Finding Bourbon: Mix or Don’t Mix?

Also lock up your good stuff.

Story by Kevin Gibson


Are you a mixer? You know, a bourbon and Coke person?

I prefer bourbon neat, and I’ve tried it mixed with soda on many occasions – it just gets too sweet for my palate. I enjoy the unadulterated warmth of the Kentucky hug and the complexity of flavors, be they sweet, savory or spicy.

A customer came into the Louisville tasting room where I work part-time and was telling me about a get-together he held at his house. He set out several bourbons for his guests, including a bottle of Old Forester 86 proof for those who wanted to mix theirs with soda.

At some point during the evening, he noticed a guest mixing Four Roses Small Batch with Coca-Cola. He explained to me how he at first reacted with surprise and mild horror. But as he was telling me this story, he also went on to explain that he fully understands that people are free to enjoy bourbon however they see fit.

“I told them they could drink whatever they wanted,” he told me. “And it shouldn’t have bothered me. But at the time, he did.”

That’s one of the great things about bourbon, as I’ve learned in my fairly brief relationship with Kentucky’s favorite liquid. I have friends whose default adult beverage of choice is Maker’s Mark and Diet Coke – always in a tumbler.

I will occasionally sip bourbon neat while enjoying a Pepsi, but I’ve mixed the two before and it just isn’t for me. For my palate, it ruins both beverages. I do love my Pepsi. That said, if someone buys a $100 bottle of bourbon and they choose to mix it with 7UP or whatever soft drink of choice, I say more power to them.

To my customer’s point, if it was MY $100 bottle of bourbon, I might feel differently. So, I get both sides of the argument.

Another customer who came in a while back had a different story to tell. He went out of town for a weekend and had a close family member to stay at his house with his pet. He told the relative to help themselves to whatever was in the fridge or in the bar. He’d forgotten that his cherished bottle of Pappy van Winkle 23 year was in the bar, unlocked.

When he returned, he found the bottle, which had been full, was now half missing. He called the relative and said, “What happened to my Pappy?”

The response: “I thought the bottle looked interesting, so I decided to try it. It’s really great mixed with Coke.”

Yep, Pappy 23 and Coke. The family member had no idea what that bottle was or was worth.

I guess the moral to the story is, enjoy bourbon your way and never apologize – and always lock up your good stuff.

Kevin Gibson
Official Contributor

Kevin Gibson is a free-lance writer who writes for numerous publications, including Thrillist and Alcohol Professor. He also is author of Louisville Beer, Secret Louisville, and several other books. In his three decades as a professional writer, he has won numerous awards but doesn’t know where most of them are now (they're probably in the basement). He lives in Louisville, Kentucky, with his dog, Atticus.