Why Cola And Bourbon Are A Match Made In Cocktail Heaven

People can get a little skittish about adding mixers to bourbon. The whole mystique around barrel-aged alcohol might make you worry that the whiskey police will show up the minute you tip your ginger beer into a shot. And that's a real shame, as a good mixer can actually enhance the drink — it's all just a matter of finding the right match. But with this in mind, what is bourbon whiskey, exactly?

Essentially, for a whiskey to carry this label, it must be distilled in the USA (via DRNX Myth). It also has to be made with a particular ratio of grain mash, be aged in a new charred oak barrel, and not have any flavors added to it. The overall result is a liquor with core flavors of vanilla, caramel, and oak. Yet bourbon can be split further into three categories: sweet, spicy, or floral. For this reason, you might detect other tasting notes, such as smoke, cedar, pecan, walnut, apples, figs, mango, honey, chocolate, rye bread, cinnamon, nutmeg, jasmine, lavender, or rosemary.

For this reason, a good bourbon can be appreciated straight up or on the rocks, or with a little bit of water. But if you want to mix things up a little, there's one main rule of thumb — pick an addition that brings out the drink's natural flavors, rather than buries them.

Here's why bourbon and cola get along so well

Adding ginger beer or ale can really liven up a bourbon, according to DRNX Myth. If you squeeze in a little lime juice, you've got yourself a Kentucky Mule cocktail, per Foolproof Living. And while it might sound weird, throwing beet juice into your bourbon can create a deliciously earthy drink. On the other hand, Creative Culinary suggests that apple cider is a heavenly match that tastes like apple pie in a glass. But what about that old classic, bourbon and cola?

First off, it's a combo that goes way back. According to Prestige Haus, the first reference to this classic mixer traces back to 1907, when it was known as a Coca-Cola High Ball. And over the years, using Pepsi versus Coca-Cola as a mixer has come up many times. Bear in mind that Pepsi has more of a citrus edge, while Coca-Cola has vanilla and raisin notes (per Delish). 

According to Wide Open Eats, the latter also goes down smoother. Of course, it's all a matter of preference, but Coca-Cola seems to be the more classic choice. As explained by DRNX Myth, its spicy nutmeg and cinnamon notes harmonize well with bourbon's vanilla, oak, and caramel. And as A Couple Of Cooks point out, bourbon adds nuance and edge to Coca-Cola's sweet caramel, candy store vibes.

But how do you get the most out of your whiskey and cola? For instance, will any bourbon do?

How to mix up the best bourbon and cola

While Leaf TV recommends picking a bourbon that's strong and smooth, it warns against anything too fancy, as Coke can overpower certain tasting notes. According to Liquor Lab, Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey and Bulleit Bourbon are great mixer choices. That's because both have a key flavor note in common with Coca-Cola — with Jack Daniels it's vanilla, and with Bulleit, it's cinnamon.

In terms of ratios, Drink Stack suggests that there are no rules, it's all down to taste — but be sure to include ice, and serve in a highball or Collins cocktail glass. Also, a good head of fizz is crucial, as cola needs its effervescent edge. For this reason, Bourbon Plus recommends always ordering a bottle or can from bars, as tap coke can sometimes be flat.

Finally, you don't have to stick to classic Coca-Cola – Prestige Haus makes a case for experimenting with cherry or cherry vanilla Coke. And once you've mastered mixing it up with bourbon, you'll probably be ready to experiment with Dr. Pepper and root beer too.