savor the smooth sip. This is a great way to try different varieties of whiskey. You can also get a good idea of the differences in flavor to choose a favorite or to decide which types will pair well with other ingredients!

Juice It Up

Another ingredient frequently added to make whiskey cocktails is fruit juice. Typically, pairing fruit juice varieties with whiskey will have a tart sour flavor, and people usually add a sweetening agent such as syrup. Opting for fruit juices with a lower acid content will keep your drink smooth and sweet.

While one of the most popular drinks in this category is a Whiskey Sour, which consists of whiskey, lemon juice, and simple syrup or another sweetener, try swapping the lemon juice for fresh squeezed orange juice for a less acidic and delicious option! This is known as a Stone Sour or Whiskey OJ. Other cocktails will add ingredients in addition to fruit juice, such as a John Collins, which adds club soda for a bubbly refreshment.

Bubbles Make Everything Better

Speaking of bubbles and whiskey, plenty of great cocktail options consist of just whiskey and carbonated beverages. Scotch and club soda is an easy choice if you enjoy the mineral flavor of this ingredient. Adding more soda and having this drink as a highball will extend the length of your drink while still allowing the natural flavors of the whiskey to shine.

Jack and Coke, anyone? Whiskey and cola is a popular drink that brings your favorite soft drink’s sweetness and flavor profile to the glass. Not a fan of Coke? Experiment with your favorite cola instead! One-part whiskey to two parts cola is a standard ratio. 

Another bubbly ingredient option is ginger ale or ginger beer! Ginger ale will keep the spicy sweetness slightly on the mild side, while ginger beer varieties will spice up your drink.

When in Doubt, Add Liquor

Another option for a great and classic whiskey cocktail is to include another alcohol. A Manhattan cocktail consists of whiskey and vermouth. Try this with dry or sweet vermouth, or combine them to find the perfect flavor to quench your thirst! For a twist, opt for a Saratoga Cocktail by adding some brandy to the mix!

A Creamy Indulgence

We can’t leave what is possibly the most indulgent holiday cocktail off the list! While brandy gets a lot of credit for traditional eggnog, many recipes feature whiskey or Bourbon as well, blended with cream, eggs, spices, and vanilla. You can prepare this cocktail using a few high-quality fresh ingredients (shaken, not stirred!) for a very smooth sweet sip, or you can go all out to rival the most decadent holiday dessert!

Serve chilled or frozen and blended if you enjoy icy cold desserts in winter, or save it for a bit of decadence on a cold, cozy evening. This drink pairs well with holiday parties!

Think Warm and Cozy

There are plenty of hot whiskey drink recipes to get us through winter. From tweaks on a classic Hot Toddy to spiked Cider, mixing your favorite warm ingredients can make the perfect relaxing end to a winter day.

However, if it’s not quite the end of your day, we’ve saved the best for last! Traditional Irish coffee melds together the comforting flavor of brown sugar with heavy cream, strong coffee, and your favorite Irish whiskey. It’s easy to adjust the strength of this cocktail to suit your palate for supreme satisfaction; add a more robust coffee or extra whiskey for more of a kick – or extra cream for a more smooth, indulgent sip.

Appreciate the Bitter Side

One more ingredient that people often overlook in cocktails is bitters. Bitters are an alcoholic preparation made from herbs, fruit peels, and other organic materials such as tree roots or bark. Bitters are an important ingredient that can balance out the flavor profile of your cocktail and provide a better, well-rounded flavor. Arguably, the best classic cocktail featuring bitters is the Old Fashioned. Add a few dashes of Angostura bitters to this cocktail for a sip of perfection.

What Will You Try Next?

All of the ingredients featured here will impact a flavor in various ways, but the most significant factor in determining a fantastic whiskey cocktail is your own taste! All the menu descriptions and flavor definitions are subjective; the best way to decide is to experiment with new flavors and tweak them to your preference. Remember what each ingredient brings to the cocktail and whether it will enhance the taste of the whiskey or smooth out its richness for a mellow flavor. Don’t be afraid to explore new options!

Many people argue that high-quality whiskey is key or that the aging process makes or breaks a recipe, but that is not always the case! Whether it is the simplicity of whiskey and plain water, the complexity of additional liquors, or even the dessert-worthy creaminess of traditional eggnog, whiskey is a versatile cocktail ingredient that deserves its time in the spotlight! So take some time to try different varieties of whiskey and enjoy a menu of iconic cocktails that have stood the test of time!