13 Best Bourbons For A Kentucky Mule

While plenty of cocktail drinkers have Moscow Mules on their regular drinking rotation, far too many people forget about its bourbon-based cousin. The Kentucky Mule swaps vodka for bourbon, and it's a cocktail you should definitely keep on your radar. Made with bourbon, ginger beer, and lime juice, it's a delicious, easy-drinking beverage you can make yourself or order at a bar all year long. Most bars serve mules in festive copper mugs, which makes them as fun as they are delicious.

Since this cocktail only features three simple ingredients, selecting the right bourbon to use as the base is crucial if you want a beverage that lives up to its full potential. You don't need to use a super expensive bottle, but we don't recommend using bottom-of-the-line bourbon, either. The secret to a good Kentucky Mule is to select a bottle that features flavors that enhance the other ingredients, while also packing enough of a punch to prevent the bourbon from being completely overpowered.

We've made plenty of Kentucky Mules in our day as a bartender (and we've worked in bars with extensive bourbon collections), so we're here to teach you how to find the best option for your next Kentucky Mule. Whether you want something heavy on rye and spice, or something smooth and subtle, we've got you covered with plenty of options at a variety of price points. 

1. Woodford Reserve

Many people associate Woodford Reserve with another classic Kentucky cocktail, the Mint Julep. While we love a good Mint Julep on Derby Day (or any day, for that matter), we encourage you to think beyond the famous mint-laden beverage when it comes to finding ways to use your bottle of Woodford Reserve.

Woodford Reserve has a lot going for it. The brand has been around since 1812, and it has made a name for itself over its two centuries of existence. Not only does Woodford have history on its side, but it also has flavor. It's rich, smooth, and rife with notes of wood, spice, grain, and even florals.

This bourbon has a high percentage of rye in the mash bill, which gives it a nice hint of spicy pepper. That touch of zing pairs well with the spicy flavor of the ginger beer in a Kentucky Mule, while the caramel notes act as the perfect sweet foil. Woodford is also a delicious bottle to have on hand because it works when you want an elevated cocktail as well as for when you want something delicious to sip on its own.

2. Bulleit

You can think of this one as a "jack of all trades" option since it's great in pretty much any bourbon-drinking-related context. You can drink it on the rocks, mix it with soda, knock it back as a shot, and of course, use it as the base for a tasty Kentucky Mule. It's also equally as crowd-pleasing as it is versatile since, in our opinion, it's what most people think about when they think about the flavor of a good, standard bourbon.

Bulleit is great in a mule since it's another high-rye option. The noticeable touch of spicy character helps it stand up to the other (potentially overpowering) ingredients in a Kentucky Mule. It's bold enough to retain its presence in the drink, but still mellow enough to keep things quaffable. We also enjoy the woody notes and touch of toffee you can find in this bottle. 

We can almost guarantee that no one will protest a Kentucky Mule made with Bulleit Bourbon, so it's one of the safest choices out there if you're making cocktails for a crowd. Plus, if you're hosting a party and someone wants their whiskey neat rather than in a cocktail, you can feel proud pouring them a dram of this, too.

3. Four Roses

If we had to name our favorite underrated bottle of affordable bourbon, Four Roses would definitely be the winner. It's the perfect example of the fact that you don't have to shell out big bucks for delicious, refined flavor. You can use Four Roses in everything from a beer-and-a-shot combo to a refined, classic Boulevardier. It's also an excellent option for a Kentucky Mule that's a lot more affordable than it tastes.

Four Roses Small Batch is a little more fruit-forward than some options, but the apple and pear notes you'll notice work better than you'd imagine when paired with the ginger beer and lime. It's approachable and easy-drinking, and we highly recommend reaching for this bottle if you want to make a batch of Kentucky Mules for a big gathering. The brand describes this bottle as an "everyday" bourbon, and we couldn't agree more, so keep a bottle on hand for when you want something you can grab and enjoy with ease. 

