American spirits: whiskey cocktails are a reason to still love the USA

We live in complex times. And complex times call for complex solutions. Like whisky. And cocktails.

Of course, the important solutions should probably be arrived at without the aid of whisky and cocktails. But now that you've hopefully composed yourself, done a little reading, consulted and discussed, listened and lectured, you'll likely be in need of a stiff lubricant.

And while all this tumult and anxiety was instigated by our special friends in the US, they do have one very redeeming quality – they make great whiskey and great cocktails.

So, applying my bartender's logic, if we drink some of their tasty whiskey (it takes an 'e' if it's the American type) and mix it in some classic cocktails – two of America's great gifts to the world – we might gain an idea as to what the heck is going on over there.

Or maybe we'll just get a little happier. Either way, it'll be fun. Cathartic even.

The American spirit

America's national spirit is bourbon, and in Australia we love the stuff. We're one of the biggest international markets for bourbon, and per capita we almost consume as much of it as the Yanks do (although mostly in a can or with cola).

One of my favourite things about the bourbon category is its value for money. You can easily pick up quality bourbon's like Buffalo Trace, Woodford Reserve and Old Forester for under 60 bucks a bottle.

Then, to skip up a level, you can solve the mysteries of the world with Wild Turkey Rare Breed, Eagle Rare 10 Year Old, Evan Williams Single Barrel or Knob Creek 9 Year Old – all for under $100 a bottle.

If you like burning big holes in your wallet, though, your Pappy Van Winkles and George T. Staggs and William Larue Wellers will happily assist, and almost convince you they're worth it.


But if none of that satisfies, you should give bourbon's famed cousin a try – rye whiskey. Like bourbon, rye whiskey must contain a minimum 51 per cent of its fundamental grain in the final mash bill (rye).

The rye adds a spicy, herbal punchiness, perfect for cocktails, and you'd be well advised to try Rittenhouse and Wild Turkey Rye for a good baseline, and then progress to Pikesville Straight Rye and Thomas H Handy for something more sophisticated (the latter is pricey but worth it).

Made in Australia

We even produce our own American-style whiskies here in Oz, such is our obsession with the style. Most of the best Australian corn whiskey hails from Western Australia (it can't wear the 'bourbon' title unless it's made in the USA).

You've got The Grove American Style Spirit from Margaret River and the Tiger Snake sour mash whiskey from the same area. Both are rich, spicy and very tasty.

A little further north, the light and creamy Upshot whiskey made in inner Perth at the Whipper Snapper Distillery is worth hunting down, particularly if the customary sweetness of many bourbons is to your liking.

And if you head further north to Kununurra in the Kimberley, The Hoochery have long produced Raymond B Whiskey – a bold corn whiskey that's well worth a crack.

And don't forget moonshine! Yes, a few Aussie distillers have created unaged grain spirits inspired by America's illicit distilling past.

The Melbourne Moonshine guys do an eminently drinkable sour mash shine which I highly recommend. While the Ironbark Distillery, north west of Sydney, do a Corn Rye Moonshine which is as bold and boisterous as an American election, but with a bit more substance.

The mix

When it comes to cocktails, American whiskey is fantastic for mixing. So here I've included a couple of recipes to take the edge off what's been a crazy week.

The Paper Plane, originally created by Aussie bartender Sam Ross while working in New York, is a refreshing, slightly bitter and very adult way to welcome the weekend.

I've also listed the Improved Whiskey Cocktail instead of a basic old fashioned, because almost anything can be improved upon. Right?

Paper Plane

20 ml bourbon

20 ml Amaro Nonino

20 ml Aperol

20 ml fresh lemon juice

Garnish: lemon


Combine all ingredients in a shaker, add ice, shake and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist

Improved Whiskey Cocktail

60 ml rye whiskey

2 dashes Angostura Bitters

2 dashes Peychaud's Bitters

1 tsp sugar syrup (2:1)

1 tsp maraschino liqueur

½ tsp absinthe

Garnish: lemon


Pour all ingredients into a mixing glass, add ice, stir and strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with a lemon peel

A professional barman in one of Australia's most revered whisky establishments, Luke McCarthy has also travelled the world to learn more about the spirits he serves. The result is two parts drinks culture and one part global trends, served with a dash of critical assessment. His book, The Australian Spirits Guide, will be released in October.

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