bourbon arnold palmer

bourbon arnold palmer

Summers are for Arnold Palmers. And despite the fact that I have little appreciation for all things golf-related (I hope my father-in-law forgives me!), I have a fondness for a certain Mr. Arnold Palmer and for the legacy he has left behind. His signature drink, half iced tea-half lemonade, is my preferred summer concoction.

At our wedding, which is ten (10!) days away, we are serving his and her signature cocktails. We went with the Bee’s Knees for Andrew’s drink. He’s a gin guy and the cocktail is a lovely way to highlight both: gin and the start of summer. It’s lemony, it’s uplifting, and even gin-haters like to drink Bee’s Knees!

I, on the other hand, have always been a bourbon girl. Before it was cool to like bourbon, before artisanal bourbon became trendy, before there were specialty bourbon bars in Brooklyn, before I could even afford decent bourbon, I liked bourbon on the rocks. In college. This might seem like I’m suggesting that I was the original hipster, that somehow I knew a cool thing when I saw one, that I had this advanced palate, but really, I promise you, this is not a disingenuous way of me suggesting, even for a second, that I knew cool before cool knew cool. I didn’t. I still don’t. I just like love bourbon.

Good bourbon is a thing of beauty and complexity. There are notes of caramel and smoke, leather and oak. The notes are playful; they appear and recede on your tongue.

bourbon arnold palmer

Years ago, a good friend of mine stayed at my apartment for a few days. He is a delightful, funny, brilliant guy that I don’t see or speak to enough. He is also a terrific co-reciter of “The Goblin Market” in coffee tawk*** style (Hi, Brian!). As a thank you, (which was unnecessary), Brian gave me a bottle of port and a bottle of Van Winkle limited edition bourbon. How he got his hands on that bottle, I, to this day, don’t know, because every time I ask any store about it, they just tell me they get 3 bottles at a time, and they are spoken for before they even hit the shelves. I cherished and treasure that bottle, and it remains, by far, the best bourbon I’ve ever tasted. And I’ve tasted many.

Anyway, you get it – I like good bourbon. But for a cocktail, you don’t want to use your top shelf bourbon because you’ll lose the spirit’s nuances. You want good bourbon that will blend well with your ingredients and will be, actually, complemented by them rather than upstaged. In other words: not Wild Turkey but not Buffalo Trace either.

And this is where Bourbon Arnold Palmer comes in. Something like Maker’s Mark is perfect as a splash (or two!) in an Arnold Palmer gives this drink a little bit more heft and depth. The sweet, round caramel notes of bourbon add to the sweetness of simple syrup. While more commonly vodka is added to the drink, making it a John Daly, I think that bourbon goes better with the iced tea-lemonade blend than vodka does. At least, that’s this Russian’s opinion anyway.

***[you’re welcome, for that Mike Myers, Madonna, AND Rosanne clip.]

Bourbon Arnold Palmer

At the wedding I’ll be going with a splash of bourbon and no more. After all, with cocktails preceding the ceremony, who wants a sloshed bride? It might be a great YouTube video, but I’ll save my family the embarrassment. If I was fixing myself a cocktail on a summery afternoon, you can bet that I’d go with two splashes of bourbon. What’s a splash, you say? I’ll leave that to you. Some folks like their drinks diluted, while others prefer them on the stiffer side. I won’t judge you, I promise. I do, however, highly recommend that you make your own iced tea and lemonade. It might seem like much ado about nothing, but I promise you: your final cocktail will taste so far superior to anything you’ll get from premade ingredients. Also: as a busy bride I can tell you this: squeezing lemons is not only a great workout for your forearms, but also makes for a terrific stress relief.

For the Simple Syrup:
1 cup sugar
1 cup water

For the Iced Tea:
4 black tea bags or 4 teaspoons loose black tea
6 cups boiling water

For the Lemonade:
1 cup Simple Syrup (recipe above) or Honey Syrup
1 cup fresh lemon juice

To Finish:
Ice cubes

Make the Simple Syrup:
In a small pot, combine the sugar with 1 cup of water and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and refrigerate until needed. Simple syrup can be refrigerated for about 2 weeks.