4. Michter's

If you want a Kentucky Mule that's a little richer and sweeter, we recommend opting for Michter's Bourbon as your base. Michter's is another solid option when you want something that falls in the middle of the road in terms of price, but that tastes incredible in a cocktail. This bottle is heavy on the notes of caramel and vanilla, but it also retains its nuance with hints of fruit, smoke, and wood.

Michter's prides itself on being "small batch" since each tank can only hold a maximum of twenty barrels (which isn't that many for a large brand, and for a bottle at a reasonable price point). It's also a great buy if you want to start building your at-home whiskey collection since it's a staple for many bourbon lovers. Don't hesitate to drink it on the rocks or in a smooth Old Fashioned. We also love Michter's Rye, so consider adding a bottle of that to your collection while you're at it.

5. Gentleman Jack

While Gentleman Jack isn't a true bourbon, it's worth mentioning since we're talking Kentucky mules and Jack Daniel's is synonymous with the Bluegrass state. Sure, you could use original Jack Daniel's in a Kentucky Mule, but the difference in quality between Gentleman Jack and regular Jack Daniel's absolutely warrants reaching for the former, in our opinion. This is because even in a Kentucky Mule, regular Jack Daniel's can taste 'cheap' — but the Gentleman's variety won't. Don't get us wrong, we aren't knocking Jack Daniel's if you want a shot or a simple well drink (Jack and Coke, anyone?), but we think if you're going to drink a nice cocktail, you might as well make it with whiskey that's a step above.

Gentleman Jack is put through a second charcoal mellowing process, which gives it a smoother and more refined flavor. You'll find all the usual suspects in terms of flavor in this bottle, with noticeable notes of caramel and vanilla. We also love this in an easy whiskey sour, or in any whiskey-based cocktail that contains citrus.

6. Old Forester 86

This bottle is a secret weapon for cocktail bars and cocktail bartenders. Why? Because it's great in a cocktail, and it's an extremely affordable option that tastes more expensive than it is when used correctly. If you ask us, using this in a Kentucky Mule is a great way to go if you want something economical and delicious.

Old Forester 86 gets the number in its name from its proof, which rings in at 86% ABV. The brand also makes a 100-proof option, but we like the mellow quality of the 86 version better in the context of a Kentucky Mule. It's not quite as punchy, but it helps keep things easy-drinking.

The flavor of this one is woody, with prominent hints of spice from the rye in the mashbill. You can also taste subtle hints of vanilla and orange. It's a little 'hot' to drink on its own if you don't want to throw back a shot, so you're probably better off sticking to cocktails or mixed drinks for this one.

7. Maker's Mark

This is the best option for people who want a wheated bourbon in their Kentucky Mule. Wheated bourbons, which have a higher percentage of wheat in the mashbill, lack some of the spiciness found in high rye options. They're softer, more mellow, and have more prominent grain and cereal notes. Maker's Mark exemplifies this style of bourbon, and it's a great, accessible option if the spice from the ginger beer in your mule is enough for your palate.

Maker's Mark is familiar, tasty, and an excellent bottle to have on your bar cart. The brand describes it as "balanced without bite," so it's perfect if you don't like the burn of booze. Though we wouldn't recommend it in cases where you want the whiskey to counterbalance super sweet ingredients (for example, in a classic Manhattan), it certainly serves its purpose here. You'll have no trouble finding it in a bar or liquor store, so it has the added benefit of being convenient and ubiquitous.

8. Basil Hayden

Let's get something out of the way: Not everyone likes Basil Hayden. In fact, the brand can be a downright polarizing topic in the world of whiskey. While we completely respect everyone's opinion, this is a perfectly good option to use in a Kentucky Mule in ours. Some people rail against its "basic" nature, but sometimes you just need something simple and good. It may not be particularly unique, but it is a high-rye option, which (as you've probably noticed by now) we're fans of in the context of a Kentucky Mule.

Basil Hayden rings in at 80-proof, which adds to the drinkable nature of this bottle. It's a good option for people who aren't usually bourbon fans, but who want to indulge in a good bourbon-based cocktail. Finally, it's a great choice if you're making Kentucky Mules at home since it's a respectable choice to drink on its own, and we usually wouldn't recommend buying a whole bottle just to make a few cocktails unless it's something really special.

