When you transition from young adulthood into a more mature and masculine adulthood, one of the most interesting transformations is often how you view your alcohol consumption. Many younger guys are still exploring, drinking for the impact of consumption. As you become more sophisticated, you’ll learn that there are other pleasures associated with drinking beyond simply needing a designated driver.
Bourbon is a quintessentially American offering to the world of spirits, bringing with it a host of distinctive flavors, aromas, levels of quality. Learning to distinguish between these and to savor them is a right of passage as well as the mark of a truly distinguished man. This article will provide a bit of background on the beverage of choice, as well as offering tips on how you may best enjoy the full range of manly pleasures it offers.
As our new nation adopted the Constitution in 1789, farmers in Western Pennsylvania became discontented. Because the hinterland was isolated, farmers needed a practical means of storing surplus crops and drawing a profit because fresh produce could not be shipped to the cities quickly enough.
When the new State of Pennsylvania levied a tax on these farmers for their whiskey, they duly rebelled. George Washington raised troops and put down what would come to be called the Whiskey Rebellion of 1791. A portion of those farmers fled to a region then outside the boundaries officially claimed by the new nation, an area that would become Kentucky, and the American tradition of Bourbon was born.
While bourbon can be produced anywhere in the 50 states, it must adhere to certain specifications in order to be called bourbon. Both bourbon and scotch are fundamentally whiskey, but differ slightly in components and aging processes that make them distinct spirits.
Bourbon must contain at least 51 percent corn and be aged for a minimum of two years in white oak barrels that have been charred on the inside. The charring provides the characteristic flavor bouquet of bourbons in every quality ranking.”
Kentucky still holds the honor of producing the quintessential beverage, likely due to the special iron-free water available in that part of the country. Like other whiskeys, bourbon is produced by fermenting a grain mash with a malt and yeast mixture. The mash contains up to 75 percent corn and may also include rye, barley, and, sometimes, red winter wheat. After the ingredients have been combined and processed, the raw liquor is put into its special barrels and aged according to the dictates of the desired end product. The longer it ages, the higher its quality is determined to be.
Prior to the practice of aging, New Englanders drank their whiskey fresh from the still. Since it wasn’t stored in wooden barrels, it lacked the caramel or amber coloration, which comes from the wood itself. This is known as white whiskey and resembles high-proof moonshine, with none of the distinctive flavors or mellowness derived from the aging process.
While you can now find white whiskey in bars, it’s best used as a mixer, rather than sipped neat. The small, craft distilleries often put out a limited amount of high-grade, finely aged bourbon each year, which means that, much like diamonds, it’s price reflects its novelty.
Much like wine and other aged spirits, bourbon presents a range of flavors and aromas that an experienced pallet will be able to distinguish. Don’t worry if you simply know what you like and the particular brands you typically enjoy most. Not everyone needs to be a taster to partake of this spirit.
At any rate, you will be able to distinguish between the sweeter or drier varieties, even if the subtler notes elude you at first. Tasters are those individuals who test each batch for consistency of flavor and color, mixing as needed to balance the profile for a perfect bottling.
A particular bourbon’s flavor profile will alter based on how you choose to enjoy it. Room temperature or chilled, it will show different faces to you. That’s why many who enjoy a particular brand will drink it prepared a certain way.”
Below we’ll explore some of the distilled treatments and mixtures that can provide a range of bourbon experiences. As well, we’ll provide a list of cocktails and ways to take your spirit, so you can experiment and choose the one that best suits your tastes.
1. Old Rip Van Winkle
Heading the list of bourbons for rarity and craftsmanship, this small batch bourbon isn’t really for beginners still looking for their sea legs. For one, it’s pricey, running $60 or more per fifth. For two, it’s handcrafted by the Van Winkles; a family whose made it their main concern to create a spirit with distinction and character that’s aged to perfection.
Because this is a sweeter bourbon, we recommend that you enjoy it in the following ways: straight, on the rocks, with ginger ale, with club soda, with water.
2. Buffalo Trace
Mellow with notes of vanilla, candied fruit, and toffee, this offering comes from the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky is one of the oldest and most prestigious. You should pair it with a sharp soda or ginger ale if you mix it at all. It is smooth enough to sip straight or on the rocks.
Basil Hayden’s This national treasure of a Kentucky distillery started up in 1796, shortly after the abortive Whiskey Rebellion. The secret of the powerful presence of its flavor profile can be traced to the use of twice as much rye in the mash as any other offering.
3. Maker’s Mark
This offering is brought to you by Jim Beam and is one of the standards of the market. Because it tends to hit sweeter notes, it makes an excellent mixing bourbon, but can be enjoyed on its own. It’s also one of the more affordable bourbons available, adding another reason for its popularity.
4. Woodford Reserve
This bourbon comes highly recommended by those in the know if you happen to be new to the spirit. That’s because it’s smooth, easy to drink, and won’t throw your palate a curveball of complex flavor notes.
5. Single Oak Project
Here’s one for the scientists among you—which, should be all of you if you’re human. This interesting distillation was stored in 196 barrels from 92 specially selected trees. The barrels were then stored in different conditions for different lengths of time, resulting in widely variant end-products.
6. Four Roses
While the standard offerings from this distillery are excellent, keep your eye peeled for their annual release. Each year, the distillery produces ten bourbons, one of which, because there can be only one, is actually a Highlander.
7. Old Weller Antique 107
This is one of those bourbons that utilizes wheat in place of rye to provide it’s offering with a distinctly nutty flavor, which many find highly enjoyable.
8. Balcones True Blue 100-proof
Truly unique, this bourbon from the Lonestar State uses blue corn in its mash, which is known to have a higher oil content and less starch than traditionally white or yellow corn varieties.
9. Russell’s Reserve
This limited offering from Wild Turkey will put some hair on your chest. Unlike most other bourbons, this particular recipe isn’t diluted after distillation, so it packs a 110 proof punch.
10. Knob Creek
This small-batch distillery was one of the front-runners in the Bourbon Renaissance of the modern era. If you’re an inveterate fan of this brand, you can even customize your bottle label.
11. Peach Street
This offering emerges from Colorado, traditional stomping ground for several major beer breweries. With tones of stone fruits, particularly peaches, this rare bourbon is a treat indeed.
While you can elect to use bourbon as the kick in a mixed drink’s caboose, it’s also a spirit that has been traditionally taken a toute seule. It’s got a sort of standalone character, and the modern man is comfortable keeping traditions that pull their weight. Drinking bourbon straight, also known as neat, can lend your image a little credence. But beyond that, many bourbons are smooth enough to be enjoyed for their own sake.
Simple modifiers may also be added, which will dramatically change the character of your bourbon. Adding water or club soda will bring forth subtle elements and alter the impact of the alcohol on your palate. If you elect to take it on the rocks, keep in mind that temperature impacts the subtler flavor notes most quickly. Ice will tighten up the profile, obscuring the nuances of the bourbon, so let your ice melt a bit before you enjoy your drink.
While the bourbon tradition was born of stubborn intransigence, like bourbon itself, it has mellowed with age and assumed a character unique to its environs: American society.
Originating with Irish and Scottish immigrants, they called their liquid courage “whiskey”, which is a word taken from Gaelic, meaning “water of life.””
This water of life has had a truly remarkable journey, from the hinterlands of Western Pennsylvania into the truly breathtaking country that would become the birthplace of bourbon, Kentucky. It has acquired a reputation as a man’s drink of choice.
When you choose to enjoy it, do so slowly, and savor every moment. What you’re drinking is a dram of Americana; something unique and worth sipping responsibly.