Bourbon keeps us cozy during our cold winters, so sometimes it’s easy to forget that this smooth, sweet spirit is also the perfect star for spring cocktails. But with sunnier weather on the way, it’s time to turn our attention to the light, refreshing, citrusy flavors of spring bourbon cocktails!
What Makes Bourbon Unique?
Bourbon is America’s first homegrown spirit. Its production dates back to the early 1800s when Kentucky farmers used their surplus corn to create it. By the mid-1800s, over one million gallons of bourbon were being produced each year. And in 1964, the U.S. Congress named bourbon a “distinctive product of the United States.”
You’ll want to keep a few things in mind when crafting spring bourbon cocktails. Bourbon’s flavor profile ranges from caramel to cinnamon, so consider what brand appeals to you most. The proof is also important to note because it’ll affect how much alcohol to add to your spring cocktails. Higher proof means higher alcohol content. And the age of your bourbon also impacts its taste – older bourbons tend to be smoother overall.
Bourbon’s sweetness is a natural byproduct of the distillation process and its higher corn content. No sugar is ever added to bourbon, so it’s actually carb-free and low-calorie, unlike most beers and other spirits, making it an attractive option for those on a gluten-free diet.
Bourbon Versus Rye Whiskey
All bourbon is whiskey, but all whiskey is not bourbon. “Whiskey” is the umbrella term for spirits made from fermented rye, corn, wheat, and/or barley. Bourbon is just one type of whiskey.
For a whiskey to be classified as bourbon, it must be 80 proof or more, made from at least 51% corn, manufactured in the United States, and aged in American white oak barrels. Bourbon’s purity was federally mandated in 1897 and remains so to this day, so no additives (including water) will ever diminish its quality.
Bourbon often has a sweeter flavor profile than rye whiskey, so you’ll want to keep that in mind when crafting your spring bourbon cocktails. It tends to work well in sweet or fruity cocktails designed for sipping, the same reason it’s often ordered neat or on the rocks in the winter. Bourbon also mixes well with other spirits because its own alcohol content is lower than other whiskeys, so you can add additional liquors without worrying too much about the strength of your cocktails with bourbon.
Bourbon is a versatile spirit that can please many different palates. From simple mint-based drinks to decadent alcohol-infused desserts, there are spring bourbon cocktails out there for everyone.
Classic Spring Bourbon Cocktails
You can’t go wrong when you opt for classic spring bourbon cocktails that pair perfectly with warming weather. The Mint Julep, Kentucky Mule, and Whiskey Sour are old standbys that always aim to please.
Mint Julep is the customary cocktail of the Kentucky Derby, but whether you’re a horse racing fan or not, you’ll want to keep drinking these refreshing and easy spring cocktails all spring (they are also among the best summer drinks!) long. Simple syrup and fresh mint pair beautifully with the bourbon of your choice. This recipe allows you to experiment with quantities and approach.
2 to 2 ½ oz. bourbon
½ to ¾ oz. simple syrup
8-10 mint leaves (for muddling)
4 sprigs fresh mint (for garnish)
- Make a simple syrup with equal parts water and sugar by simmering in a saucepan until completely dissolved. (Or purchase a basic simple syrup from your local liquor store.)
- In a cocktail shaker or glass, muddle mint leaves with simple syrup.
- Add bourbon.
- Strain the mixture over crushed ice into a julep cup or rocks glass. Or, if you prefer crushed ice in your drink, add it to the top and stir well until a frost forms.
- Slap mint sprigs against your hand to release oils. Garnish your drink with the sprigs.
If you’re looking for a fun twist on the classic recipe, you could try a Mint Julep Slush. Just combine the first four ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth (about 30 seconds). Pour into a frozen glass, and add mint sprigs for garnish.
The Moscow Mule is a favorite at many restaurants and bars, but its ginger beer and lime base can be even better with bourbon. Try this simple recipe to bring together these refreshing flavors in one of our most trusted spring bourbon cocktails.
