Which Liquor Mixes Best with Coke?
By Richard Thomas
The recipe is a classic—one part liquor, three parts Coca Cola—and requires nothing more than the two ingredients, ice, and a tall glass to mix them in. The complication comes in with what whiskey to put into that mix, with as many or more whiskey-based variations on the list of highballs as there are types of whiskey. An even more pertinent question is if you want to use Coke as a mixer, is whiskey even the right thing to mix it with? Why not rum and coke?
Bourbon or Jack?
South of the Mason-Dixon line, Jack Daniels and bourbon are the two big choices for mixing with that other great Southern invention, Coca Cola. Kentuckians swear by their bourbon, just as Tennesseans cling to their Jack (the overwhelmingly dominant brand of Tennessee whiskey), but for everyone else any preference seems to be rooted in what you were introduced to first, and for good reason.
The addition of cola draws out the sweet and sour character of corn-based, new oak-aged whiskey, whether it be bourbon or maple-filtered Tennessee whiskey, complimenting it very well. However, this particular highball underlines why you should never use anything better than average whiskey in your cocktails, since it is nearly impossible to distinguish Jack Daniels from any type of bourbon once three parts of Coke have gone into it.
If you are in the bar, go with Jack and Coke. Jack Daniels is available almost everywhere, the Jack and Coke is usually on the cheap list, and going with Jack Daniels as your mixer whiskey ensures that you don’t wind up with some unknown, bottom-shelf rotgut instead. At home, only two things past your preferences matter: your budget, and avoiding the kind of rotgut whiskey that ensures a hangover.
When it comes to other forms of whiskey, the key thing to remember that sweet flavors work best with Coke. In bourbon and Tennessee whiskey, those come from the syrupy sweetness of the corn and the caramel and vanilla drawn out of the new oak. Many scotch whiskeys have earthy, peaty flavors, while most Irish whiskey includes strong toffee-like notes. Neither of these is a good compliment for Coke, so these are things to avoid. On the other hand, some mixer-grade scotches are so thin as to lose their character in Coke entirely, and these must be avoided as well.
In Spain, DYC and Coke is such an institution that the two frequently appeared bundled together in supermarket value packs. While not sweet, DYC is very light without being thin. If you are choosing a blended scotch to mix with Coke, it should follow those lines, and that eliminates choices like Johnnie Walker Red or VAT69.
Among the basic Irish whiskeys, only Tullamore Dew has the requisite light, crisp character and sweet, fruity flavor to work as a Coke mixer.
Pre-Mixers: Avoid At All Cost
Make no mistake: pre-mixed cans of cola and whiskey, like those offered by William Lawsons or Jack Daniels, are uniformly vile. There is something about mixing these two ingredients and leaving them together for months that destroys both. Furthermore, the alcohol content of these canned products—usually about 5% or 6%— obviously skimps on the whiskey. One part of a 40% alcohol liquor mixed with three parts of something else should yield a cocktail with 10% alcohol, not a measly beer-level of 5%.
Rum Instead of Whiskey?
Another mixer classic for Coca Cola is rum, raising the question of whether you should bother with whiskey at all, or go straight for rum?
The Rum and Coke, or Cuba Libre, uses a different recipe than whiskey and coke, being 1/3 rum and 2/3 Coke with a lime wedge, so ostensibly the drink is stronger than its whiskey equivalent. That isn’t necessarily a good thing, however, as your typical mixer-grade clear rum doesn’t really taste like much of anything, and putting so much bland alcohol into the drink degrades rather than enhances or transforms the peppery sweetness of Coca Cola.
Your average Rum and Coke is a pretty boring drink, so much so that whiskey lovers should never give it a second look. Go for bourbon or Jack and Coke every time.