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Best bourbon cocktails for summer

Now that the warmer weather is here, it's not just white spirits that are the perfect base for a quenching drink. We've picked out three bourbon cocktails for summer – and the best bourbons to use.

Gin, vodka, tequila and white rum may be the spirits you immediately think of for mixing up cooling cocktails in warm weather, but bourbon is the heart of many refreshing spring and summer drinks.

Since the 1700s, this American whiskey has been the star of some of the oldest classic cocktails, such as the Mint Julep and Boulevardier – up to the one of the most famous of modern times, the Paper Plane, created in 2007.

It’s the key component with, or instead of, rye whiskey, in a Manhattan and an Old Fashioned, and of course there’s the Whiskey Sour. These short serves might not hit the spot when temperatures rise, so here are three more lesser known bourbon cocktails for summer you might not have tried – plus suggestions of the best bourbons to use if you want to make them.

Kentucky Buck

Bucks are cocktails made with a citrus juice and either ginger beer or ginger ale added to a base spirit. Bartender Erick Castro based this version on a classic Whiskey Buck, which distillers Maker’s Mark believes got its name from when a shot of whiskey was added to a Horse’s Neck (a drink of ginger ale and lemon), giving it a kick. Bucks are often called ‘mules’, as in Moscow Mule, which is made with vodka.

Bourbon cocktails for spring - Kentucky Buck

How to make a Kentucky Buck

Glass Collins

Garnish Lemon slice and strawberry slice

Ingredients 60ml bourbon, 23ml lemon juice, 7ml sugar syrup, 2 dashes of bitters, ginger beer, one ripe hulled strawberry

Method Muddle the strawberry in a cocktail shaker. Then add some ice, plus the bourbon, lemon, sugar syrup and bitters and shake. Strain into an ice-filled glass, top up with ginger beer and add the garnish to the rim.

New York Sour

This cocktail is a bourbon-based Whiskey Sour with a red wine float (and optional egg white). The addition of wine was thought to have been first used in the late 1800s by a bartender in Chicago, though the cocktail likely only became popular – and got its current name – once served in New York. It was originally called the Continental Sour and then the Southern Whiskey Sour, when the recipe used bourbon rather than the traditional rye. It has also been called the Claret Snap, because the recipe specifies a red Bordeaux, as well as the Brunswick Sour, which specifies rye whiskey. Another rye variant, called the Greenwich Sour, uses both an egg white and a red wine float.

Bourbon cocktails for spring - New York Sour

How to make a New York Sour

Glass Old Fashioned

Garnish Lemon zest twist

Ingredients 60ml bourbon, 30ml lemon juice, 15ml sugar syrup, 1 dash bitters, 15ml egg white (optional), 15ml red wine

Method Add ice to a cocktail shaker and shake everything except the red wine (including the egg white if using). Strain into an ice-filled glass, drizzle the red wine over the top and add the garnish to the rim.

Brown Derby

This cocktail was created in 1933 at the Vendôme Café, right at the centre of Hollywood glamour on Sunset Boulevard. It’s named after the Brown Derby restaurant on North Vine Street, close to Hollywood Studios. It was also popular at that time – in fact more so than the original branch of the Brown Derby, which was a smaller premises but famous as the building was shaped like a man’s derby hat. When made with honey syrup (equal parts honey and water) instead of maple syrup, and usually Scotch whisky instead of bourbon, this cocktail is called a De Rigueur. The perky grapefruit juice makes this is a great cocktail for brunch, but reduce the bourbon measure to 45ml.

Bourbon cocktails for spring - Brown Derby

How to make a Brown Derby

Glass Coupe

Garnish Grapefruit zest twist

Ingredients 60ml bourbon, 30ml grapefruit juice (pink or yellow), 10ml maple syrup

Method Add ice to a cocktail shaker and shake all ingredients. Strain into a chilled glass, adding the garnish to the rim.

Best Bourbons for summer cocktails

New Riff Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon

There’s 30% of rye in the mash bill here and it matures for four years, which lends lots of clove, cedar and woodsmoke notes along with sweet cinnamon, vanilla sugar and caramel. It’s a deliciously weighty and rich sipping bourbon, but would also make a fantastic Brown Derby. Alc 51.5%

Michter’s US*1 Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Aromas akin to a heavily spiced sticky toffee pudding, with similar caramel and dried fruit notes on the bold, round palate. There’s fresher flavours of apple along with vanilla coffee, orange zest and lots of sweet spice. A complex bourbon to enjoy on its own, or as a classy addition to a New York Sour. Alc 45.7%

Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Ultra smooth, as a triple-distilled bourbon should be, with rich wood smoke and spice notes from the six years of barrel ageing. Engaging aromas of butter-menthol lozenges continue on the soft, creamy palate which shows hints of banoffee pie. A great cocktail allrounder, but particularly tasty in a Kentucky Buck. Alc 43.2%

Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Crème brûlée aromas leap from the glass, and that vanilla custard roundness helps to mellow down what is quite a high-octane palate. A powerful style, but still sweet at heart, boasting brown sugar, roasted nuts, exotics spices and a curl of woodsmoke. Try it in a New York Sour. Alc 50%

Four Roses Kentucky Straight Bourbon

A reliable option for both sipping and in long or short cocktails, thanks to its great balance of alcohol to sweet fruit, mellow spice and buttery smoothness. Cinnamon and nutmeg, toasted nut brittle and a hint of orange zest are all wrapped in a smooth Chantilly cream finish. One for a New York Sour. Alc 45%

Maker’s Mark Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Fruit cake richness and mince pie spice give this bourbon a festive feel. The full-bodied palate has a soft, creamy texture, packed with classic vanilla, butterscotch and gentle woodsmoke tones. A good allrounder for the cocktail cabinet, and a great choice for a Kentucky Buck. Alc 45%

Old Forester Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Priding itself as the first bottled bourbon, sold in glass bottles since 1870, this is a good-value fresh and fruity option to have for spring cocktails. Along with classic wood char, baking spice and vanilla pastry flavours, there’s a mellow maple syrup and banana note that would be perfect in a Brown Derby. Alc 43%

Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Another good-value bottle to have in the drinks cupboard, and its sweeter style means its the ideal introduction for bourbon novices. All the classic flavour profiles are there: vanilla, toffee, oak-smoke and spice. And its lower alcohol makes it ideal for the brunch-time Brown Derby. Alc 40%

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