2 oz. Bourbon
½ oz. fresh lime juice
Ginger beer (to taste)
Mint sprig (for garnish)
- Squeeze fresh lime juice into a copper mug. Add bourbon.
- Fill the mug with ice.
- Pour ginger beer on top of the ice and stir well.
- Garnish with mint sprig.
Standard whiskey sours can be cloyingly sweet, but this fresh and classic take with bourbon and lemon juice makes it one of the many spring bourbon cocktails you’ll go back to again and again. The egg white (for foaminess) is optional, so it’s easy to adapt for any guest.
2 oz. Bourbon
¾ oz. fresh lemon juice
½ oz. simple syrup
½ oz. egg white (from about one small egg) – optional for foam
Maraschino cherry (for garnish)
- In a cocktail shaker, combine bourbon, freshly squeezed lemon juice, simple syrup, and egg white.
- Shake (without ice) for 30 seconds.
- Add ice and shake again until chilled.
- Strain into a small chilled glass (coupe or similar), or serve over ice in a rocks glass.
- Garnish with maraschino cherry, depending on taste.
Experimenting with an Old Favorite
Bourbon Old Fashioned
Sometimes, you just want your best-loved winter cocktail dressed up for spring. And what better drink to experiment with in the warm weather than the Old Fashioned? This recipe gives you a solid base and several extra options to choose from.
2 oz. Bourbon
1 sugar cube
4-5 dashes of aromatic bitters
3-4 dashes of water
Orange slice or zest and maraschino cherry (for garnish)
- Place sugar cube in a rocks glass and add bitters on top.
- Add a few dashes of fresh water.
- Muddle until dissolved.
- Fill the glass with ice.
- Add bourbon and stir.
- Add garnish to taste.
To add spring flair to your spring bourbon cocktails, try these Old Fashioned variations:
- Instead of the standard sugar cube, sweeten up your drink with an inventive simple syrup. Rhubarb simmered with syrup makes an aromatic addition. Or add a handful of basil to your sugar and water, and the scent of spring will fill your kitchen and your cocktail.
- Instead of simple syrup or a sugar cube, try a fruit-forward approach by substituting a fresh juice (like orange or peach) or a refreshing soda (like grapefruit), plus a quick squeeze of lemon or lime.
- Experiment with garnishes from your garden or produce section that feel festive for the growing season.
Decadent Spring Dessert
It’s never too early to break out the ice cream as winter melts into spring and summer. Why not try a decadent boozy treat to celebrate the long, sunny days or cap off your patio party?
Get ready for spring spirit decadence! Bourbon’s mellow sweetness is a perfect complement for chocolate in this milkshake cocktail. For family fun, it can also be made without alcohol so the kids can enjoy it alongside the adults. And the preparation couldn’t be simpler.
½ c. bourbon
1 c. milk
1 pint chocolate ice cream
1 pint coffee ice cream
Whipped cream, chocolate syrup, and/or marshmallows (for garnish)
- Combine both ice creams, milk, and bourbon in a blender and blend until smooth.
- Top with the garnish of your choice – or all three! Voila!
So Many More Spring Bourbon Cocktails
With a spirit as versatile, sweet, and smooth as bourbon, there are endless options for spring cocktails. Here are a few final ideas to try out on your own:
- Bourbon can be the perfect addition to warm-weather drinks like Arnold Palmers or sweet tea. Just add bourbon to taste to your lemonade + iced tea combo, or put it in your sugar-saturated Southern-style sweet tea. If you’re entertaining, both make ideal party drinks. Don’t forget to add a little garnish like mint, and you’re good to go!
- Looking for something even simpler? Try a springtime Bourbon Rickey. All you need is a highball glass full of ice, half a squeezed lime, a couple of ounces of bourbon, and sparkling water to taste, and you’ve got one of the best and easiest spring bourbon cocktails around.
Enjoy all the sipping and tasting!