Essential Whiskey Cocktail: Whiskey Bramble

Unlike most classic cocktails—whose origin stories run the gamut from legend to hearsay—the history of modern classic cocktails tends to be more certain. But a lack of mystique doesn’t make these drinks any less delicious.

Take the Bramble, which was invented in 1984 by English bartender Dick Bradsell. While working at Fred’s Club in Soho, Bradsell—whom some have identified as a founding father of London’s cocktail scene—decided to invent a British drink with British products. He ended up creating what he considered a variation on the Singapore Sling and named it after the blackberry bush, in a nod to his childhood days on the Isle of Wight. The original gin Bramble calls for ¾ oz. lemon juice, 2 barspoons simple syrup, and 2 shots of gin, shaken and served over crushed ice with a bit of crème de mûre.

But somewhere along the way, whiskey was touted as a substitute for gin in the drink. “There’s something nice about how the oak profile and spice of whiskey combines with any dark berry flavors,” says JP Fetherston, beverage director of Columbia Room in Washington, D.C. It’s not a one-to-one swap (check out the recipe below), but with a few small tweaks, the Whiskey Bramble is just as refreshing.

Choose Your Whiskey

Fetherston suggests using rye, as the added spice works well with blackberries, though a younger bourbon with higher rye content and plenty of oak also works well. “This will cut through the sweeter flavors from the liqueurs,” explains Fetherston, who suggests Bulleit bourbon. Other bartenders prefer the soft and rounded notes of a wheated bourbon.

Or try an American single malt. “The sweeter, malty grain flavor will play nicely with the berry note from the crème de mûre,” Fetherston explains. You may still want to dial down the liqueurs to keep the drink from becoming too heavy and intense.

Originally a gin-based drink, the Bramble takes to whiskey just as easily. (Photo by Ian J. Lauer)

Whiskey Bramble Recipe

This bourbon variation comes from Tyler Rothenberg, bar manager at Felix Cocktails et Cuisine in Charleston, SC.

  • 2 oz. Maker’s 46 (or other wheated bourbon)
  • 1 oz. fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • ½ oz. simple syrup
  • ½ oz. crème de mûre
  • Garnish: blackberries

Pour bourbon, lemon juice, and simple syrup in a shaker tin with ice. Shake for 10 seconds. Strain into a rocks glass filled with crushed ice. Pour crème de mure over top and garnish with a skewer of fresh blackberries.

Top Tips

Expect the drink to taste sour
Keep in mind that you are going to add blackberry liqueur—i.e. something sweet—on top. If you taste the cocktail out of the shaker, it should be nice and tart.

Use quality crème de mûre
“There’s a lot of crap out there,” Fetherston warns. You want a good-quality crème de mûre to balance the acidity of the drink. Fetherston prefers G.E. Massenez, Giffard, or Langlois.

Be stingy with the sweetener
If you use bourbon, which has a natural sweetness, the drink could end up tasting like Kool-Aid if you’re not careful about proportions. Fetherston recommends sticking closer to the classic sour ratio of 1 ½ spirit, ¾ sweetener, and ¾ sour, though you’ll want to go heavier on the lemon and bourbon.

Make It Your Own

• Use whisky infused with flavors such as cherry (or make your own) to add new dimensions to the drink.
• Skip the liqueur and go all-natural, suggests Adam Seger, iPic Entertainment executive bartender and corporate sommelier. Fill a rocks glass halfway loosely with fresh blackberries. Add a lemon wheel and muddle well. Then add whisky, lemon juice, and sweetener in a 2:1:1 ratio. Fill the glass with ice and stir to mix well. Garnish with a slapped mint leaf.
• Try different types of fresh berries, like blueberries, raspberries, or mulberries.

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