The Gold Rush is a modern cocktail with a definite old-school classic vibe. With a more complex flavor than the whiskey sour on which its modeled, it is a simple combination of bourbon, lemon and honey.

It’s hard to believe that such an obvious variant of the whiskey sour is a recent discovery, but it seems the Gold Rush only goes back to around 2000. Jim Meehan (PDT Cocktail Book) credits T. J. Siegal for its original formulation, at Manhattan’s Milk and Honey.

I think of bartenders—good bartenders—as an inquisitive and experimental lot, and honey isn’t exactly a new sweetener. It seems like the honey variation surely must have been reinvented about a thousand times a year since the Civil War, but there seems to be no record of it.

(You could also think of the Gold Rush as a bourbon version of the gin-and-honey Bee’s Knees, which has been around at least since Prohibition, and which has inspired other substitutions—notably the rum-based Honey Bee.)

But Siegel seems to be the first to have served a mix of bourbon, lemon and honey when anyone was writing it down, and that counts for a lot.

The Gold Rush Cocktail, photo © 2014 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.
The Gold Rush Cocktail

The Gold Rush Cocktail

  • 2 oz bourbon (Bulleit, Elmer T. Lee)
  • ¾ oz honey syrup (3:1)
  • ½–¾ oz fresh lemon juice

Shake all ingredients with ice until very cold; strain into a chilled cocktail stem or rocks glass. Optionally, garnish with lemon twist or brandied cherry.

Sours work well with high-proof bourbons. The Bulleit and the Elmer T. Lee that I’ve listed above are a nice choice at 90 proof, and Weller’s Antique 107 works extremely well in both whiskey sours and Old-Fashioneds.

Detail of lemon wedges, photo © 2014 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.The trick, as always with sours, is to balance the sweet and tart flavors, so that neither overpowers the other, but you still have a drink dominated by the whiskey. You’ll want to adjust the amount of lemon according to the seasons and the tartness of your fruit.

The honey is more than a sweetener here, it is an important flavor element; you want to add enough to let its flavors shine through, but not so much that the drink becomes overly sweet. In a balanced Gold Rush, the flavor is dominated by the whiskey; then there is a hint of the honey, followed by just enough of the lemon tartness to keep the sweetness from running amok.

The flavor of the Gold Rush differs from the standard bourbon sour only in the extra complexity of the honey. As a result, the drink’s flavor is strongly affected by geography and season.

Gold Rush Cocktail (detail), photo © 2014 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.Here in southern Minnesota, honey tends to be about prairie flowers and grasses; in a Minnesota Gold Rush, the honey’s floral characteristics fill the nose and add a bit of grassiness to the flavor of the drink. I’ve never had a Gold Rush outside of the Midwest, but I would expect the flavors to reflect the honey sources in each region.

As for the presentation, nearly all of the write-ups I’ve seen recommend a stemmed cocktail glass for serving. My favorite glass for the whiskey sour is the Old-Fashioned or “rocks” glass; I think I prefer to serve the Gold Rush that way, too, over ice.