Kentucky Buck

Originating from the heart of bourbon country, the Kentucky Buck combines the rich warmth of whiskey with the zing of ginger beer, the sweetness of fresh berries and the tartness of fresh lemon juice. Learn all about this timeless favorite and how to craft it yourself at home.

Two glasses of pink strawberry lemonade garnished with strawberries and lemon slices, set against a white background.

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Kentucky Buck cocktail recipe

Spring is upon us (finally) and I’m here for all the springtime cocktails. Strawberries are the ultimate springtime bounty, to me, so I’m kicking things off with a strawberry cocktail: the Kentucky Buck.

With fresh berries, lemon juice and zingy ginger beer, the Kentucky Buck is a refreshing and balanced cocktail that’s worth making it to your to-make list this season.

Strawberries and bourbon may sound like a funny match, but it’s quite the refreshing cocktail. The sweetness and brightness of fresh berries balance out the smoky, oaky, caramel and vanilla flavors of bourbon whiskey, tart lemon and zingy ginger beer.

This modern classic is also great for the upcoming Kentucky Derby — if you need a drink that isn’t a mint julep, this is a great one.

More bourbon cocktail recipes: Basil JulepWhiskey SmashSpire CocktailOaks Lily Cocktail

Top view of a strawberry cocktail garnished with a lemon slice and strawberry, surrounded by whole strawberries and a lemon.

Why you’ll love this recipe

You are going to adore this easy bourbon cocktail recipe.

  • The Kentucky Buck tastes like springtime thanks to the fresh, muddled berries.
  • It’s light, refreshing and perfectly balanced.
  • It’s easy to put together without any special equipment.

What is a buck cocktail?

You may have not heard of the buck, but you’ve probably heard of the mule, which is a type of buck cocktail. The Moscow Mule, the original mule, features vodka, lime juice and ginger beer.

Buck cocktails feature a spirit, some citrus and either ginger ale or ginger beer.

The Kentucky Buck is a version that uses Kentucky bourbon, lemon and muddled strawberries.

The berries and the lemon juice are what separates the Kentucky Buck from the Kentucky Mule, which is made with bourbon, lime juice, ginger beer and fresh mint.

A person holding a gold-capped, textured glass cocktail shaker filled with a pinkish-red liquid.

Tools & glassware

To make a Kentucky buck, you’ll need a bar tool set that includes a muddler (for mashing the berries), a strainer (for eliminating seeds and ice cubes) and a jigger (for measuring the liquids).

You can muddle the berries in a mixing glass or a cocktail shaker, or even a mason jar or right in the glass.

I served this drink in a rocks glass, but you could serve it tall in a highball glass. You could even put this in a mule mug, since mules are bucks after all!

Ingredients

Here’s what you’ll need to make this recipe:

  • Simple syrup: Make your own with equal parts sugar and water. It’s so, well, simple!
  • Strawberries: Use fresh, ripe strawberries for the best flavor. You’ll need to muddle some fresh strawberries. In a hurry or need to make a lot of drinks? Use warmed strawberry jam (strained) or strawberry simple syrup.
  • Bourbon: If you have a favorite bourbon, you can use it in this cocktail. I like trying different whiskeys, but my recent favorites are Maker’s Mark, Woodford Reserve and Knob Creek.
  • Lemon juice: Fresh is best but the bottled stuff is great in a pinch!
  • Ginger beer or ginger ale: Ginger ale differs from ginger beer, but you can use either here. Ginger ale is sweeter, while ginger beer has a bit more of a zippy bite.
  • Bitters: A dash or two of aromatic bitters like Angostura bitters adds a punch of flavor to this drink.
A refreshing strawberry lemonade with ice in a textured glass, garnished with a strawberry and lemon slice.

Garnishes

There are two main garnishes for the Kentucky Buck drink:

  • Fresh strawberries: Whole or sliced will work here!
  • Lemon slices: Choose from fresh, candied or dehydrated.

You have the option to either directly add the lemon slices and berries into the drink or skewer them on a cocktail pick for a more sophisticated presentation.

Two glasses of strawberry lemonade with lemon slices and a strawberry on the rim, set against a white background with whole strawberries nearby.

Variations and substitutions

You can mix up a bourbon buck by switching out the bourbon for another type of whiskey or another spirit altogether. You can try it with tequila, rum or brandy, or one of these:

Vodka Buck: Essentially a Moscow Mule with lemon. (This Strawberry Mule recipe uses vodka.)

Gin Buck: Substitute London Dry gin for the whiskey for an herbal delight.

Irish Buck: Use Irish whiskey instead of bourbon for a milder, less oaky flavor.

Scotch Buck: Use Scotch whisky for a smokier flavor. Also called the Mamie Taylor.

Another way to change things up is to use a flavored simple syrup. Try it with mint syrup, blueberry syrup or maple syrup to create different flavor profiles.

You can also make a lighter version with a homemade ginger syrup instead of plain and club soda instead of ginger beer. It will still have the flavor but without the sugar in the soda. You can also make homemade ginger ale that’s a bit lighter too.

make it a mocktail

Want to make it non-alcoholic? Here’s what to substitute:

  • Simply swap the bourbon 1:1 for a non-alcoholic spirit. I like Ritual whiskey alternative.
  • A strong, unsweetened iced tea works in lieu of bourbon too.
  • You can also omit the alcohol entirely and add some more ginger beer.

