June 14 is National Bourbon Day!

2019-07-03T12:55:52+00:00

OK, so for some of us Bourbon Day occurs multiple times a week every week, but officially June 14, 2019 is this year’s National Bourbon Day.

Bourbon, for those of you who have not yet been lured into the world of what arguably is Kentucky’s most well-known asset, is a whiskey that must be made with at least 51 percent corn (although it could be made only from corn). Other grains, such as malted barley, rye or wheat often are included and the mixture of these grains varies by distilleries and even within one distillery’s brands.

Barley converts starches to sugar and usually accounts for 5 to 10 percent of the grain mixture in bourbons; rye gives bourbon a spiciness and wheat makes the bourbon milder, not so much burn on the tongue.

For whiskey to classify as bourbon, it must be made in America. But contrary to what people in the Bluegrass State might want you to believe, bourbon does not have to be made in Kentucky – although the most well-known brands are.

Bourbon must be aged at least two years in a new, charred oak barrel made from American White Oak. Those bourbons that have aged longer generally are deeper in color and often have more pronounced flavor notes (both due to longer contact with the charred barrels). While there’s a valid argument that the longer-aged bourbon tastes better, it also stands to reason that it will be more expensive.

Bourbons must be distilled at a maximum of 160 proof, aged at no more than 125 proof and bottled at a minimum of 80 proof. It can have no additives such as coloring or flavors. (Remember, proof divided by 2 equals the percentage of alcohol so 120 proof bourbon would be 60 percent alcohol … and the rest is water.)

Bourbon classified as Bottled In Bond must have been made during a single distilled season at one distillery, aged in a federally-bonded warehouse for at least four years and bottled at 100 proof. This “rule” was defined in the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897. Any bourbon labeled “Bottled in Bond” must identify the distillery from which it was distilled and bottled.

And there you have the basics. If you’re just starting out and aren’t much of a whiskey drinker, I’d suggest starting with a lower proof bourbon and using it to make a Manhattan or Old Fashioned. (But do not buy the cheapest you can find. Up the game a little bit, ask a bourbon-loving friend or colleague for recommendations.)

Don’t buy into the hard-core attitude of “straight up, don’t ruin it with ice or mixers.” Once you’ve developed a taste for bourbon that might be a good rule of thumb, but as a beginner … take it easy and don’t apologize. Drinks such as the two I just mentioned have been around for a very long time for good reason – they taste good! That said, once you’re to the point where you really appreciate the flavor and nuances of bourbon, you probably will want to drink the good stuff straight or with just a touch of water or little bit of ice.

Here is a basic recipe for a Manhattan and for an Old Fashioned. As you can see there isn’t a lot of difference between the two – the Manhattan gets its sweetness from vermouth and the Old Fashioned gets its sweetness from simple syrup. Try different brands of bourbon and vermouth until you know which combinations you like the best, then once you’re comfortable with these recipes, make them your own by using different types of bitters. (I highly recommend chocolate bitters for both of these drinks.) Enjoy! And happy National Bourbon Day … whether it’s June 14 or any other day!

Manhattan

  • 2 oz. bourbon
  • 3/4 oz. sweet vermouth
  • 3 dashes Angostura bitters
  • Cherry for garnish

Fill mixing glass with ingredients, add ice and stir gently for about 30 seconds. Strain mixture into a cocktail glass and garnish with a cherry (preferably a Luxardo cherry).

Old Fashioned

  • 2 oz. bourbon
  • 1/2 oz. simple syrup*
  • 3 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 2 dashes orange bitters

Fill mixing glass with ingredients, add ice and stir gently for about 30 seconds. Strain mixture into a cocktail glass and garnish with an orange peel.

*Simple syrup is made using equal parts white granulated sugar and water. Place those ingredients into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Let cool and refrigerate unused portion in sealed container.