September brings the promise of fall, football games, and most importantly Bourbon Heritage Month. An entire month dedicated to a spirit that is Americana through and through. It has us all bursting at the seams with excitement! This month long celebration came into fruition on August 2, 2007, when the the U.S. Senate declared September 2007 the first “National Bourbon Heritage Month.” The bill supports the 1964 Act of Congress that declared bourbon “America’s Native Spirit” and celebrates the legacy that the bourbon industry has contributed through its traditions, heritage and folklore. Bourbon is such a large part of modern cocktail culture, but there are certainly many misconceptions floating around about bourbon. Here’s what makes bourbon, well bourbon.
It must be:
– Produced in the United States.
– Made from a mash bill that is at least 51% corn.
– Aged in new, charred oak barrels.
– Distilled to no more than 160 proof /80% ABV.
– Entered into the barrel for aging at no more than 125 proof/ 62.5% ABV.
– Bottled at 80 proof/ 40% ABV or more.
The biggest misconception about bourbon out there is that is has to be made in Kentucky. While the state of Kentucky does produce a majority of the bourbon that is sold on the market, it has not had the exclusive rights to the term “bourbon” since 1964 when the United States Congress recognized bourbon whiskey as a “distinctive product of the United States.” There are many bourbon purists who would argue that Kentucky bourbon is superior because of the iron-free water that has been filtered through the high concentrations of limestone unique to the state, and its climate of humid summers and cold winters that make it ideal for barrel aging. I’m not trying to take anything away from Kentucky, just stating the facts, but they must be doing something right because they currently have more barrels of bourbon aging than people living in The Bluegrass State. That is a lot of bourbon.
Well now that we have all the rules out of the way, let’s get on to the fun stuff and talk about the most important thing about bourbon….enjoying it. To me, it’s all about whatever floats your boat. You want to add soda to your $75 shot of bourbon? Hey, whatever puts a smile on your face. I think it’s all about figuring out what works best for you. There are different types of bourbon for every mood and whim. I myself am a seasonal drinker, so I like light and slightly spicy bourbon for the warm months, and big, bold bourbon that warms you up from the inside out during the winter months. I’m not one for steadfast rules, so there are types of bourbon I like on the rocks, some neat, and some make for great cocktails. I like to give myself room to play and so should you. At the end of the day remember it’s supposed to be fun, so bourbon snobs need not apply.
When you’re experimenting with cocktails I think it is always a wise strategy to start with the classics. Once you’ve mastered a recipe like an Old Fashioned, you can really let your imagination fly. A traditional old fashioned is made with bourbon, sugar, and bitters. You can experiment with different types of bitters, sweeteners, and citrus. One of my favorite cocktails to make is a smash because by definition it is so broad that you really have so much room to play. Generally speaking, a smash consists of a 2oz pour of a spirit, sweetener, an herb, seasonal fruit, ice and water.
For early fall/late summer there is plethora of fruit that can be used for a fun twist on a bourbon smash. This is one of my favorite versions to make for this time of year.
ROSEMARY PLUM SMASH
2 oz bourbon
1 oz rosemary star anise simple syrup
2 slices of plums
In a shaker tin, add plums and simple syrup and muddle slightly. Add bourbon, some ice and shake cocktail well. Pour entire contents of mixer tin into glass, add a splash of soda, and garnish with a rosemary sprig. Bottoms up!
ROSEMARY AND STAR ANISE SIMPLE SYRUP
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
3 sprigs of rosemary
3 whole star anise
In a medium sauce pan, over medium high heat add sugar and water. Once sugar has dissolved, add star anise and slightly bruised rosemary sprigs. Bring up to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Strain and bottle, keep in fridge for up to 3 months.
We will dive into all things bourbon for this months class and also discuss the limitless world of barrel aging. We’ll do some fun takes on classics, and really end this month long celebration of all things bourbon with a bang. Also, this month we celebrate our year anniversary of Sunday School! I can hardly believe it and I feel so lucky to be a part of something so spectacularly fun. Thank you to everyone who has spent a Sunday afternoon with us, drinking, being merry and learning a thing or two. It is so humbling and amazing! I hope to celebrate many more anniversaries in the future, and if you haven’t been to a class yet, we welcome you with open arms and full glasses.
Your neighborhood cocktail student and teacher,