To the average drinker, bourbon can be confusing. Is it whiskey or not? Does it have to be made in Kentucky? And what’s in it anyway? For the record, bourbon is whiskey but with some serious stipulations; it doesn’t have to be made in Kentucky, the state just has a lot of it; and it must spend at least two years in charred American oak and contain at least 51 percent corn (after that the spirit might have wheat, rye, or barley).
You may enjoy sipping your bourbon neat (we certainly do). But summer is the perfect time to turn that 80-proof spirit into something more refreshing and pleasant to sip in the sun. Thankfully, there’s no need for a massive ingredient list to dress up your favorite bourbon. And Jane Elkins, bartender at Dream Baby in New York City, along with some other top bartenders, are happy to show you the way. “I’m always happy to make complex cocktails behind the bar. Ten ingredients, hand-carved ice — the works. After a long shift, all I want is something strong, delicious, and —most of all — easy to make,” she says. So this summer, we invite you to test these humble but wholly impressive cocktails that require only two ingredients. With all that time you’ll be saving mixing, think of all the extra minutes you can spend sipping.
1. The Summer Cooler
“The Summer Cooler combines the smokiness of the Hudson Baby Bourbon, New York’s first legal pot-distilled whiskey since Prohibition, and the spice of ginger beer for a simple summer evening cocktail.” —Norman Bukiofzer bartender at The Ritz-Carlton New York, Central Park
- 2 oz bourbon (Bukiofzer prefers Hudson Baby Bourbon)
- Ginger beer
- Pour the bourbon into a highball glass with ice cubes
- Top off with ginger beer
- Optional garnish: lime wedge
2. Two Left Feet
“The Two Left Feet cocktail [includes] a strong whiskey to soothe the soul, soft ginger to lend a hint of sweet and a kick of spice. Two ingredients. In a glass. With ice. Easy enough for even the clumsiest of dancers!” —Jane Elkins, Bartender at Dream Baby, New York
- 2 oz bourbon (Elkins prefers Michter’s Bourbon)
- .75 oz Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur
- Pour over ice and stir.
3. Bronar Shooter
“The Bronar has steadily become a San Diego industry shot over the last few years. The origin and its creator is unknown, which we believe adds to its allure and overall tastiness. At Polite, we put it on draft for your convenience.” —Aaron Zieske, General Manager at Polite Provisions, San Diego
- .5 oz bourbon (Zieske uses Wild Turkey 101)
- .5 oz Cynar
- Mix equal parts Cynar and the bourbon of your choice
4. Monsieur Esteves
“This cocktail is a complex combination of flavors including roasted nuts, smoke, and molasses with a dark tea and honey finish — it’s such an elegant cocktail achieved with only two ingredients.” —Kevin Ashe, Bar Manager at Bellamy’s Restaurant, San Diego
- 8 oz bourbon (Ashe likes Woodford Reserve)
- 4 oz duck fat wash
- Heat duck confit until it turns into a liquid. Immediately combine fat and bourbon in a mason jar and seal (give it a good shake once sealed). Put in the freezer for at least one hour.
- Take it out of the freezer (you’lll notice the fat is solid). Open the jar and break the fat layer allowing the bourbon to be exposed. Run bourbon through cheese cloth to pull out all the solid pieces of fat. Add three ounces of the fat-washed bourbon to a mixing glass.
- Add ice and stir at least 30 times, proper dilution is key: wait until the bourbon warms up a bit after coming out of the freezer (room temperature is best), before adding to the ice and stirring. Pour into chilled glass.
5. TK Manhattan
“Thinking of a Black Manhattan variation, I came up with the ‘TK Manhattan.’ ’T’ being a reference to Amaro di Angostura which is made in Trinidad and Tobago, and the ‘K’ referencing Kentucky Bourbon. The Amaro Angostura has a whole range of baking spice flavors in addition to a bitter-sweet attack. And pairing that with a high rye bourbon such as Four Roses Single Barrel amplifies those spice notes.” —Lindsay Baker, Bar Manager at Imperial at Hotel Lucia, Portland, OR
- 2 oz bourbon (Baker likes Four Roses Single Barrel)
- .75 oz Amaro di Angostura
- Stir together in a mixing glass over ice until well chilled and diluted.
- Strain over a large cube of ice in a rocks glass.
- Optional garnish: Finish with a twist of grapefruit for garnish.