Essential Whisky Cocktail: Gold Rush

Some of the best cocktails are the simplest, as the Gold Rush—a modern classic just like the Penicillin—proves.

In 2000, Sasha Petraske opened Milk & Honey in New York City. His long-time friend T.J. Siegal invested in the bar and also bartended. According to Robert Simonson, author of several cocktail books, Siegal knew they had a very rich honey syrup on hand. So one night in the bar’s early years, he requested a Whiskey Sour made with the syrup. “The Sour is thought to be a pedestrian cocktail,” Simonson says. “You wouldn’t think such a simple change would be so important, but everyone who had this drink raved about it. The syrup dressed it up and gave it a more luxurious mouthfeel.”

The Gold Rush soon became a standard not only at Milk & Honey but at bars worldwide. “So many modern cocktails are a little difficult to make because you need a special ingredient from the liquor store or to create something from scratch,” Simonson says. “But anybody can make honey syrup, so the Gold Rush is easy to replicate.” It’s just bourbon, honey syrup, and lemon—perfectly balanced.

Simonson considers the Gold Rush an example of the “Mr. Potato Head school of mixology”—you swap out one ingredient for something else. It’s a simple technique, yet the change creates an entirely new experience in the glass.

Choose Your Whiskey

The Gold Rush calls for bourbon. “Honey flavors are soothing and sweet, and bourbon has that sweetness, so they go together,” Simonson says. He recommends a bourbon that’s mostly corn and aged at least six years to maximize flavor. A little rye in the mashbill is okay, but Simonson cautions to avoid wheated bourbons, which are too mild. He recommends Elijah Craig or Henry McKenna 10 year old Bottled in Bond Single Barrel.

Leo de Rivera, head bartender at Red Phone Booth in Atlanta, prefers Four Roses bourbon, or for more spice, Knob Creek or Old Forester. He says wheated bourbons are fine if you like your drinks on the sweet side and suggests Maker’s 46 or W.L. Weller Special Reserve.

Gold Rush cocktail in a double rocks glass

A Gold Rush calls for bourbon, but the choice of which type to use is up to you. (Photo by Ian J. Lauer)

Gold Rush Recipe

  • 2 oz. bourbon
  • ¾ oz. honey syrup (recipe below)
  • ¾ oz. fresh lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice, and shake vigorously until the drink is sufficiently chilled. Strain into a chilled double Old Fashioned glass with a single large ice cube.

Honey Syrup

  • 1 cup honey
  • ⅓ cup water

Combine honey and water in a pot over medium heat. Stir well until thoroughly combined. Remove from heat and let cool. Store refrigerated in a tightly sealed container for up to 2 weeks.

Top Tips

Enrich the Syrup
“Don’t skimp on the honey syrup,” Simonson says. A 3-to-1 ratio of honey to water will result in a luxurious, full-bodied drink.

Don’t Add Egg White
An egg white is sometimes used in a Whiskey Sour to give the cocktail that lavish mouthfeel. But since the Gold Rush uses rich honey syrup, adding an egg white would be overkill.

Keep It Cold
Two steps will help ensure your drink is cold and stays cold longer as you enjoy it, de Rivera says: 1) Chill your serving glass. 2) Shake until a thin frost forms on the outside of the shaker.

Shake Hard—And Then Shake Some More
Honey can be tricky to integrate into a drink. The solution: “Shake the hell out of it,” Simonson recommends. “I like a Whiskey Sour when there are little bits of ice floating on top, and you only get that when you give the ice a real pelting.”

Make It Your Own

  • To transform the Gold Rush into another classic, don’t shake it over ice—just combine the ingredients, top with hot water, give it a stir, and you have a Hot Toddy.
  • Strain the drink into a Highball glass and top with ginger beer for a refreshing twist, de Rivera suggests.
  • Convert the cocktail into a picnic or tailgate-ready drink with this trick from de Rivera: Measure out the lemon juice and honey syrup, combine well, and freeze into ice cubes. Then just add them to the bourbon and enjoy the drink’s transformation as they melt.
  • Swap the bourbon with Irish whiskey to create an Irish Gold Rush.
  • Make another Sasha Petraske classic, the Penicillin: Swap the bourbon for blended scotch, use half honey syrup and half ginger syrup, and top with Islay scotch.

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