I am hereby putting in a petition for “whiskey and coffee” to be added to the food pairings hall of fame alongside greats like “peanut butter and chocolate”. Why? Because in addition to tasting absolutely delicious, the active effects of whiskey and coffee complement each other perfectly.
One wakes you up—the other one makes it worth being awake. And through their synergy, you can hit a state of flow in no time, no matter what you’re getting into. So whether you’re a bourbon, scotch, or Irish whisk(e)y fan, one of these dozen best whiskeys to drink in your coffee will get your day started right.
Four Roses Bourbon
For an accessible, affordable, and all-round drinkable bourbon, it’s hard to go wrong with Four Roses. For being a $25 bottle, it’s remarkably smooth and easy drinking, with a long and mellow finish that’s not typical of bourbons at this price. It’s aged for a minimum of five years, and blended from up to 10 unique barrels to achieve each bottle’s signature flavor. If you’re looking for one whiskey that can play well in any cocktail you can imagine, this is the one—and its caramel tones complement a cup of coffee like you wouldn’t believe.
Tullamore D.E.W. Original Irish Whiskey
Among Irish whiskeys, Jameson and Bushmill’s tend to get the bulk of people’s attention. That’s a shame, because at nearly the same price point you also have access to one of my favorite Irish whiskeys: Tullamore D.E.W. It’s soft, round, and buttery mouthfeel pairs perfectly with coffee’s bolder roasted notes. Double that for the spice and citrus aroma of the whiskey, and the mild honeyed sweetness on its finish. Doll up your coffee with a dab of freshly whipped cream (no sugar, please) and you’ll be well on your way to a traditional Irish Coffee.
Dewar’s 8 Year Old Caribbean Rum Cask Scotch
Rum’s fruity and spicy flavors have made it a long-time favorite for drinking in tropical cocktails. But those same flavors have begun to find their way into a remarkable array of Scotch whiskies as well, courtesy of Caribbean rum cask aging. Dewar’s is among the most affordable of the bunch, and a damned fine way to try out the style. The floral and honeyed notes typical of Dewar’s highland style are married with rich brown sugar and tropical fruits, making it a great match for high acid single origin coffees.
Clyde May’s Original Alabama Style Whiskey
Alabama is far from being famous on the United States map of whiskeys. But old Clyde May really had something going for him in the recipe for his Original Alabama Style Whiskey. It’s a step sweeter than a traditional bourbon, but still has all of the classic bourbon heat on the back end. Flavors of cherries, vanilla, and cinnamon mingle nicely with light roast coffees, and a butterscotch and caramel finish ties everything together. It’s my first pick for mixing into fancier coffee beverages, and it makes for a mean mocha.
George Dickel No. 8 Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey
Tennessee sour mash whiskeys are one of the great overlooked categories of American whiskey. Jack Daniels is the lone example of one that’s broken onto the major drinking scene in the U.S., and it’s a great example of the style—but something like George Dickel’s No. 8 whiskey will really knock your socks off. A caramel and oak nose leads quickly into a malty feast of flavors in the body of this whiskey, all before heading towards a nuanced smoke and maple finish. And at 80 proof it plays nice with others, especially coffee with a splash of good cream.
Compass Box Artist Blend Scotch
Blended Scotches, though they don’t carry the same reputation of single malts, are still some of my favorite whiskies for everyday drinking. Compass Box’s Artist Blend Scotch is among the best of them, with an exceptionally complex array of flavors that make it dangerously drinkable. Tastes and aromas of baked apples, vanilla, warm spices, and lightly charred oak make it a joy to sip on neat, but when those same flavors hit a cup of fresh coffee, watch out—they take on a whole new dimension that will enliven your senses and invite you to add another splash to your morning mug.
Angel’s Envy Bourbon Finished in Port Barrels
Take one sip of Angel’s Envy Bourbon, and you’ll be convinced that the flavors of whiskey and ruby port were separated at birth. They’re just such a perfect complement to each other: The whiskey provides a deeply flavorful and malty base, the port refines and rounds the whiskey’s rough edges, and the combination yields a complexity that’s hard to achieve with standard oak aging. And all of those subtle fruity flavors that the port barrels add make this whiskey an even better match for a light roast coffee. There, the whiskey’s spice and the port’s fruit can work their magic to elevate the coffee to an even more voluptuous and aromatic finish.
Jameson Cold Brew Irish Whiskey
If it’s been one of those mornings, why not add some coffee to your whiskey and coffee? Jameson’s Irish Whiskey is already a lovely addition to your morning cuppa, and their cold brew infused whiskey doubles down on everything that’s good about the combination of booze and caffeine. Though it’s delightful to sip on its own, Jameson Cold Brew Irish Whiskey really shines when it’s mixed with just about anything—especially a good cup of dark roast coffee, where the roasted and chocolatey tones will balance each other beautifully.
Legent Bourbon Whiskey
Did you know that bourbon is incredibly popular in Japan? It’s true—even though they have their own venerable whiskey-making tradition, Japan’s whiskey connoisseurs just can’t get enough of American whiskey. Legent Bourbon Whiskey is the product of this love, and the brainchild of two master distillers: Fred Noe of Jim Beam and Shinji Fukuyo of Suntory. It’s a truly beautiful bourbon, with subtle and nuanced touches from Shinji building on the atypical base of flavors provided by Fred. It’s a bourbon like no other, and just as worth drinking neat as it is adding a splash to perfume your coffee with.
Speyburn 10 Year Old Single Malt Scotch
Drinking a single malt scotch in coffee? Scotch purists are no doubt rolling in their graves all across the British Isles. But let me make a case for adding Speyburn’s 10 Year Old Single Malt Scotch to your coffee. For one, it’s remarkably affordable for its quality, coming in under $40. Then, it’s mellow but complex combination of butterscotch, fresh fruit, and toffee flavors is an ideal companion to coffee’s more aggressive roasted flavors and acidity. Try it out—I promise you’ll like it.
Smooth Ambler Contradiction
Most American whiskeys focus on a single grain to develop the majority of their flavor. Corn, rye, wheat, and heritage grains have all been the base of drinkable and interesting bourbons, ryes, and whiskeys. But for Smooth Ambler’s Contradiction, they’ve taken an atypical approach to blending a truly remarkable whiskey. A portion of high-wheat bourbon is mixed with an equal portion of high rye bourbon, making for a nearly equal amount of wheat, rye, and corn in the mash bill. That makes it a fascinating whiskey to sip on its own, but I can personally attest that it’s just as delicious in a cup of coffee, too.
Sagamore Spirit Straight Rye Whiskey
Rye whiskey and coffee can be strange bedfellows. The spicy and aggressive character of rye can often overwhelm coffee’s more delicate aromas, making for an overly bracing cup of joe. But with Sagamore Spirit’s Straight Rye Whiskey, many of those black pepper aromas and flavors are replaced with a mellow herbal tone. And that makes it both great for sipping solo as well as a friendly companion for any roast of coffee.