Everyone that has experienced one of my tastings understands that I like my bourbon neat. Researching not as neat by using a bourbon mixer really took me away from my comfort zone.

When I was growing up, there was little mention of bourbon in my home. I remember the Seagrams Seven Crown, Canadian Club, Kessler, Canadian Mist, and various other whiskey’s. My earliest memories were of shots and a beer and the occasional high ball. Seven and seven’s were popular, and in my younger years, I went through a period of Kessler and Seven UP. I am not proud of it, but it was a reality.

Bourbon and cream soda.

However, there is one early memory of bourbon that I have, and that is during the Christmas season, my grandmother would ask for a bourbon and cream soda. These were two items that were not regular staples in our household or our extended family households. Over the years, the memories of her request would creep up, and it would make me smile. You see, my grandmother rarely drank anything alcoholic. I cannot recall her drinking a beer, and I can count on one hand any other memories of her taking a drink except for the bourbon and cream soda.

Bottles of mixers with a bottle of Old Ezra 7 and Elijah Craig Bourbon
A variety of mixers sampled with Old Ezra 7 and Elijah Craig Small Batch.

As I was reviewing bourbons that were very vanilla forward, I thought back to the request for bourbon and cream soda. Would this make a good cocktail? In my early adult years, I enjoyed Jack Daniels neat or with Coke. I then moved to Jim Beam White Label and often drank that with water, Coke, or Diet Coke. Never did I try my grandmother’s go-to annual drink of bourbon and cream soda.

Making the decision, I ventured to locate different brands of Cream Soda. I quickly found two and decided to have my very own taste test. I was hoping to stumble upon a taste sensation that dazzled me. Using a mixer was a big step for someone that thinks ice is a distraction to enjoying fine bourbon. I would pair each bottle of Cream Soda with a Vanilla forward bourbon.

Knob Creek Bourbon and Town Club Cream Soda

My first taste of this reminded me of medicine, and I realized it had some menthol notes to go along with the dominant vanilla. It was different, but the soda quickly overwhelmed the 100 proof bourbon. It was overly sweet and did not have the jump out at you flavor I was expecting.

Knob Creek and Jones Cane Sugar Vanilla Cream

Jones was an improvement, and the sweetness went up another decibel from the first. The flavor was improved, but the soda overwhelmed the whiskey again. The next stop is going to be a higher proof spirit to hold its own against the pop.

When I came to realize that while my grandmother enjoyed this drink, the cream soda was not working for me. I decided to change it up a little. Here are my findings:

Bourbon and Coke.

Still a favorite for many people and very popular. Do not use a higher-end bourbon here as the caramel flavoring in Coke will mask much of the bourbon flavor profile.

Bourbon and Ginger Ale.

Probably my hands-down winner. I used Vernors, which is a local favorite along with this year’s Old Ezra # 7. A deliciously, refreshing drink especially with the robust 117 proof Old Ezra.

Bourbon and Sweet Tea.

Being the first time I tried this I used Elijah Craig Small Batch at 94 proof. Very southern and not as refreshing as I expected. Bourbon helps to even out the sugar overload of sweet tea.

Bourbon and Root Beer. 

Good and is much better with bourbon cream.  Multiple distilleries market a bourbon cream (Think Bailey’s made with bourbon), and those are fantastic with root beer.  However, with straight bourbon, much like the cream soda, it reminded me first of medicine, and then similar taste notes of Dr. Pepper. For more on bourbon cream and root beer click here.

So this experiment was not as neat by using a bourbon mixer. I have probably exceeded my bourbon cocktail sampling for a long while. After all of the trials, I still enjoy my bourbon neat, no ice.