Whiskey past winter… why not? Keep a bottle in rotation even as temperatures climb.

When it comes to summertime drinking, whiskey, though well-loved the rest of the year, is not usually first-to-mind. America’s favorite brown spirit is generally thought of as more of as warming rather than refreshing, and the most iconic whiskey cocktails— the Manhattan, the Old-Fashioned— are boozy fare associated with dark bars, Mad Men-style happy hours, and late night imbibing.

But in the height of summer, there’s no need to shelve the Yamazaki for a diet of Gin & Tonics and Margaritas. Reach a little deeper into the cocktail canon, and there are plenty of recipes that are ideal candidates for backyard barbecues and sunny summer weather. Start with the classics, such as a Julep or whiskey sour. Or for a twist, try out a more under-the-radar option, such as the Whiskey Buck (recipe below).

The Buck family of cocktails, which consists of a spirit mixed with citrus juice and ginger beer, is currently riding a resurgence thanks to the newfound popularity of the vodka-based Moscow Mule (vodka, ginger beer and lime juice over ice). The recipe below is the whiskey version, which can easily be made with ginger beer for a low-fuss effort, though if you have the time, tinkering with homemade ginger soda is worth the wait.

spirits_20160601_01

Picture 1 of 5

PHOTO COURTESY WHISKEY KITCHEN, MSTREETNASHVILLE.COM

Choosing a bottle of whiskey for the dual purpose of sipping straight and mixing cocktails can be a bit of a balancing act. While you can use your finest bottles for cocktails, some would no doubt see it as a sacrilege to sacrifice your 25 Year Talisker or 23 Year Pappy Van Winkle to a mixed drink.

Don’t let the naysayers get you down if that’s your style. Julian Van Winkle (of the Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery) makes his Old Fashioneds with his family’s super scarce bourbon. Bartender and author Jim Meehan, creator of the storied New York bar PDT, famously advocated for mixing cocktails with the best ingredients and spirits you can find. (If you’re going to splurge on the whiskey, make sure you use other quality ingredients for balance as well.)

But there’s a wealth of quality whiskeys out there that would work well in bubbly summer highballs, especially when you’re looking for something that will play nicely with other ingredients. Here are five versatile bottles of whiskey that would be welcome at any backyard gathering (and be a good candidate for sipping solo in the advent you have some leftover):

BASIL HAYDEN BOURBON

This bourbon skews a little spicier, thanks to more rye in the grain mix (bourbon is typically made from mostly corn).

It’s also lighter in weight than its Beam Suntory small batch siblings, such as Knob Creek or Booker’s, making a more seasonal choice for summer entertaining.

EVAN WILLIAMS SINGLE BARREL 2005 VINTAGE BOURBON

This caramel-colored medium-weight entry will not disappoint bourbon lovers. Th e notes of vanilla, honey and cloves will nicely complement ginger flavors of something like the Whiskey Buck cocktail, below, or try it straight.

KNAPPOGUE CASTLE 12-YEAR-OLD WHISKEY

This Irish whiskey is made from unpeated malted barley and distilled three times at the Bushmills distillery. It skews a little lighter, making it a prime candidate for drinking when temperatures spike.

W.L. WELLER SPECIAL RESERVE BOURBON

This wheated whiskey is made in the same style as the Van Winkle bourbons—only you can find W.L. Weller Special Reserve Bourbon with greater ease. Smooth and delicate, it’s a bourbon that whiskey insiders will appreciate.

Try This at Home

WHISKEY BUCK
Serves 1

Branch out from the Moscow Mule with its sibling: the Whiskey Buck, made from ginger beer, lime juice and whiskey instead of vodka. The vanilla and woodsy notes that whiskey picks up from aging work well with the spicy ginger soda. A big entertaining plus: Whiskey Bucks can be made and mixed in the serving glass, so you won’t need to fl ex your cocktail shaking muscles.

2 ounces whiskey
3/4 ounce lime juice
3 ounces ginger beer or homemade ginger soda (recipe below)

Mix the whiskey, lime juice and ginger beer in a highball or Collins glass. Add ice and serve.

GINGER SODA
Makes 6 ounces (enough for 2 cocktails)

1 two-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup water
6 ounces sparkling water

In a small pot, combine the ginger, sugar and water. Heat mixture over medium heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Let cool, then pick out the ginger pieces. Mix the syrup with the sparkling water.

Ice, Ice Baby

Sure, ice balls add an elevated touch to your glass of whiskey, but they’re more than just a decorative piece for your drink. Spirit enthusiasts favor the spherical ice shape for aesthetics and logic alike. Unlike traditional ice cubes, ice balls chill your spirit in less time with less dilution.

But does it truly make a difference if your ice is a circle or square? The answer is yes, and there are two reasons why: volume and surface area.

Since a sphere exposes less surface area in your glass for the same amount of volume as a traditional cube of ice, the ice melts much slower. In turn, your drink stays chilled without getting as watered down.

And for the naysayers who question if ice belongs in whiskey at all, Clint Compton, co-founder and CEO of The Whiskey Ice Co., says, “Many whiskey aficionados agree that a small amount of water actually opens the bouquet of the whiskey, thereby enhancing the subtle flavors and aromas.”

—by Maya Wong