Skip to Content

Gold Rush (Easy Bourbon Cocktail Recipe)

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.

yellow cocktail in rocks glass with black silhouettes of pine trees etched onto glass

A modern classic with three simple ingredients

The Gold Rush cocktail is a modern classic that has gained immense popularity since its creation in the early 2000s. Let’s dive into why this simple, three ingredient cocktail has been so influential.

Timeless flavor combination

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 minimalist approach allows all of the flavors to shine through and creates a harmonious balance between the rich, oaky notes of bourbon, the bright tang of lemon, and the sweet, caramel-like flavor of the honey. The result is a cocktail that is sweet, sour, refreshing, and incredibly satisfying.

Simple and versatile

One of the reasons the Gold Rush has become so popular is that it’s made with very accessible and versatile ingredients. Unlike many craft cocktails, the Gold Rush can be made by just about anyone, without any special tools, liqueurs, or bitters.

a yellow cocktail in a rocks glass with a forest outline on it

History of the cocktail

The Gold Rush is a relatively recent creation (invented in 2005), but it’s simple ingredients are reminiscent of Prohibition-era cocktails like the Bees Knees (gin, lemon, honey).

The cocktail has made a notable impact on the craft cocktail scene since its introduction by bartender T.J. Siegal at the renowned Milk & Honey bar in New York City.

It quickly gained recognition and became a staple at cocktail bars worldwide. Its popularity and influence have inspired dozens of riffs on the original by professional and home bartenders alike.

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.”

pouring whiskey into a gold cocktail shaker

And if you’re looking for more three ingredient cocktails with minimal fuss, check out my first book, Essential 3-Ingredient Cocktails, available on Amazon.

The book includes both classic and original recipes, including my three-ingredient take on a Gold Rush variation 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 the 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.

I typically make a honey simple syrup, but the original Gold Rush recipe in Regarding Cocktails calls for a rich syrup made with 1 cup honey to ⅓ cup water.

squeezing lemon juice into a gold cocktail shaker

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.

pouring a cocktail from a shaker into a rocks glass filled with ice

Bee’s Knees

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

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 spiced 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.

a hand adding an orange flower to a cocktail

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!

Love this glass? Find it on Amazon. See more of my favorite Amazon glassware picks!

You may also like these other whiskey cocktails:

yellow cocktail in rocks glass with black silhouettes of pine trees etched onto glass

Gold Rush

Amy Traynor
The Gold Rush is a modern classic whiskey cocktail made with bourbon, lemon juice, and honey.
No ratings yet
Prep Time 5 minutes
Total Time 5 minutes
Course Drinks
Cuisine American
Servings 1 cocktail


  • 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.


Gold Rush Recipe Variations
Make a Berry Gold Rush by muddling a few fresh berries with the honey syrup in a cocktail shaker. Then add the lemon juice, bourbon, and ice, and shake until chilled. Fine strain the liquid into a double rocks glass filled with ice and garnish with a lemon wheel and a berry.
Keyword bourbon, honey syrup, lemon juice, rye whiskey
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!
Recipe Rating