9. Jim Beam Black Label Extra Aged

If you're wondering if you can use regular Jim Beam in a Kentucky Mule, the answer is yes. If you're wondering if upgrading to Jim Beam Black Lable Extra Aged is worth it, the answer is also yes! First of all, the extra-aged stuff is still extremely affordable, so you don't have to break the bank to drink something a little tastier and better quality than Jim Beam's classic white-label bottle.

The difference lies in the fact that Jim Beam Black Lable Extra Aged is (as its name suggests) aged for significantly longer than their standard bourbon, which results in a smoother and more full-bodied flavor. We think the notes of cinnamon and oak play well with a mule's spicy ginger beer, and the lime balances it out with its bright and tart flavor. This is still by no means the fanciest or most refined option in the world, but it's a nice, affordable choice to have on hand.

10. Elijah Craig

Elijah Craig works well in a Kentucky Mule because it features a unique, complex array of flavors that help prevent the cocktail from tasting flat. You won't get a one-noted mule when you opt for this bottle since it offers a nice balance of sweet, savory, and earthy notes.

The hints of oak and spice complement the zesty kick of the ginger beer, while the caramel and vanilla notes act as a balancing foil. The result is a Kentucky Mule that's layered and interesting, while still serving as a crowd-pleasing cocktail option.

Elijah Craig calls itself a "small batch" bourbon since it makes its product in smaller quantities than some distillers. It's also called the "Father of Bourbon" since it was the first brand to char oak barrels, which is a process that enhances the overall flavor. The brand has several varieties to choose from, but we like the classic Elijah Craig Small Batch best for a Kentucky Mule.

11. Buffalo Trace

If you like bourbon that has prominent vanilla and molasses flavors, this bottle is for you. We think it works well in a Kentucky Mule because we love sweet and spicy combos. Ginger beer comes in a range of different styles and levels of spice, and we recommend using one that isn't light on the spice if you're going to use Buffalo Trace. Notes of toffee, brown sugar, and fruit give this bottle some serious depth and drinkability.

Buffalo Trace is a fan-favorite amongst bourbon enthusiasts, so you can whip up a batch of mules with pride when you're using it as the base. It's one of those bottles that has a great reputation, but that's also approachable enough for new bourbon drinkers. It's also part of a larger brand family that produces bourbon legends like Weller and Van Winkle, so you can feel confident you're setting your beverage up for success.

12. Knob Creek

It's hard not to like Knob Creek, as it's the perfect example of what a rich, sweet bourbon should taste like. We think it's another option that falls into the "jack-of-all-trades" category, since you can drink it neat, in a cocktail, or in a mixed drink. It's a good option to have up your sleeve since everywhere from cocktail bars to dive bars tend to stock it, and you won't have to search long for this one at your local liquor store.

We're also fans of the heavy wood notes you'll taste in Knob Creek since they lend a nice added layer of flavor to a mule. At 100-proof, the flavor won't get lost or overpowered by the other ingredients, but it still goes down smoothly. We're also big fans of the brand's rye, so consider picking up a bottle of that if you really want to double down on the spice in your next Kentucky Mule.

13. Wild Turkey

This one is also known for being a little "hot" which makes it a good choice for cocktails with strong flavors. A Kentucky Mule is no exception, and we love making them with this bottle. That said, you may want to opt for a less spicy ginger beer to balance things out when you're using Wild Turkey, since this option is far from subtle.

Wild Turkey is largely considered a "budget" option, but there's nothing wrong with that when you're mixing it with strong, flavorful ingredients like ginger beer and lime. This one features notes of honey and orange, which play well with the warming notes of the cocktail. The brand also offers a higher-proof option called Wild Turkey 101, but we recommend sticking to the lower-proof bottle unless you really want to taste the bourbon in your mule. Going the lower-proof route makes for an easier drinking beverage, which we think is the goal of a mule in the first place.