7 Surprising Whiskey Cocktail Additions That Shouldn’t Work, But Do
Whiskey is way more versatile for mixing than you think.
We’ve all seen some ingredients on cocktail menus that make us do a double take, especially when they’re paired with an unexpected spirit. But sometimes, you need to be a little controversial to make something delicious. To better understand some of the surprising pairings and trends going on with whiskey cocktails in particular, we chatted with Jane Danger, national mixologist for Jameson Irish Whiskey, to explain why these outside-the-box pairings are worth celebrating. By the end, you might even be tempted to mix one for yourself at home.
If you want to start an immediate argument in the group chat, ask your friends if they think milk has any place in cocktails. For some reason, a lot of people find this off-putting, but dairy-based (or dairy-inspired) ingredients can really accentuate the smoothness of darker spirits, whiskey included, Danger explains. “As you grow up, you lose your taste for that. People aren’t used to it, so it’s like ‘oh, that’s weird, I only put that in my coffee,’” she says. “But it’s really good. It has fat in it and body and other things that bring different notes out and makes the spirit land differently on your palate.” If you’re really not into dairy, plant-based replacements (especially those with ‘barista’ labels) are a good alternative, and Danger suggests trying it in a whiskey-based white Russian, or a float of sweet cream with Jameson Black Barrel. Still not convinced? Even mixing some whiskey with a bit of cream soda may turn you into a believer.
Outside of your college dorm, most people would think mixing a cocktail with diet soda would fall into the realm of “desperately out of groceries,” but Danger says you should reconsider this assumption. Utilizing a diet cola, for example, can cut down on the sugar in a whiskey cola, giving the spirit more room to shine. She also recommends trying it in a Jameson Cold Brew & Cola, where the cola adds a little sweetness to the complex cold brew coffee flavors.
Outside of a pickleback, whiskey and savory, salty ingredients like hot sauce, Worcestershire, or a salt rim aren’t usually drinking buddies — and it’s high time that changes, Danger says. “A little bit of salinity goes a long way and can amplify the sweet [notes] without having to add more sweetener,” she explains. This is especially true with bacon, as evidenced by maple-bacon Old Fashioneds and other drinks that play up the caramel and vanilla notes found in whiskeys. But, Danger suggests taking it even further with something like a Chicago Bloody Mary, which adds a splash of pickle juice for a little twist. “Jameson has enough backbone to be able to handle all those flavors, where a lot of times, a lighter gin or vodka can get totally lost,” she says.
True story: the very first version of the super simple “rickey” cocktail was made with whiskey. “It wasn’t a gin rickey or a vodka rickey like everybody knows,” Danger says. “High balls were aged spirits.” Lime juice and dark spirits, like whiskey, are surprisingly delicious, she explains, not to mention incredibly simple to mix. Whiskey gimlets or rickeys only have a handful of easy-to-find ingredients, making them perfect for home mixologists to try. To just dip your toes into this pairing, though, the Jameson Ginger and Lime is a good entry point, as the lime is a simple addition to the typical whiskey ginger recipe.
Yuzu, green tea, sake… if you feel like you’re seeing a lot of Japanese ingredients on cocktail menus this summer, you’re not mistaken: Danger says that many bars are incorporating these to highlight the 2020 Tokyo Games, not to mention that they’re becoming more popular with home cooks and mixologists, too. While green tea isn’t an actual ingredient, the classic “green tea shot” features Jameson mixed with peach schnapps and sour mix, and Danger confirms it “tastes very much like green tea.” So, she recommends making a cocktail that follows the same tasting notes: “When I’ve made [green tea] cocktails with the Jameson Original, it just leans into it really well,” she says. “I like to do it as a highball with fresh lemon, peach, and green tea, then you shake it and pour it.” To take it a step further, you can also infuse Jameson with green tea using run-of-the-mill tea bags, too.
When it comes to citrus-y cocktails, usually, “it’s another one of those things saved for the clear spirits,” Danger says. But getting experimental with your citrus can have a big payoff, especially if you’re riffing on the traditional whiskey sour. Using grapefruit instead of lemon can be particularly tasty, and Danger recommends using Jameson instead of white rum in a Hemingway daiquiri, paloma, or greyhound. Grapefruit can use a little extra sweetness from an aged spirit, and the flavor makes for good drinking in the warmer weather. Use a salt rim to really cash in on the complexity.
Herbs are so delicate that people sometimes wrongly assume that they can only be mixed with equally light ingredients. But if the classic mint julep is any indication, don’t overlook what’s growing in your garden for potential cocktail ingredients. Rather than mixing yet another batch of pesto, Danger says you should be adding basil to a whiskey granita (that’s essentially a fancy way to say “adult slushie”), complete with a little bit of cucumber. “I love using basil in both sweet and savory combinations,” she says. “We made [the granita] with Jameson Black Barrel, and it just made a lot of sense. It just balanced everything out,” she says. “It was very, very pleasant, super refreshing.”