Photo of Bourbon and Coke

Bourbon and Coke (Shakespeare Forgive Me)

In Banter by Lee StangLeave a Comment

Bourbon Lovers, Whiskey Geeks, Cocktail Aficionados, lend me your ears. I come here to bury bourbon and coke not to praise it.

Bourbon and coke. My Dad drank bourbon and coke. Every night when he came home from work. In a small juice glass. Ancient Age with coke. I remember as a kid when Dad would take me up town to the liquor store and he would get his bottle of Ancient Age. I still remember what the bottle looked like. Dad had stomach issues so he added some coke to his bourbon.

I also remember as an eight-year-old coming into the house one evening in search of a little left over iced tea in the kitchen. There it was, on the counter, a glass with some left in it. A small juice glass. I took a good long pull. Oops!! That wasn’t iced tea. Dad hadn’t finished his bourbon and coke. And that was my first taste of bourbon. My throat was burning and my eyes almost popped out of my head.

Dad drank bourbon and coke. What did I know?

They hath said that bourbon and coke is not worthy and they are honorable people.

Fast forward ten years. College, University of Maryland. A friend and I are at one of the first football games of our freshman year. Maryland was not a good football team at the time. Much worse than they are now (If you can believe that). There was no joy in that stadium. Wait, the frat boys are all smiling and laughing. How come?

I watched as one guy would get up, go up the steps, and come back with a tray of cokes. Remember those trays with the wax paper cups of coke, with the cellophane over the top to keep it from spilling? Maybe you don’t. Why so many cokes there? Oh, I see. Rebel Yell. They are drinking bourbon and coke. No wonder they are so happy.

Yet they say that bourbon and coke is not worthy. And they are honorable people. I speak not to disprove them but here I am to speak what I know.

According to an article in Garden and Gun magazine, knowledge of bourbon and coke first surfaced in 1907 when the United States Bureau of Chemistry dispatched the head of its drug laboratory, Dr. Lyman Kebler, to the south to collect data on the use of a new drink called Coca-Cola. One of the doctor’s findings was that a proprietor of a soda fountain near a military base frequently served Coke to soldiers who mixed it with bourbon. The proprietor termed this drink a “coca-cola high-ball.”

So when I reached the legal age, what did I know? Bourbon and coke. Out at a bar or restaurant, if I wanted hard liquor it was bourbon and coke. Sometimes Jack and coke. Sometimes it was Jim Beam. At the time I was into beer mostly but when out with friends, if not beer, it was bourbon and coke. What else did I know?

You all did love bourbon and coke once, not without cause.

Well. most of you, right? Admit it. How many started their whiskey love with bourbon and coke. “Come on, they know. You can say it. (quote from the movie, My Cousin Vinny)” Yes, I drank bourbon and coke. When Knob Creek and Maker’s Mark showed up in bars and restaurants, yes, I drank them with coke. When Blanton’s showed up in the 90’s, I, heaven forbid, drank it with coke (well really diet coke). Not very often but I did. The fact is the better the bourbon, the better a bourbon and coke tastes.

Then what cause withholds your praise now?

Bourbon and coke. It was my go to liquor drink. I went through the beer phase and into the wine phase. If I wanted hard liquor through those times, it was bourbon and coke until….

On a Thanksgiving trip to Ocean City, MD, around 2005, my wife, Patti, and I were having dinner in the hotel restaurant. Once the meal was finished, we went to the bar and I ordered a Knob Creek and diet. The bartender said, “Why don’t you try this,” and handed me a sample of Buffalo Trace, neat. That was my eye opener and started my bourbon and whiskey phase. From that point on, I drank and pursued more and more bourbon and drank it neat or with some ice. My bourbon education really started on that day in Ocean City and continues to this point.

O judgment! Thou art fled to brutish beasts, And [people} have lost their reason. Bear with me. My heart is in the coffin there with [bourbon and coke], And I must pause till it come back to me.

I still drink bourbon and coke, well coke zero. Not very often and usually not outside of our house. Most likely when my stomach is telling me it has a problem, but I want another drink. It has great medicinal purposes. Maybe I just want a cool and simple cocktail. It is usually Buffalo Trace with a splash of coke. But I still drink it and I like it. The problem with bourbon and coke: It goes down way too fast. That probably leads to another and another and …..

And I am not alone. Sometimes when I am in a bourbon bar, I look around to see how others enjoy their bourbon. I remember doing this at Doc Crows in Louisville, KY a few years ago. What did I see? A lot of bourbons and coke.

Methinks there is much reason in his sayings. If thou consider rightly of the matter, bourbon and coke has had great wrong.

Yes, bourbon and coke has had a great wrong. It is a good drink. The flavors of the bourbon and the coke mix to produce something sweet and enticing. Don’t be fooled. Different bourbons provide a different flavor profile. Yes, when you “consider rightly of the matter”, bourbon and coke makes a really nice cocktail. There are a lot of people out there drinking bourbon and coke.

As our guide, Shelly told us on our Buffalo Trace Distillery Tour a couple years ago, “Drink what you like, the way you like it.”

My Dad drank bourbon and coke.

And I do too….sometimes.

About the Author
Lee Stang

Lee Stang


Lee’s bourbon journey started with one mistaken gulp of bourbon and coke as an eight-year-old. While bourbon was always part of his life, Lee followed a beer, wine path for the most part until a bartender poured him a taste of Buffalo Trace about ten years ago. It was at that point Lee’s love of bourbon really took off. Not only does Lee enjoy a good pour of bourbon but he is more than willing and excited to talk about it. Lee believes that bourbon, and for that matter all spirits, is enhanced by the experience of good company, good conversation and good bars. The combination leads to great stories. Say hi to him when you see him. Lee lives in Leesburg, VA, with his wife, best friend, and drinking partner, Patti. You might find her having a bourbon as well. Both Lee and Patti like to read mystery thrillers and travel. Most likely the travel leads to visits to new bars.

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