The Gold Rush is a beautifully simple, modern whiskey cocktail made with bourbon, lemon juice, and honey.
The Gold Rush is basically a Whiskey Sour made with honey syrup instead of simple syrup (and without foam or bitters). You could also think of it as a Bees Knees made with whiskey and served on the rocks.
A modern classic with three simple ingredients
The Gold Rush cocktail is a modern classic that has gained a significant following in the craft cocktail world. Let’s talk about just why this simple, three ingredient cocktail has been so influential.
The Gold Rush cocktail is known for its simplicity and exceptional flavor profile. It combines just three ingredients: bourbon, fresh lemon juice, and honey syrup.
This minimalistic approach allows the flavors to shine through and creates a harmonious balance between the rich, oaky notes of bourbon, the bright tang of lemon, and the natural sweetness of honey. The result is a cocktail that is simultaneously refreshing, complex, and incredibly satisfying.
Accessibility and versatility
The Gold Rush has garnered acclaim as a modern classic because of its accessibility and versatility. The use of widely available ingredients and the straightforward preparation make it approachable for both home bartenders and professionals.
The combination of bourbon, lemon, and honey lends itself well to variations and experimentation. Bartenders and enthusiasts often play with different bourbon expressions or add subtle twists by incorporating complementary ingredients such as herbs or bitters, making it adaptable to diverse palates and preferences.
Timelessness with a contemporary twist
Despite being a relatively recent creation (invented in 2005), the Gold Rush cocktail possesses a timeless quality while incorporating a contemporary twist. Its balance of flavors and straightforward construction evoke the charm and elegance of classic cocktails, while the choice of ingredients and the modern resurgence of cocktail culture bring it into the present.
It bridges the gap between traditional and modern sensibilities, appealing to both seasoned cocktail aficionados and newcomers to the craft.
The Gold Rush has made a notable impact on the cocktail scene since its introduction by bartender T.J. Siegal at the renowned Milk & Honey bar in New York City in the early 2000s.
It quickly gained recognition and became a staple at numerous reputable cocktail bars worldwide. Its popularity and influence have led to its inclusion in cocktail menus of renowned establishments, as well as inspiring other bartenders to create their interpretations of the drink.
Its enduring appeal and wide acceptance within the industry cement its status as a modern classic.
In the awesome book about Sasha Petraske, Regarding Cocktails, Richard Boccato explains:
“The Gold Rush is one of the fundamental examples of the Milk & Honey cocktail program: three ingredients, perfect balance, and no fuss.”
And if you’re looking for more three ingredient cocktails with minimal fuss, check out my first book, Essential 3-Ingredient Cocktails.
The book includes both classic and original recipes, including my three-ingredient take on a Gold Rush riff called the Penicillin. My riff on a riff named Doctor’s Orders replaces smoky scotch with smoky mezcal and shakes it up with fresh lemon juice and a ginger honey syrup.
There are some differing recipes out on the internet today, but the original Gold Rush recipe was made with two parts bourbon and three-quarters parts each honey syrup and freshly squeezed lemon juice.
I love this ratio for most sours, as it’s well-balanced while letting the spirit take center stage.
No garnish necessary
While no garnish is required for the Gold Rush, I love to use a slice or wheel of lemon for that bright citrus aroma, and if I have one, an edible flower. Honey cocktails and fresh edible flowers are a no-brainer!
Here I’ve used a mini marigold from a box of edible flowers I bought at Whole Foods. Read more about edible flowers for cocktails in my Cocktailian’s Guide to Edible Flowers.
How to make honey syrup
Honey syrup is really just honey mixed with water. The water loosens up the thick consistency of the honey just enough to allow it to incorporate easily into other liquids.
Combine ⅓ cup of hot water with the honey and stir until the honey has dissolved. Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to a week.
This rich honey syrup gives the cocktail a silky mouthfeel that really sets it apart from a traditional Whiskey Sour.
The smooth texture and honey flavor also perfectly complement and enhance bourbon’s caramel and vanilla flavors.
