Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Bourbon -- the drink of champions

I grew up in Bourbon country -- not Bourbon County, mind you. That's a misnamed patch of land north of Lexington that produces nary a drop of God's elixir. I'm talking Bourbon country, Nelson County, Kentucky, where the air in the fall is perfumed with the scent of fermenting mash and warehouses are stacked with barrels aging one of the world's manmade culinary arts.
The picture (right) is borrowed from a cyclist's blog about a trip through Bourbon country. It really does look like that. This picture could have been taken from my bedroom window when I was growing up.

Field trips in elementary school included the regular gamut: museums, the governor's mansion, the Louisville Zoo, Mammoth Cave. They also included a tour of the distilleries: Barton, Jim Beam, Maker's Mark. Good times. Good times.

End travelogue. But if you want more information, there's a society in my hometown dedicated to Bourbon, the Bardstown Bourbon Society.

Ever since I've been old enough to buy it legally, bourbon has been a favorite cooking ingredient. My first Christmas in town, I dropped off a box of bourbon balls (made with Evan Williams) at the Anniston Police Department. Heaven Hill is the best to marinate salmon and pork. Maker's Mark -- well, it's just plain good sippin' bourbon.

It should come as no surprise then that others have discovered the earthy, bold flavor bourbon can give to food. Indeed, I prefer cooking with it to drinking it.

There is little that is more American than apple pie, baseball, or cookouts. Since bourbon is a distinctly American product, it falls in line with this great tradition.

“Bourbon and barbeque are distinctive American traditions,” said Andy Husbands, head chef at Treamont 647 and Sister Sorel in Boston. “The unique barbeque flavors from Boston to Memphis match the smoky, spicy and even fruity flavors seen in both products.”

While hosting outdoor cookouts this summer, serve well chilled versions of old-time favorites to your guests. Classic cocktails like the Manhattan, Old Fashioned and Mint Julep are ideal ways to accentuate the flavors of your barbeque with a top-notch American Whiskey cocktail.

Texas’s Stubb’s Legendary Bar-B-Q in Austin pairs its barbeque with a signature Bourbon beverage like the refreshing Bourbon Swizzle or tart Bourbon Sour.

“Bourbon is a great complement for barbeque because they share a strong, spicy, smooth and slow flavor,” said Husbands. “You can’t rush bourbon just like you can’t rush barbeque.”

Backyard Bourbon Tasting

One engaging way to impress your guests at an outdoor barbeque is to set up a tasting of American whiskeys, including both Bourbons and Tennessee Whiskeys. (Yes, you can include some of that Tennessee dreck, but why would you? Perhaps only to confirm bourbon's superiority?) Choose a selection of premium whiskeys and serve guests small (1/4 oz.) samples of each to compare taste profiles and discover pairing possibilities for your BBQ offerings.

Bourbon: Beyond the Cocktail

Bourbon’s popularity has also moved beyond the cocktail into the actual cooking, forging its way into sauces, marinades and even the grill itself. Scott Jensen of Stubb’s Legendary Bar-B-Q in Austin recommends grillers use bourbon-infused wood chips to add an extra bit of smooth and smoky flavor to their meats as they cook.

“Since both Bourbon and barbeque use American woods to impart a unique natural flavor into their essence, the bourbon-soaked wood chips are a natural barbeque complement,” he said.

When it comes to sauces, most major Bourbon brands already offer their own barbeque sauce; most are available in grocery or specialty stores. Stubb’s recently launched its own version: Stubb’s Hickory Bourbon Bar-B-Q Sauce.

“Mixing the woody flavor of natural hickory smoke with the unique and savory notes of a Bourbon Whiskey brings two American classics together in a perfect sauce for bourbon-flavored barbeque,” Jensen said.

Bourbon Swizzle
(care of Stubb’s Legendary Bar-B-Q)
1.5 oz Bourbon
1.25 oz. lime juice
2.5 oz. club soda
1 tsp super fine sugar
1 dash bitters
Shake all ingredients except club soda in shaker with ice. Strain into Collins glass over cubed ice and add club soda...stir.

Bourbon Sour
(care of Stubb’s Legendary Bar-B-Q)
1.5 oz Bourbon
Juice from half lemon
1/2 tsp super fine sugar
Shake all ingredients except fruit in shaker with ice vigorously. Strain into rocks glass filled with cubes and garnish with orange slice and cherry.

1 oz bourbon
0.5 oz sweet vermouth
Mix ingredients together. Serve in a cocktail glass (4.5 oz) garnished with a lemon twist.

Old Fashioned

1.5 oz. bourbon
2 dashes aromatic bitters
1/2 tsp super fine sugar
Orange slice
Fill rocks glass with ice. Muddle orange slice with sugar and bitters. Add cherry, orange slice & lemon wedge. Top with splash of club soda.

Mint Julep
1.5 oz bourbon
4 mint sprigs
1 tsp sugar dissolved in water & muddled with mint
Fill julep glass with shaved ice. Stir dissolved sugar and bourbon until frosted. Add mint sprigs and/or orange slice, pineapple spear, and a cherry


Dan said...

Hi Laura,

Great post.

As a bourbon fan myself, I was wondering if it would be OK to post your bourbon cocktail recipes on my site (that's

We're running a 4th of July BBQ recipe contest, and I think they would complement the great recipes people have submitted.

Please let me know.