Amateur Hour: You Got Coke in My Bourbon! How to Keep Your Friends and Your Prized Bottles

Article by Carla Carlton; Photograph by Victor Sizemore

Nearly every bourbon enthusiast has a story about the time someone desecrated one of their most prized bottles of whiskey by mixing it with Coke or making a whiskey sour with it. Quelle horreur!

As the post-pandemic holidays approach, bringing with them parties, festive dinners, and hapless guests, now is the time to think about which bourbons you are willing to pour and share and how you can accommodate your visitors rather than shame them. Here are some tips.

Hide the unicorns.

If you are saving a bottle for a really special occasion or would fly into a rage if you saw it being adulterated with a carbonated beverage, just put it away. You can’t be a big shot and show off your Pappy 23 and then go postal if someone unwittingly opens it. Out of sight, out of danger.

Help guests mix it up.

Cater to those who enjoy mixing their bourbon by setting up a station just for them. Include some moderately priced bourbons that play nice with others, such as Old Forester, Four Roses, Maker’s Mark, and Woodford Reserve, as well as mixers like ginger ale or ginger beer, Ale-8-One, and the bourbon purists’ nightmare, Coca-Cola. Don’t forget the ice.

Provide some starter bottles.

Encourage those guests who just aren’t sure they like bourbon to test that theory with some “entry-level” bottles. Basil Hayden, Evan Williams, and Johnny Drum come to mind. Angel’s Envy Bourbon, which is finished in port barrels, is a good gateway bourbon for those who enjoy red wine. It has bourbon characteristics, but its velvety mouthfeel and finish are more like wine.

Don’t stress to impress.

You can wow the bourbon aficionados without breaking the bank. Consider a Willett selection, Wild Turkey Rare Breed, Kentucky Peerless Rye, or E.H. Taylor Small Batch. Any private barrel selection from your local liquor store is also a solid choice; chances are good that even the self-proclaimed bourbon expert will not have sampled it elsewhere. 

Show your strength.

High-proof or barrel-strength whiskeys are popular now. Booker’s, Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, and Maker’s Mark Cask Strength would make a nice flight, but don’t overpour—these guys pack a punch. Suggesting that folks ride-share to and from your party is a wise move.

There you have it: a fabulous party with no regrets—well, about your prized bottles, anyway.

But here’s a final thought. Why not open some of those bottles? If the past year has shown us anything, it’s that time with our friends and loved ones is not guaranteed. Bourbon is made to be shared. Ultimately, what you’ll probably remember most is not the taste of the bourbon, but with whom you enjoyed it.

Carla Carlton
Official Contributor
Kentucky native Carla Carlton has bourbon flowing through her veins. Her maternal grandmother worked on a bottling line in the 1930s, and her paternal grandfather made whiskey barrel staves to supplement his farming income. She just loves to drink the stuff–neat and at least 100 proof. She shares her knowledge of the spirit and the industry on her website, The Bourbon Babe; in appearances at events like the New Orleans Bourbon Festival and at private tastings; and in her book Barrel Strength Bourbon: The Explosive Growth of America's Whiskey. She brings a lifetime of bourbon passion and nearly three decades of award-winning writing and editing experience to Bourbon+. And as a charter member of Bourbon Women, an international organization, she’s particularly attuned to making women feel welcome at the bar.