This Earl Grey cocktail blends the sweet scent of bergamot tea with the spicy aromatics of bourbon. Using a simple syrup made of strong Earl Grey tea and some tea and lemon bitters, it’s a great old fashioned for a late happy hour. While this Earl Grey cocktail doesn’t have the warmth of a fresh-brewed cup of tea, it’s got notes of that bergamot oil and a faint trace of the taste of black tea that pairs elegantly with bourbon.
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What is Earl Grey Tea
Earl Grey tea has a distinctive flavor, and while you may know it comes from bergamot oil, you may not know that its origin is the rind of a bergamot orange, a type usually grown in Italy. The tea is a form of black tea and it’s said that it was originally added to tea shipped in from China that was poorer in quality.
I love the distinctive floral flavor of Earl Grey tea, that aroma takes me back to my morning tea in college (before I drank coffee). It’s a fragrance that’s distinct from other citrus oils, and one that is now synonymous with the tea.
So where did the name come from? It’s named after the Earl of Grey, British Prime Minister from 1830 to 1834, a career politician/aristocrat, but there’s no consensus as to why. Originally it was thought he created or bought the recipe and popularized it. Another theory was that he was given the tea for saving the life of a Chinese diplomat. Again, only rumor.
We’ll never know the origins of the story, but it’s likely it became popular in London through the entertaining savvy of his wife, Lady Grey.
How to Make Earl Grey Simple Syrup
For this cocktail, we want to make simple syrup full of the fragrance of the tea, and to do that, we’ll brew a cup of really strong Earl Grey tea. Generally, you’d use 1 tea black per cup of water, but in this case, use two to three tea bags in the cup of water. Once the tea is brewed, we’ll use it to make a cup of simple syrup.
Just add 8 oz/1 cup of sugar to 1 cup of the strongly-brewed tea while it’s warm, shake it up until the sugar is dissolved and store in a clean glass jar in the fridge. It’ll be ready to go when it’s time to make your cocktail.
Making the Old Fashioned
Once you have your simple syrup, it’s time to pick out a whiskey. Because of the floral notes in this earl grey old fashioned, I would go with a whiskey that’s not over 100 proof. It’s also best with a whiskey that already has oak notes in it since the simple syrup will have some of the drying flavor of black tea. I preferred this cocktail with bourbon over rye, as the rye I was using had some grassy notes to it that didn’t play well with the Earl Grey syrup.
However, it might work if you were using a 51% rye mash bill rye whiskey where the flavor was closer to a bourbon.
This is going to be a simple cocktail to construct in a mixing glass. I do add Earl Grey bitters (from 1821 Bitters) and Meyer Lemon bitters to the cocktail. If you can find the lemon bitters they add a great bright citrus component that evokes the scent of a lemon peel floating in a warm cup of tea. Add ice, stir, strain into a chilled glass and enjoy.
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Earl Grey Bourbon Cocktail
- 2 oz bourbon
- ½ oz Earl Grey simple syrup
- 2 dashes Earl Grey bitters 1821 bitters
- 1 dash Meyer lemon bitters optional
- Garnish: orange or lemon peel
- Combine bourbon, syrup and bitters in a mixing glass. Add ice and stir for 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled rocks glass filled with ice. Garnish.
- 1 cup boiling water
- 2-3 Earl Grey tea bags
- 1 cup sugar