How to make a Kentucky Buck

Ready to start making one?! Here’s how to make this easy Kentucky bourbon recipe:

A hand squeezing a strawberry into a textured glass cup.
A hand holding a wooden muddler inside a clear textured glass containing red liquid.

In a mixing glass or cocktail shaker, muddle strawberry slices. This releases the juices and essential oils in the berries.

Golden liquid being poured into a textured glass with a red bottom, against a white background.
A person pouring milk into a glass of iced coffee, creating a swirling effect as the milk mixes with the coffee.

Add the simple syrup, bourbon and lemon juice.

Syrup being poured into a textured glass tumbler against a white background.
A hand adding ice cubes to a glass of red drink on a white surface.

Add the bitters, then stir or shake until well combined.

A hand pouring a pink liquid from a golden cocktail shaker into a glass filled with ice cubes.
A hand pouring a carbonated beverage from a green can into a textured glass filled with pink liquid.

Strain the mixture into a rocks glass filled with ice. (An ice-filled highball glass works too.)

Top with ginger beer and a dash or two of Angostura bitters. Garnish with a slice of lemon and a strawberry.

Tips & tricks

Here are some tips and tricks for making this recipe:

  • Select a high-quality bourbon that you enjoy drinking on its own, as it will significantly impact the final result.
  • When straining the muddled mixture into the glass, use a fine mesh strainer to remove any pulp or seeds, ensuring a smooth cocktail.
  • Don’t skip the garnishes! A slice of lemon adds a fresh citrus aroma, while a whole strawberry (or some slices) enhance the visual appeal of the cocktail.
Refreshing strawberry lemonade in a dewy glass, garnished with a strawberry and lemon slice, served with ice cubes.

Food pairings

Enjoy the Kentucky Buck with some berry foods. Strawberry mint salsa would be a delicious appetizer, or you could enjoy it with a strawberry spinach salad.

Strawberry desserts like a Southern strawberry shortcake. Chocolate-covered strawberries (ideally with dark chocolate) are a nice pairing too.

Bourbon balls and bourbon ginger ale cake would also pair nicely for dessert.

FAQ

Do I have to use fresh strawberries?

Fresh berries are nice, but you don’t have to use them. Thawing some frozen berries is fine, because you really only need the juices. You can also use a strawberry simple syrup. Another option is to warm up some strawberry jam or preserves and adding some water to dilute it into a syrup.

Can I make it non-alcoholic?

Yes! You can substitute a non-alcoholic substitute such as a zero-proof whiskey or unsweetened iced tea. You can also omit the bourbon entirely and increase the amount of ginger beer.

Two glasses of strawberry lemonade with ice, garnished with strawberries and a lemon slice, with fresh strawberries and a lemon in the background.

More strawberry cocktail recipes

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Top view of a strawberry cocktail garnished with a lemon slice and strawberry, surrounded by whole strawberries and a lemon.

Kentucky Buck Cocktail

Yield: 1 drink
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 0 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes
Try the Kentucky Buck, a refreshing bourbon-based cocktail infused with muddled strawberries, zesty lemon juice and spicy ginger beer.
5 from 1 vote
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ingredients

  • ½ ounce simple syrup
  • 2 whole strawberries sliced, stems removed
  • 2 ounces bourbon
  • ¾ ounces lemon juice
  • ounces ginger beer or ginger ale
  • 2 dashes aromatic bitters such as Angostura bitters
  • 1 slice lemon for garnish
  • 1 whole strawberry for garnish

instructions

  • In a mixing glass or cocktail shaker, muddle the strawberries with the simple syrup and bourbon until well combined.
  • Strain the mixture into a rocks glass filled with ice.
  • Top with ginger beer and a dash or two of Angostura bitters.
  • Garnish with a slice of lemon and a strawberry.

notes

Strawberries: Fresh, in-season berries are best, but they’re not always in season! Thawing some frozen berries is fine, because you really only need the juices. You can also use a strawberry simple syrup instead of plain or warm up some strawberry jam or preserves with some water to dilute it into a quick syrup. 
Bourbon: Select a high-quality bourbon that you enjoy drinking on its own. If you have a favorite bourbon, you can use it in this cocktail. I like trying different whiskeys, but my recent favorites are Maker’s Mark, Woodford Reserve and Knob Creek.
Make it non-alcoholic: Substitute a non-alcoholic substitute such as a zero-proof whiskey or unsweetened iced tea. You can also omit the bourbon entirely and increase the amount of ginger beer.

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As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs, I earn from qualifying purchases.

nutrition information

Yield: 1 drink

amount per serving:

Serving: 5.5ounces Calories: 338kcal Carbohydrates: 50g Protein: 3g Fat: 1g Saturated Fat: 0.1g Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g Monounsaturated Fat: 0.2g Sodium: 16mg Potassium: 703mg Fiber: 9g Sugar: 36g Vitamin A: 55IU Vitamin C: 266mg Calcium: 75mg Iron: 2mg
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