With just four easy ingredients, the Bourbon Buck cocktail is a fast and tasty summer drink for a refreshing hot weather sip. Made of just bourbon, citrus, simple and ginger ale, or ginger beer, it’s a sweet cocktail with a bite you can dial up or down by the ginger soda you use. I love adding some fresh berries to muddle as well, but that’s optional. But, if you try it with and without, you’ll likely raid the fridge for berries before making it again.
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What Kind of Cocktail is a Buck?
A Buck cocktail is a drink that’s made of three elements, spirit, citrus and ginger soda (it’s flexible whether ginger beer or ginger ale is involved). As far as the Buck cocktail history, this is another of those cocktails where the exact origin is unknown, but the cocktails like the Gin Buck and the Moscow Mule are variations within the category. Both of them use a spirit, a ginger soda and citrus – in the case of both, lime is traditional. Gin bucks were extremely popular before and during Prohibition (likely because the gin was unpalatable and needed a little flavor to hide the taste).
If you’re asking yourself “What is a good mixer for bourbon?” think about the flavor notes in bourbon – caramel, vanilla, oak, leather, dried fruit, baking spices. All of these aromas and flavors benefit when added to a spicy kick of ginger. While the Buck traditionally calls for a ginger soda, it’s in the same family as the highball – which is just spirit and soda – so you can choose a ginger mixer you love.
If you’re wondering the difference between ginger ale and ginger beer, historically ginger beer was first because it was originally a lightly fermented beer. It had a kick from the ginger AND a kick from the fermentation. Today, though, the ginger beer you find in the grocery store is non-alcoholic, for the most part, but stronger in ginger flavor than ginger ale. Some, like Reeds Extra Ginger Brew, can pack a real punch!
Flavors in this Bourbon Buck Cocktail
The basic Bourbon Buck cocktail contains both a spirit, in this case, bourbon whiskey, a ginger ale/ginger beer, and a citrus element. I made this buck cocktail with ginger ale to keep the ginger from overwhelming the whiskey I chose. But if you choose a more assertive bourbon or whiskey, or prefer more of a ginger bite to the cocktail, swap out for a ginger beer.
For bourbon, lemon is a great citrus flavor pairing. I went with lemon over lime because I associate limes and ginger beer with the Kentucky Mule cocktail. Sometimes the bite of lime can be too harsh for a mid-proof bourbon and I want to be able to savor the bourbon more easily in the cocktail.
The mixer makes or breaks this cocktail. Since a large portion of the volume and flavor comes from the ginger soda, use quality ginger ale or ginger beer. If you have a favorite you love, mix and match with different bourbons until you find your favorite combination for this easy Whiskey Buck.
What’s a Kentucky Buck Cocktail?
The Kentucky Buck Cocktail was created by mixologist Erick Castro in San Francisco, and the tweaks it adds to a Whiskey Buck steps up the cocktail. Erick adds a strawberry to the cocktail to be muddled before adding ginger syrup, bourbon, and bitters. He tops it with unflavored soda but controls the spiciness of the ginger flavor by using that ginger syrup instead of ginger beer.
How to Make a Bourbon Buck Cocktail
I decided I loved the addition of a small bit of muddled fruit to the traditional Bourbon Buck Cocktail but chose raspberry over strawberry. However, I wanted to keep to the simplicity of ginger ale as the bourbon I used was around 90 proof and I didn’t want to overwhelm the cocktail with too much ginger.
This one is a snap to put together. Add your strawberry or 4 raspberries to the bottom of a shaking tin, add in the syrup and citrus and muddle a bit. Add bourbon, ice and shake hard for 10-12 seconds. Strain into a tall Collins glass and top with ginger ale. For garnish, I kept to fresh raspberries with a sprig of mint because my mint is overflowing lately.
Variations on the Whiskey Buck Cocktail
From the Kentucky Buck Cocktail by Erick Castro to the Irish Buck version made with Irish Whiskey there are many ways to swap out the spirit of the Buck cocktail with different regional or specialty whiskies and create riffs on the original. Matching different citrus flavors and different ginger sodas is key to bringing out the flavors in the whiskey base.
- Tennessee Buck – made with Tennessee whiskey, of course.
- Texas Buck – we know how Texans love their local whiskey. I’m sure their local ginger beers can stand up to their full-bodied whiskies.
- Pennsylvania Buck – with Pennsylvania-style rye.
- Japanese Buck – with Japanese whiskey and perhaps Yuzu as the citrus element?
- Canadian Buck – Canadian ryes mixed with lemon and a barspoon of maple syrup.
- Rye Buck – your favorite rye with a great ginger beer to burn through the spice of the spirit.
Tips and Tricks for a Fantastic Bourbon Buck Cocktail
- Make sure the glass is ice cold. Always chill a glass you’re using for a highball-type drink! This Whiskey Buck is no exception!
- Fill the glass with ice completely and use large cubes, not pellet or cracked ice. This keeps the drink from overdiluting.
- The ginger ale/ginger beer should be chilled, not room temperature. I chill mine for 5 min in the freezer while I’m putting together the cocktail.
Check Out These Other Cocktails You Might Enjoy
- Hibiscus Ginger Highball
- Chocolate Ginger Manhattan
- Earl Grey Bourbon Spritz
- Killer Tropical Chai Highball
- Grapefruit Hibiscus Highball
- Peach Highball
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Raspberry Kentucky Bourbon Buck
- 2 oz bourbon
- 3/4 oz lemon juice
- 4 raspberries (strawberries are also great here)
- 1/2 oz simple syrup
- Top with ginger ale (or ginger beer)
- Garnish: fresh raspberries, mint
- Muddle lemon juice, raspberries and simple in the bottom of a shaking tin.
- Add bourbon, fill with ice and shake for 10-12 seconds.
- Strain into a tall, ice-filled Collins glass. Top with ginger ale and garnish.