Fans of whisky may turn up their noses at whisky liqueurs, where cream, sugar, and other flavors step into the spotlight. While the initial aversion is understandable for palates accustomed to drier drinks with higher proofs, whisky liqueurs aren’t all candy sweet—though even the sweetest can brighten a cocktail or dessert. And besides, a Baileys and coffee might be the first step on a journey that leads to Irish Coffee, and eventually to a neat pour of Redbreast.
Sweet or dry, there are plenty of liqueurs that don’t scrimp on whisky. Though there’s disputed territory between flavored whiskies and whisky liqueurs, the drinks collected here are sippers in their own right and provide complementary flavors to their base whiskies.
The classic whisky liqueurs—think Baileys, Drambuie, and Dunkeld Atholl Brose—serve as both drink and ingredient, fitting as a liquid dessert or as part of cocktails like the Mudslide, Rusty Nail, and the classic Scottish cocktail, also called the Atholl Brose, made from whisky, honey, oat milk (or oatmeal water), and other flavors. The classics have endured for a reason, and some, like Baileys, attempt to liven up the genre with flavors like salted caramel and espresso creme. Drambuie and Dunkeld Atholl Brose, on the other hand, are content to stick to their honey-and-scotch history.
Many of the new drinks follow the same template as their older siblings, bringing whisky and coffee or whisky and cream together in ways that deliver straightforward and creative drinks. For example, Old Elk’s Nooku Bourbon Cream and Middle West’s Bourbon Cream deliver digestifs with a subtle, whiskey-derived sweetness with plenty of richness.
“Mixologists and consumers are already using cream-based spirits, from boozy coffee to milkshakes to classic cocktails. What’s different for Nooku is that it has no artificial flavors, colors, preservatives, or supplemental spirits.” says Melinda Maddox, Old Elk Distillery production manager and beverage director. “My best advice for a skeptical drinker is to try it first—have a little fun in the kitchen making boozy French toast, whipped cream, or elevate your latte—the choice is yours.”
Coffee-and-whiskey liqueurs, like Kentucky Coffee, are natural substitutes in drinks such as the Black or White Russian, and can offer a sweeter spin on whiskey classics like the Old Fashioned. Or they can simply liven up a mug of coffee without adding too many extra flavors.
Though many of the newer whisky liqueurs are simple and focused on letting the whisky sing, some distillers continue to push the boundaries of just what mixes well with their whiskies. On the sweetest side, Ole Smoky’s blends of unaged corn whiskey and cream offer easy dessert drinks in a huge variety of flavors that bring together treats like strawberries and chocolate.
While whisky liqueurs are often snubbed by purists, they offer whisky fans a chance to try something a little less serious, and can help show a newbie that maybe they might actually like whisky. Below are five whiskey-based liqueurs that hit a variety of styles and flavors.
Five Whisky Liqueurs to Try
Hochstadter’s Slow & Low Rock and Rye—42%, $23
Slow & Low brings together rye whiskey, rock candy, honey, Florida-grown navel oranges, and Angostura bitters. This is a fairly low-sugar liqueur, with the equivalent of only about one sugar cube in a 2-ounce pour.
Kentucky Coffee—33%, $20
Like its name suggests, this flavored whiskey brings together Kentucky-distilled whiskey with coffee extract.
Middle West Spirits Bourbon Cream—15%, $25
Made from Middle West’s Michelone Reserve bourbon—a whiskey made from a mash of yellow corn, red winter wheat, pumpernickel rye, and two-row barley—and cream from Ohio dairies.
Nooku Bourbon Cream—17%, $31
Nooku is made from Old Elk Distillery’s 2 year old high-malt whiskey and dairy cream. The two are blended without any additional sugar, coloring, or flavors, and the result is completely shelf-stable.
Ole Smoky Bourbon Ball—17.5%, $25
This sweet treat blends Ole Smoky’s Tennessee bourbon with milk chocolate to create a drinkable version of the venerable chocolate and whiskey confection.