Make the Iced Tea:
Place the tea in a pitcher and pour the boiling water over. Set aside and let the tea steep for 5 minutes. Remove (strain if using loose tea) the tea bags and refrigerate the tea until cold.

Make the Lemonade:
In a nonreactive glass jar, combine the Simple Syrup (or the honey syrup) and the lemon juice. Refrigerated until cold.

Make the Bourbon Arnold Palmer:
Fill a large glass with ice and fill halfway with tea. Fill almost halfway with the lemonade. Add a splash (or two) of bourbon and stir. Serve immediately.

Makes about 6 to 8 drinks.


  • Katie

    You and these cocktails! Yet another thing I want to be drinking *right now*. I agree with you on making your own iced tea whenever possible, and also about staying carefully away from being the sloshed bride. I think my own wedding was probably the most sober I’ve ever been at any wedding. Best of luck over the next 10 days, it’ll come and go so fast you won’t believe it. Try to relax and enjoy it!

  • Aaron

    A girl after my own heart! I love bourbon. I’m a Bulleit man myself, but Makers is definitely a solid choice. I’d sure like to have some of that Van Winkles!

  • Eileen

    I think a pitcher of these might hit the spot sometime next weekend. :) I just have to get myh ands on some decent bourbon first…

  • John

    Whenever I put alcohol in an Arnold Palmer, I call it a Fuzzy Zoeller. Just to be mean.

  • Marnely Rodriguez

    YES PLEASE! This is one of my favorite drinks, and I love making it with Firefly Vodka, which is a sweet tea vodka. Oh dear, I might need to go shopping right now! And definitely love your rec of making the juice…nothing is worse than artificial juices!

  • Luba

    Also, my fiance and I are getting married on the same day as you! So, I do hope that at this very moment you are letting yourself relax and even maybe letting yourself enjoy the stress a little bit? That’s what I tried to tell myself this morning when I decided I would go to the farmers market anyway, though the chances of me being a devoted cook this week are rather slim…We are only having one cocktail offering at our wedding, and it also features bourbon! We will have a big jug of lemonade, with the option of adding a shot of bourbon for something like the Smitten Kitchen Vermontucky Lemonade. Now I am tempted to relieve pre-wedding stress by dipping into the bourbon supply and trying out an Arnold Palmer! Have a blast next weekend!

  • Radish

    Luba – have a lovely wedding as well!! And definitely have a spiked Arnold Palmer – guaranteed to make an easier week. I’m making lobster tonight and cooking tomorrow and Monday. But the rest of the week looks bleak, cooking wise. Good luck with the week and enjoy the wedding day!

  • Natasha

    My boyfriend and I recently discovered the delicious, refreshing wonder of the bourbon Arnold Palmer. Both of us being bourbon lovers, we are definitely of this!

  • Asta

    We served Knob Creek & lemonaide at our wedding last Sept & it was a big hit. I love the idea of adding tea to it for another earthy layer of flavor. Congrats & have fun!

  • mjskit

    It’s been more than 10 days so obviously a congratulations on your marriage is in order. CONGRATULATIONS! I’m sure the wedding was beautiful and both cocktails were a great success. I have never had an Arnold Palmer and really didn’t even know what it was. It looks so good and something that I definitely would love!

  • Radish

    MJ – you would love it, indeed. half iced tea, half lemonade, what’s not to love? And with a splash of bourbon – yum! Thank you for your congratulations!

  • Vincent

    I just tried this with Maker’s Mark and canned Arizona Arnold Palmer and the result is amazing! I never thought bourbon could go with Palmer. Thank you for the awesome suggestion!

  • Betsy Transatlantically

    Thank you. THANK YOU. My wedding is this August and my fiance and I are each having a signature cocktail; being English, he chose a G&T, but I”m still casting around for mine. I lived in Charlottesville the summer I was 21 and got hooked on bourbon&ginger so knew I wanted a bourbon-based drink but thought I needed to make something a little more involved. So I dove into the drunken sea of options and got sucked into the whirlpool of recipes that can only be made with ingredients found in Brooklyn during a full moon by a bearded man wearing suspenders… and then I found this.

    This is what we will serve. Thank you.

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