Gold Rush recipe variations and similar cocktails
The Gold Rush is traditionally made with bourbon, but don’t let that stop you from trying it with rye, Canadian whiskey, Irish whiskey, blended Scotch whisky, or even an unaged white whiskey!
Lemon and honey get along well with every spirit, so this is a no-fail recipe that can be easily made at home with whatever bottle you have on hand.
If you want to venture out of the whiskey category, swap bourbon for gin and you have a Bee’s Knees. The Bee’s Knees is a classic cocktail with a history that dates back to the Prohibition era in the United States.
The cocktail gained popularity during the 1920s when the production, sale, and distribution of alcoholic beverages were prohibited in the United States. During this time, people turned to homemade or speakeasy cocktails to mask the flavors of homemade or low-quality spirits.
The term “bee’s knees” was a popular slang phrase of the era, meaning “the height of excellence.” It was likely used to describe the cocktail as a way to elevate the flavors of homemade spirits or mask their harshness.
Try my Bee’s Knees riff, the Yellowjacket
The Bee’s Knees cocktail is a mix of gin, lemon juice, and honey syrup. The gin provided the base spirit, while the citrus and honey syrup helped to balance the flavors and mask any undesirable tastes.
After the end of Prohibition, the Bee’s Knees cocktail faded from popularity for many years. However, with the resurgence of interest in classic cocktails and mixology, it has regained recognition as a delightful and refreshing drink.
Today, the Bee’s Knees is celebrated as a classic cocktail with a charming history. Its combination of gin, lemon juice, and honey syrup creates a balanced and flavorful drink that has stood the test of time.
Tahitian Honey Bee
This variation replaces whiskey with rum. You could use light rum, or go with an aged rum for even more delicious flavor. The Tahitian Honey Bee cocktail offers a harmonious blend of sweet, citrusy, and tropical flavors.
The rum contributes a warm and mellow character, while the honey syrup and lemon juice provide the perfect balance of sweetness and acidity. Like the Bee’s Knees, this lemon and honey cocktail is typically shaken and then served in a coupe glass, garnished with a lemon twist. The thing I love about this cocktail is that it’s just the right blend of tropical, sweet, sour, and refreshing.
Love rum? Check out my Guide to Easy Rum Mixed Drinks.
The Penicillin is a modern classic that was created by bartender Sam Ross in 2005. While working at the famous New York City cocktail bar Milk & Honey (yes, the birthplace of the Gold Rush as well!), Ross wanted to create a drink that combined the smokiness of Scotch whisky with the fresh and herbal flavors of ginger and citrus. He aimed to craft a cocktail that would provide a warm and comforting sensation, similar to that of a hot cup of tea.
Ross drew inspiration from two iconic cocktails—the Whiskey Sour and the Hot Toddy. He wanted to blend the best elements of both drinks while adding a modern twist.
The Penicillin cocktail typically features a blend of Scotch whisky, honey-ginger syrup, lemon juice, and a float of smoky Islay Scotch on top. The honey-ginger syrup adds sweetness and a warm, spicy ginger flavor that is the perfect complement to the smokiness of the Scotch.
Add seasonal fruit
The above cocktails are well-known riffs on the Gold Rush, but other ways to mix it up include muddling some fresh fruit.
Try muddling fresh strawberries or blackberries in the summertime for a warm weather spin on the classic. Simply muddle a few berries with the honey syrup in your cocktail shaker, then add the bourbon and lemon juice.
Alternatively, you could make a berry and honey syrup such as my Blackberry Simple Syrup.
Add ice, shake, and then fine strain into a double rocks glass filled with ice. Garnish with a berry and a slice of lemon. Yum!
You may also like these other whiskey cocktails:
- 2 oz bourbon
- ¾ oz honey syrup (1 cup of honey mixed with 1/3 cup hot water)
- ¾ oz lemon juice
- To make the honey syrup, combine the honey and hot water and stir until the honey has dissolved. Store any leftovers in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to a week.
- Add all cocktail ingredients to a cocktail shaker and fill it 3/4 with ice.
- Shake until chilled, then strain into a double rocks glass filled with ice.
- No garnish is required, but I like to add a lemon wheel and an edible flower, if in season.