Recipe: Bourbon Cough Syrup for Grownups

updated Jun 8, 2019
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(Image credit: Ariel Knutson)

It seems like winter colds strike with a vengeance right now, at the end of the season. In my household we drink literally gallons of ginger and honey tea during the cold months. Fresh ginger tea is delicious, and it wards off colds pretty well. But when I was felled last week by a particularly nasty cough, I had to turn to something stronger.

Not to get all graphic or anything, but this hacking cough just wouldn’t quit; I felt like the consumptive heroine of my very own Regency adventure. The coughing kept me up at night, but I cannot stand drugstore cough syrup; it never seems to help, and the side-effects leave me woozy. So I turned instead to a more sensible solution: bourbon.

Well, it’s actually the honey that does the trick, I think. But the bourbon sure doesn’t hurt. Taking a full spoonful of honey has been shown to be very effective at calming nighttime coughs (that, and gargling salt water, which is another very effective natural remedy for a bad cough). Downing spoonfuls of honey is a little rich for me, so I mixed up a tiny tumbler of this hot remedy several nights in a row.

(Image credit: Faith Durand)

It’s basically hot bourbon and lemon juice, with a heaping helping of honey. I cut it with a bit of water, too, but that’s optional. It’s an easy nightcap, steaming and warm, with a stiff shot of booze to put you to sleep, lemon for Vitamin C, and all that sweet honey to make it go down easy.

This also happens to be a cousin of the Irish Whiskey Skin, the hot little number that Nora shared with us last week. Try it — whether or not you have a cold, it’s nice way to cap off the evening. If you want to avoid alcohol, hot lemon juice and honey (or hot milk and honey, for that matter) is a good nighttime drink too.

(Image credit: Faith Durand)

Bourbon Cough Syrup for Grownups
2 ounces bourbon whisky
1/2 lemon, juiced (about 2 ounces)
2-4 ounces water (optional)
1 tablespoon honey

Mix the bourbon, lemon juice, and water (if using) in a tumbler or mug and heat in the microwave for about 45 seconds. (You can also do this on the stovetop in a little saucepan.) Take out and add the honey. Whisk to combine, then microwave for another 45 seconds.

If you’re sick, it’s best not to drink this too hot; a good warm temperature is better. Take it to bed and nurse it slowly with a book in the other hand. Sleep well!

(Images: Faith Durand)

Updated from recipe originally published March 2009.