Skeleton Key

Skeleton key cocktail recipe

The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

Prep: 3 mins
Cook: 0 mins
Total: 3 mins
Serving: 1 serving
Yield: 1 cocktail
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
262 Calories
0g Fat
34g Carbs
0g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 1
Amount per serving
Calories 262
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 0g 0%
Saturated Fat 0g 0%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 13mg 1%
Total Carbohydrate 34g 12%
Dietary Fiber 0g 0%
Total Sugars 31g
Protein 0g
Vitamin C 6mg 30%
Calcium 6mg 0%
Iron 0mg 2%
Potassium 26mg 1%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

Are you ready for a fun, spicy, and rather interesting cocktail? This skeleton key is easy to mix up, and its unusual elements—and orange color—make it perfect for any Halloween party. The name helps, too, as it calls to mind the color of a rusted skeleton key, and that, coupled with its ingredients, make it unusual enough to qualify for serving at Halloween-themed activities. A bartender who worked at Michael Symon's restaurant Roast in Detroit is credited with inventing this drink.

There are many appealing aspects to this unique, contemporary drink. It begins with a combination of bourbon whiskey and elderflower liqueur. The spiciness begins with ginger beer, and it is the healthy dose of bitters that brings this cocktail into the spooktacular realm.

There are two ways to drink this one. To get the full flavor of the bitters, sip it without a straw. However, that is probably going to be too bold for the majority of tastes, so sipping it through a straw is recommended. You still get the taste of the bitters; it is simply diluted into the rest of the drink. Give the bitters top a taste, though. It's fun and Halloween is for the unusual and extraordinary, so why not?


Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients for skeleton key cocktail
    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck 
  2. Build the bourbon, elderflower liqueur, and lemon juice in a collins glass filled with ice.

    Build the bourbon
    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  3. Top it off with ginger beer.

    Top it off
    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  4. Garnish with bitters.

    Garnish with Angostura bitters
    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck
  5. Serve with a straw and enjoy.

    Serve with a straw
    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

Recipe courtesy: Travis Fourmont, head bartender at Michael Symon's Roast in Detroit

How Strong Is the Skeleton Key?

It's always difficult to gauge the alcohol content of soda-topped mixed drinks because you may pour more ginger beer to taste. The average collins glass will take about a 6-ounce drink plus ice, so that would leave the skeleton key at around 21 percent ABV (42 proof).


  • Don't be tempted to use ginger ale for this recipe; it simply doesn't have the spicy kick that a ginger beer does. There are quite a few versions of ginger beer that are manufactured specifically for use in cocktails, such as Fever-Tree, Q Mixers, Reed's, or Maine Root. Most of these brands are available in supermarkets and from mass merchandisers.
  • Adding the bitters on the top is key to this recipe. They float on the top and gradually settle into the drink, creating a spooky effect as it travels.