In addition to it being National Biscuit Month, National Papaya Month and National Rice Month, there is one other, somewhat, recent addition to the September festivities. September is, officially, National Bourbon Heritage month.
Since 2007, when Kentucky Senator Jim Bunning got behind the bill, and it was unanimously approved, September has been known as National Bourbon Heritage Month. This bill, and the strength of the voting, reinforced the 1964 Act of Congress that declared bourbon as “America’s native spirit.” The celebration this month is only, partially, about imbibing in the brown, aged whiskey. This month is also about respecting the historical value and contribution that bourbon has had in this country.
Real bourbon comes from generations of distillers. Recipes were passed down. Traditions were made and kept. Methods were made secret and the industry overcame adversity when the production was proclaimed illegal during Prohibition. Bourbon has become America’s darling in both the spirits world and the culinary world.
Even the large chains are talking about bourbon BBQ sauce. However, the magic is at the gourmet food places. They are doing things like bourbon poached eggs, bourbon salmon or how about a bourbon maple syrup foam on your cheesecake? Sure foam is out of fashion, but bourbon is not.
The biggest travesty in something that has been created with quality is for consumers to taint the process in the way that we prepare or mix the product. A Waygu Filet cooked to the crisp temperature of well-done is a blatant insult to the very purpose for this type of beef. Organic vegetables fried in deep vats of melted fat contradict the principles behind the notion of showcasing the flavor of the vegetable. The same can hold true with bourbon.
The bourbon industry is not one that has a great business model. It all starts with corn whiskey, also known as white whiskey or moonshine. It is then aged for a decided amount of time in charred oak barrels to give it flavor and color. The charring caramelizes the natural sugars and resins in the wood to be infused into the spirit. Depending upon the distillery and the bottle they are making, this process can take anywhere from 3 to 50 years. Try telling a bank that you need a loan to start a business but won’t be able to sell anything for 20 years. As you can see, the bourbon business is very much a labor of love - and patience.
Given this process and history, there are ways to drink bourbon that are respectful. That are refined. That hold true to the rich heritage of making bourbon the American spirit.
How to drink bourbon
Obviously, bourbon is meant to be consumed with very little added flavor. From choosing the wood, selecting the amount of char, the type of corn and even the area it is produced all play a part in the flavor of the bourbon. If you have ever wondered why Kentucky is the home of bourbon, one of the main reasons is because of the high concentration of limestone in the ground water. It produces clean whiskey. Thus, the first proper way to drink bourbon is neat, which means straight-up, no ice. No fruit. At room temperature. However, this is not a shot. Bourbon is a sipping spirit. Savor the nuances of the whiskey. Taste it.
Given all the effort that goes into making bourbon, there is one mixer, and a second form of that mixer, that are acceptable by master distillers. Bourbon is often served with a slightly chilled glass of water. Bourbon and water are the second proper way to enjoy the good stuff. If you are like me and prefer a chilly version, ice works just fine as well. I enjoy a small amount of ice that melts as I sip. Ordering a bourbon “on the rocks” or with a “splash of water” is a great way to try a fine aged whiskey.
Most novice drinkers will gasp at the potency of spirits served straight-up or on the rocks. Luckily, bourbon has a lineage that has placed it in some of our most historic cocktails.
There are three classic cocktails that bourbon enthusiasts deem worthy of the spirit. Any horse race in the country will have a Mint Julep available. Mint, sugar, crushed ice and bourbon. This easy drinking and refreshing cocktail is not reminiscent of the stern bourbon flavor at all.
The Manhattan has regained popularity recently. Sweet vermouth, bitters and bourbon with a cherry are great compliments to each other. This smokey, sweet concoction is perfectly balanced.
The grandfather of these cocktails is the Old Fashioned. Bourbon, sugar and lemon zest create this potent and very approachable concoction. When made well, this is the pinnacle for me in the cocktail world. The old adage of it being so easy to make, yet so easy to screw up applies to this drink.
As the weather starts to cool off, bourbon consumption, typically, flourishes. Leave behind the overly sweet and carbonated mixers when you are drinking bourbon. Pay homage to our ancestors who started this great tradition that is, now, solely American. Try a great, aged bourbon this month and celebrate the things that are created out of passion for quality and not merely to turn a profit.
Contact Kevin Hoover at firstname.lastname@example.org.