How To Drink Bourbon in Summer

All photos by Maggie Kimberl.

Many people think you can’t drink bourbon in the summertime because it’s too heavy and not refreshing on its own. To that I say: more bourbon for us! There are plenty of ways to enjoy America’s Native Spirit when the mercury rises. Here are a few of my favorites:

1. Bourbon and Ginger

Bourbon and ginger with Butchertown ginger beer
Bourbon and ginger with Butchertown ginger beer

There are many tasty variations on this classic cocktail pairing, from a Kentucky Mule (The Silver Dollar in Louisville Kentucky serves up the best!) to a plain ‘ol bourbon and ginger, sometimes called a “Bourbon Mule” or "Bourbon Stormy." In Kentucky we like to use Ale-8-One or Butchertown Soda Ginger Beer. Both have crisp ginger flavor with the added bonus of being locally produced. Ale-8 is packed with caffeine, though, so proceed with caution. To make this classic and super-easy cocktail, start off with a tall glass filled with ice, pour in a shot of your favorite bourbon, and fill to the top with the ginger beer of your choice. Garnish with a lime wedge if you’re feeling fancy. (It’s worth noting here that many bars are foregoing the use of plastic straws because of environmental reasons, so if you can keep paper or reusable straws on hand or eschew the use of them altogether you will not only contribute to saving the planet, but also be just like the professionals!)

2. Mint Juleps

The Mint Julep was one of the first refreshing summertime cocktails, and no, it’s not supposed to taste like alcoholic mouthwash. Brown-Forman Brand Ambassador Tim Laird has the perfect, easy Mint Julep recipe that's a bit more streamlined than the typical serve:

  • In a tall glass (metal julep cup preferred) with ice, add:
  • 2 ounces Woodford Reserve (or any) bourbon
  • 1 ounce Mint Simple Syrup (recipe follows)
  • Crushed ice
  • Add a sipping straw and garnish with a large mint sprig.
Whiskey sour at the Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse cocktail class
Whiskey sour at the Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse cocktail class

To make the mint simple syrup:

  • 1 part water
  • 1 part sugar
  • 1 part loosely-packed fresh mint leaves

In a saucepan, combine the water and sugar. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. When the water is clear and the sugar is dissolved, remove from the heat and stir in the mint leaves. Let steep for 20 minutes. Strain into a glass container and store in the refrigerator.

Note: You can adjust the sweetness of the drink by adding more or less of the Mint Simple Syrup, which can also be used to sweeten iced tea!

3. Whiskey Sour

As I recently discovered on my cocktail-making field trip to the Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse, making a refreshing whiskey sour at home is easy peasy.

Basic Whiskey Sour

Place all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake. Strain into rocks glass.

4. Warm Bourbon

Maggie Kimberl enjoys a refreshing Mint Julep when the weather heats up
Maggie Kimberl enjoys a refreshing Mint Julep when the weather heats up

Stay with me here. In Kentucky, especially in whiskey geek circles, everyone has their own special trunk bourbon. I’m not talking about open containers in reach of the driver or anything else illegal, but when you go to a barbecue and the main offering is beer that comes in a 36 pack, you’re going to need backup. In the summertime trunk bourbon is understandably warm, and the first time I had warm bourbon out of someone’s trunk I realized that’s probably one of the best ways to drink it. Don’t knock it until you try it!

5. Bourbon and Branch

Old Limestone Mixing Water is one of the best ways to ensure your bourbon on the rocks with a splash tastes the way it is supposed to, because water from this source has all the minerals from Limestone aquifers in Kentucky that make our bourbon so good. Make your ice cubes from it if you want to be a true purist.

There’s no reason to give up bourbon in the summer. You just have to find a more refreshing way to drink it! Cheers!